How to recover during a global crisis
I am staring at the screen. I probably rewrote that headline 39 times, and still don’t feel comfortable with it. In truth, though, nothing feels ”quite comfortable” anymore.
The phrase ”in the comfort of your own home” has become alien to me, as I am trapped behind my front door. Everything has shifted – like a jacket that is a size too small; a chair with a broken spring. I find myself constantly adjusting to this new reality, trying to make it fit, but it won’t.
Sitting on my overused swivel-chair, dressed in a grey, worn-out hoody, sleeping pants and slippers (way past noon), I notice the joyful song of the birds, the peaceful absence of cars, and yet my mind is awash with the noise of a thousand radio-outlets, news-headlines and anxious WhatsApp messages.”
I swing between extremes:
Retreating and escaping through YouTube, Netflix, food, fantasy, movies, jokes and memes.
Reacting and over-involving by cleaning, messaging, reading, writing, offering help and support, commenting, texting, posting tips on Instagram.
Like a contortionist, my mind bends, splits and disjoints itself to confront the polarities of this new reality:
- We are more connected to the rest of the world than ever before, yet we are bound to the walls of our homes.
- Life has slowed down to a halt, yet disease is sweeping across our planet like a wildfire.
- There is more cross-border collaboration than ever before, yet the borders have gone up to keep “us” in, and keep “them” out.
- The healthy and wealthy are still better resourced than the poor and vulnerable, yet every single person ”“ of every gender, race, belief and culture – is at risk.
- Although our nervous-systems are all geared up to get out there and combat the threat, our best way to fight, is to stay put and wash our hands.
- We feel the need to help others, yet we do so by staying away from them.
My mind and body (or bodymind, as we like to talk about it) is grappling with all of this, and my worst coping-mechanisms are surfacing.
I am not proud of myself right now. I do not cope well with uncomfortable realities. I withdraw. I self-soothe in unhealthy ways. I disconnect and go into denial. I panic-buy. I notice how I regress to the worst version of myself and my Enneagram-type.
And now, only two weeks since I’ve started self-isolating and settling into this new (ab)normal, am I finding some resources within myself to course-correct. Only after two weeks of coping in less healthy ways, am I starting to feel like I can surface and respond, rather than withdraw or react.
It’s okay if you are the worst version of yourself right now.
If a car ran you over and you fractured your leg, you would be out-of-action for a couple of months. You would be less mobile, effective and independent while your bones heal and you regain your strength. During this time, you may be in a lot of pain; you wouldn’t be as “productive” and perky as you were before; you’ll be more clumsy, slow, and frustrated; you’ll need help. You may even become aggressive, pessimistic and unreasonable. We get it: you’ve been run over by a car.
What we are faced with now, my friends, is much more than a car crash. It is a W O R L D P A N D E M I C. And even if you are not in hospital and attached to a ventilator, you, and the entire human race have just experienced a galactic car-crash.
In lieu of this, my first word of advice, is “Cut yourself some slack!” None of us are the best versions of ourselves right now. That short temper, that binge-eating, the addiction to tv-games, the neediness, the anxiety, that controlling perfectionism and OCD – whatever your quirks and edges – all of these are heightened and exposed at this time. And that is absolutely normal.
One of the best lessons I’ve learnt in my medical studies, was: “Normal people respond abnormally to abnormal situations.” So, not only are your worst traits a little worse than usual, you may be reacting in you never had before. And that is O K A Y.
Take a deep breath, place your hand on your heart, and tell yourself: “It is okay that you are struggling. You are coping as best as you can. Let’s just get through this next day, hour or moment.”
How to support recovery
Whether you are cooped up with your family of eight, stuck in your lonely flat by yourself, or part of the front-line of defense, we all have our unique variations of the same challenge.
If you notice yourself withdrawing, disconnecting, reacting or indulging, don’t judge yourself for it. Instead, see these as signals that your bodymind needs some care. See these as symptoms for the need to be nurtured.
Just like you can’t force your broken leg to heal faster by running on it, you can’t force your heart to react better in crisis, by forcing it.
Patience and nurturing care is at the heart of recovery. Focus on cultivating an attitude of curiosity, self-compassion, care and gratitude in this time. See any attempt at doing ”better” as a little experiment. Allow yourself to get it right. Allow yourself to get it ”wrong”. Slow down. Bring your attention to the simple, daily things. Focus on small wins, like doing dishes, sending an email and switching off the news.
You wouldn’t run a marathon on a broken leg. You don’t need to be as productive as you would have been before the pandemic broke out.
Apply yourself to care of self and others. Over time, you will notice your energy return, your resourcefulness come online, and your capacity increase to take the next step, mobilise and respond.
Here’s a menu of self-care practices for this time.
1. Limit your daily exposure to news and media.
2. Choose to expose yourself to nurturing, enjoyable content, like good music, inspirational programming and stimulating conversations.
3. Regulate your emotions with simple breathing practices:
- Inhale for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath on exhale for 4 seconds
- Repeat x 4
- Placing your hand on your heart, inhale, imagining that you’re breathing towards your heart
- Inhale for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 5-6 seconds
- Repeat x5
4. Calm yourself, by grounding yourself with sensory awareness practice
- Find a comfortable, quiet space.
- Sit down, with an upright spine.
- Allow your eyes to land with a soft gaze on a spot on the floor front of you.
- Take 3, deep breaths. As you exhale, notice how your mind relaxes into your body. With every breath, bring your attention more into your body.
- Count for 5 seconds. During these seconds, just pay attention to what you are hearing. The sounds that are nearby, far away, loud, soft, clear, faint, high-pitched, low-pitched. To keep your attention on your hearing, you can repeat the phrase: “The sound I notice now, is”
- Count another 5 seconds, paying attention to your sensations: the pressure on your skin, against your back, bottom, legs, feet, the temperature, your clothes, a breeze, the textures against your skin, the differences in tension within your body. To keep your attention on sensations, you can repeat the phrase: “The sensation I notice now, is”
- Count another 5 seconds, and turn your gaze to notice the space around you: the colours, shapes, objects, textures, shades, light, movement. To keep your attention on the visual, you can repeat the phrase: “The visual that I notice now, is”
- Repeat x 5, cycling through the ever-shifting sensations of your sensory, auditory and visual experiences.
- Be mindful to bring your attention back to the experience, not the ideas or concepts.
Reflect on your experience, by journaling. You can use the following questions as your framework:
Today, I noticed:
- the following thoughts, ideas and beliefs:
- the following emotions within myself:
- the following behaviours / habits / coping mechanisms:
- the following events & experiences affected me in these ways:
- the following relationships are affected in these ways:
- that I found the following very challenging:
- that I found the following quite easy:
Today, I can be proud of:
Today, I feel grateful for: (note: don’t write what you think you ”should be” grateful for, but only what you truly feel grateful for.)
Tomorrow, I’d like to do the following differently:
A daily movement practice, whether it’s yoga, Thai Chi, a Home-based HIIT session, an online fitness class, a mobility-training session: It doesn’t have to be massive, but any form of intentional movement can be incredibly supportive during this time.
Remember the car crash analogy? The same rule applies – you are not expected to perform at the same level as before: even gentle, simple movement practices can be incredibly resourceful.
Stay hydrated, by filling a water-bottle regularly.
Plan, and make healthy meals. Don’t get tempted into snacking constantly on easy, quick, unhealthy treats.
Make an intentional commitment to connect with people who:
- Feel supportive for you
- Feel supported by you
Intentional means that you:
- Set time apart
- Make a commitment to connect
- Ask about how you can support
- Offer your own support to them
- Don’t fuel each other’s anxieties, rather foster connection
- Focus on your shared humanity, positive experiences and pleasant interactions
- Don’t try to make sense of everything – simply seek out supportive connection
Many of us have made the transition from working at an office, to working from home. At the same time, we are faced with a lot of uncertainty in the news. Here are some practical strategies to support you with this transition:
Create a routine every day. That means, be explicit with ”work-time” and ”down-time”, and schedule in breaks, exercise time, lunch-time, and social events. A clearly structured calendar is a powerful way to help feel in control, when much of life feels out of control.
Create different physical spaces. Having a work-space that is separate from your life-space, helps your mind to switch off when you are not working. Something as simple as having a work-corner, and putting on work-clothes are incredibly useful to help your mind gear-up, and gear-down. If you don’t have these breaks, there is the risk that you work non-stop, never switching off, or that you start using alcohol and food to help you ”gear-down”.
Be intentional with nourishing activities. Many of us say “We’ll do some art / reading / writing when we have time.” But we don’t plan it and don’t schedule it. So, we don’t do it. Make a commitment to these activities to the same degree that you commit to work-meetings, so you can be sure to follow-through.
Given the current state of the world, I have reserved sessions in my diary for anyone who would like to talk, share, debrief, vent, connect . It will be a judgement-free space for you to show up with whatever is going on right now. There will be NO CHARGE for these sessions.
Whether you feel emotionally overwhelmed, need some practical tips to adjust to a new rhythm, or want ideas on what you can do to contribute to the crisis- whatever YOUR specific need, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Book your session using the calendar below. I look forward to hearing from you, and offer you a safe space to recover & regroup.
1. Bodymind is an approach to understand the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. It attempts to address the mind”“body problem and resists the Western traditions of mind”“body dualism and dualism. The term bodymind is also typically seen and encountered in disability studies, referring to the intricate and often times inseparable relationship between the body and the mind, and how these two units might act as one. The field of psychosomatic medicine investigates this concept.