How can we keep calm during a time filled with so much uncertainty and anxiety? It’s part of my job to calm people down, so I’ll give you some tips on how I do that for others and myself.
Have A Daily Practice
During times of trouble, having a daily practice that brings you to a place of calmness or stillness is crucial. Practices, such as meditation, prayer, exercise, journaling, yoga, etc., are life rafts that we can hang onto when the undertow of fear threatens to pull us under. They tend to take us out of the busy world around us and create a space where our focus is inward. Even while quarantined, our attention can be bouncing around from the news to social media to food to family to phone calls to work activities. A daily practice is a reprieve from all of that, and gives you space to choose your mindset rather than let it be a reaction to the commotion around you. A daily practice also allows you to “reset” yourself emotionally.
If you don’t have a daily practice in place, it’s not too late. Beginners can feel fast relief from these practices too. There are many guided meditation videos and apps available. You may not be able to exercise outdoors, but there are many yoga and exercise videos also. Whether you choose daily meditation or a daily long bath doesn’t matter. What matters is your intention to make the outside world wait a bit while you focus on and calm your internal world. The more you practice, the easier access you’ll have to stillness within you. Truly, it’s never too late to begin a practice that brings some peace of mind into your life.
It’s Not What Happens But The Meaning You Give It
This week a friend kept hearing sirens in her neighborhood, and said that things were about to get worse. She was really scaring herself. I reminded her that she lives on a large avenue, 20 blocks from a large hospital, and now that the streets are emptier, the ambulances are probably speeding through the last leg of their journey with the sirens on. I suggested that rather than thinking that things were about to get worse, she could think that people are about to get the help they need. That alternative thought caused her to feel compassion instead of fear.
Part of what is so scary about this time is that no one has definite answers for us. So when you don’t know the answer, what do you fill in the blank with? Depending on your personality, you might pick something quite scary or something calm, and yet the likelihood of either actually happening is probably the same. How many times in your life have you been afraid of things that never happened? Why keep doing that to yourself? You don’t have to change your personality in order to pick a more positive meaning; you just have to practice a new behavior of purposely coming up with a more calming explanation. If a frightened child were in front of you, you would quickly come up with something soothing. Just practice doing that for yourself. Frankly, in a crisis, most of us feel like children who need reassurance. But you don’t have to depend on someone else to give you that reassurance, you can learn to reassure and comfort yourself.
This Is A Marathon Not A Sprint
Anyone who has run the NYC Marathon knows that it’s very easy to get caught up in all the excitement and run too fast in the beginning, only to lose steam by the end. The experienced runners know to pace themselves and manage their energy so as to not exhaust themselves early on. During this “stay at home” period, you have to intentionally manage your feelings. If watching the news panics you, then shut it off and only read it online once per day. If the comments on certain social media frustrate you or make you more afraid, then limit how often you check in. You cannot let yourself get emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted every day. It won’t help you stay healthy, and if you’re recovering, it will slow down your progress. Think of your energy as a limited daily amount. Will you purposely spend it on what you choose or will you squander it on what others choose for you?
Choosing Purpose Over Panic
It’s easy to fall into panic nowadays. But who do you want to be in life? Do you want to be panic-driven or purpose-driven? One of those feels incredibly uncomfortable and the other feels incredibly empowering. Think of who you want to be during this historic time. Perhaps you want to be comforting, and therefore you check in on people who you know are alone. Perhaps you want to be someone who is learning and making the most of this time, and so you take an online course. Perhaps you want to be someone who helps keep the small businesses in your neighborhood going, and therefore you donate to restaurant GoFundMe campaigns and resolve to go out for dinner more often when you’re able to dine out again. Even if you choose to focus only on yourself and it takes all of your effort to keep yourself calm, that is a huge contribution and a wise choice because you are not adding to the panic. I suggest that you thoughtfully decide what your purpose is during this time period, and that will guide your thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Humor Is A Necessity, Not An Indulgence
Thank goodness for memes! The speed with which people came up with hilarious memes was impressive and welcomed. These are serious times indeed yet we are still alive, and life feels all the more precious. We need laughter to break the tension and seriousness. Research shows that when people are going through incredible hardship, those who engaged in gallows humor were better able to cope and were more resilient. So let yourself laugh at the fact that the worst part of your day was that you ate all of your “quarantine chocolate.” Laugh at the impossibility of having a serious conference call with your kids running around at home. Laugh at the fact that you can’t sleep at night because your neighborhood is too quiet. I certainly laughed when someone reminded me that I had wanted to take a “staycation” in March this year!
Find Good News
Many people have noticed the silver lining of this situation, whether it’s time spent with family or dolphins swimming in Venetian canals. Appreciating some positive effects doesn’t mean that we don’t feel for the suffering that has occurred. It just means that we want to know all the facts, both good and bad. While the news presents many facts, the negative facts heavily outweigh the short “feel good” report at the end. So in addition to watching less news throughout the day, I suggest that you search for good news. For example, it’s very easy to find the number of people around the world, by country, by day, who have been diagnosed with Coronavirus. But it really takes an effort to find a website that reports how many people have recovered. As I write this, thousands of people worldwide are recovering every day, and the total is over 175,000 people fully recovered. It would be nice if the news could report those numbers too. But if the news isn’t reporting the good news yet, you can find it for yourself. I recommend just searching for the words “good news” on Instagram and Facebook to find accounts that literally only post good news stories from around the world. I just saw that two people, a man and a woman, both over 100 years old, have recovered from the virus. You can’t help but smile at that news.
Talk To Someone
Last but not least, talk to someone if you need some support. Talk with family, friends, or a therapist. Connection is the key to soothing much of people’s pain and suffering under most circumstances. Virtual connection is amazing because no matter how far we are, we can still feel when another person cares for our well-being. If you’re struggling with managing your anxiety and are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to someone. You’re welcome to reach out to my colleagues and me. We’re happy to talk with you, and our purpose is to help you get through this time as calmly and peacefully as possible.
Christine is a Licensed Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and over a decade of business experience in a managerial position in a Fortune 500 company. Dr. Christine is also a certified Life Coach. This combination of psychological expertise, life coaching skills, and business acumen enables her to help you clearly understand the situations you are experiencing and take smart action toward improving them. For over fifteen years she has been helping people to have more fulfilling and more successful relationships and careers.