Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Staying Sane During Challenging Times - Covid-19

Staying Sane During Challenging Times - Covid-19



We hear a lot of messages about how to stay safe during this time, but not a lot about how to stay sane. Here are a few tips to help you out.

1.     Language: What we hear on the news, what we read on the computer, and the way we talk to ourselves and friends and family all go into our brains and begin to lay down new tracks. Because this information is highly charged with emotion, the brain pays extra attention to it, and begins to process it as a priority. Our increased and repetitive attention to it begins the neural wiring stage.
Recommendation: Try to become aware of provocative language, sensationalism and fear-provoking messages and imagery. “War” with the virus, infections “skyrocketing” - these words can trigger fear and anxiety because the news headlines are vying for our attention and they know the most urgent sounding message will draw our attention via fear or curiosity. Try to be mindful and replace fear-provoking words with more neutral words in your mind as you read or hear about it. Like, we are trying to “contain” the spread. Numbers are “increasing for now”. These are examples of ways we can reframe some of the alarming headlines.
2.     Breathe: Throughout the day you may see or hear things that do get through and begin to make you feel anxious. Images of hazmat suits or empty streets can conjure up feelings you might have had from the last scary movie you saw, or you might feel like this is some sort of bizarre Armageddon. The mind can easily jump to “worst case scenarios”. This is called “catastrophic thinking.” If you notice yourself begin to slip off into an unlikely and fearful scenario, gently shake it off, tell yourself to “stop” or “cancel” that thought, and place your hands on your heart and tummy and take a few deep breaths. Sending out love and light to the world can feel productive during times when you feel helpless. Checking on a loved one or neighbor can distract you and help you feel proactive instead of reactive.
Recommendation: Check in multiple times throughout the day with your breath. If it feels shallow, remember to pause and relax. You can simply count the inhale, pause and let go of the stress. On the next inhale, see if you can slow it down so that it makes one more count than before. Pause, let it go, and see all the stress and anxiety being released through your breath in squiggly lines that smooth out in the air and flow out the door. Inhale another extra count and pause, exhale and center yourself in gratitude for your breath.
3.     Play: There is nothing like getting lost in “adulting”. Being overly responsible, protective, and controlling can feel like the right thing to do. However, don’t indulge to the point where you lose your sense of humor, playfulness, and creativity. When I was a child, I used to play these games with myself where I would think, “Ok, if I do this and this in ‘x’ amount of time, I can go do that and that.” I set up little challenges and rewards that helped keep me motivated. The creativity was in keeping the challenges fresh and the rewards interesting. It was play.
Recommendation: What feels good to you? Laughter? A hot bath? Writing in a journal? Trying a new recipe? Coloring a picture? Singing? Cuddling a pet? Dancing? Yoga or meditation? Puzzles or solitaire? Make a long list of enjoyable activities. Make sure to sprinkle them into your daily routine purposefully. You can also include happy memories in this list and simply choose to sit quietly and recall all the details of a wonderful memory and feel the joy and love and gratitude for having had that lovely experience. 
4.     Choose wisely: Where you seek your information matters! The media can make us think that the current situation is developing rapidly and we must have hourly updates to keep on top of things. However, this is not some 3 day hurricane that is shifting direction by the hour. We are in this for the long haul, and it does no good to trigger our fear centers over and over.
Recommendation: Set boundaries on news consumption. Find out which sources plainly state the facts without alarmist language. Turn off notifications, unfollow fear producing social media, and stick to sources that are going to highlight the most pertinent information instead of exposing yourself to many sources that are repeating a lot of the same things in a slightly different way. If you find that certain people you talk to want to ruminate or fret repeatedly about things, try limiting the airing of concerns to a few minutes before you change the topic to something more positive. We all need reassurance when we feel vulnerable or scared, but dwelling there for too long is not helpful to anyone. is our local source and the World Health Organization's website is reporting daily on updates and recommendations. Try not to listen or read about current events in the hour before bed. This is very important. Nothing is more powerful in supporting our immune system and mental health than a good night’s sleep. Also, find a mantra that comforts you and write it down. If something triggers a sense of doom, anxiety or panic, go to your affirmation or mantra. Some examples might be: “I am safe, I am loved, and I am able to pray for others” or “This situation is in God’s hands/Mother Nature’s hands and I can accept that” or “Everyone is doing their best to support and protect each other. I am amazed and grateful as people step up to help out.” Make sure you try to end your news exposure on a good note. This will help your brain create a pathway that has a happy ending, so to speak. 
5.     Health: Our immune system is closely linked up with our nervous system. For example, when our brain picks up on something that is threatening, like a thought or image or something in our environment, our amygdala - a very ancient part of our brain - interprets the incoming data. It sends out a signal that says “Hey, this could be a threat, this could be dangerous, I’m going to sound an alarm and see if I get confirmation.” The confirmation comes from our more recently evolved part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex area, where our higher centers of reason sit. This part hears the alarm and determines whether the alarm is valid or not. For example, let’s say you are working in the yard and you see a long, black, skinny thing in the yard. The amygdala will shout, “Whoa! Snake! I think it’s dangerous!!!” Your heart pounds, blood floods out to your limbs in order to jump out of the way, freeze or fight. Then the prefrontal cortex says, “Oh… it’s just a rope. It must have blown into my yard after the storm.” Danger is averted, and a message is inserted into this looping feedback system to deactivate the alarm message. The amygdala calms down, and we go back to what we were doing. But once we confirm that there is a reason for alarm, once we engage the fight/flight/freeze response and validate the alarm, our body goes through the stress response. Our immune system is suppressed. Our digestion is suppressed. Our ability to rest is suppressed. Our brain feels foggy and we can’t think things through in a calm and rational way.
Recommendation: It is critical during this time to be aware of our participation in this system. The system is a loop - the amygdala is constantly looking for danger and the message from the media and other people in a state of fear is attempting to confirm that danger. How we engage or disengage from this alarm mechanism makes all the difference. In order to support our health and immunity, we need to digest our food optimally, sleep deeply and be well rested, and be able to think clearly and calmly. You can eat all the healthy food in the world and take all the supplements and herbs you want, but if you live in a chronic state of fear or stress, you are doing more damage than if you lived on pizza and beer. Remember, your thoughts and feelings are sending out chemical messengers called neurotransmitters into your bloodstream, constantly. Your cells are bathed in a liquid environment of chemicals that either enhance their function or shut down their function. Epigenetics tells us that we can activate the rest/repair/renew cycles in our bodies when we send message through our thoughts and feelings of safety, calm, and optimism. Thoughts and feelings of fear, worry, anxiety and helplessness signal chemical messengers that activate the fight/flight/freeze response, and tell our cells to hold off on normal and healthy activities, there is a threat to attend to. We literally turn on and off our genetic instructions to our bodies with our thoughts and feelings. The bottom line is that we are in this for the long haul. It will be weeks before we begin to feel back to normal again. Let us be realistic, and know that our new baseline of normality must be adjusted, and adjusted in a helpful - not harmful - way. We know that in the past during a hurricane, we feed on the adrenaline and the news reports. This excitement and drama rises quickly and peaks and then the hurricane moves on and our lives are only briefly disrupted before everything goes back to normal. But we don’t have a healthy model of how to get through the situation we are going through right now. We are creating it moment by moment. The way we think, feel and behave in the next few weeks will determine a new baseline for future events, stresses, and generations. Let’s stay calm, positive, and support each other and our health during this time. May our purposeful and intentional peace ripple out to not only ourselves and our bodies, but also all we talk to and all we do. Blessing

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