"News of coronavirus is everywhere, how can I stop dwelling on it? At night my gremlins come rushing back: different choices I could've made...the stress continues through the day, like a boulder on my back." — 54-year old male
We are in the midst of an outbreak of a pandemic disease that threatens to assume epic proportions. As coronavirus spreads across the US, so far it has sickened 69,018, killed 616, and one in five Americans has been ordered to stay home. Globally, too, the humanitarian costs of the coronavirus mounts with an alarming infection rate that leaves in its wake 471,518 sick people in 160 countries. The health emergency inflamed by the virus has caused the stock market to plummet, wiping out peoples’ life savings. Stressful times can amplify mental health challenges, making it more important than ever to shore up our mental health reservoirs. In such times of high stress, familiar personal mottos: Netflix and Chill; Whatever will be will be- may fail to soothe. How then, do you override your worry and impulses to curate a long-term plan for your self-care?
"Our in-vitro fertilization procedure was interrupted. I wake up with nightmares with thoughts whirring in my head. Will I ever have a baby?" —38-year old, female
None of us can and should go outside. Overnight we find ourselves in a very different world. From the logistical - Is our fridge big enough and have I stocked up on toilet paper? - to the existential – Will coronavirus change us in a way we cannot imagine, and is this Mother Nature's way of evening the playing field?, coronavirus has upended travel plans, ventures and projects – and dashed our hopes for a better 2020. Furthermore, uncertainty abounds – the science of the virus, availability and accuracy of tests, fatality rates, whom to trust – and uncertainty creates and exacerbates stress. The loss of everyday certainty and the rapidly shifting landscape can increase our anxiety, too – the closure of comfort spots such as cafes, libraries, basketball courts, schools, bookstores, pubs and the like can reduce our sense of psychological safety. So can the loss of access to familiar or essential services - nannies, cleaning staff, travel to check in on elderly relatives. Normal life as we once knew it is turned on its head. Not only for those struggling with pre-existing mental health concerns, the coronavirus is amplifying anxiety for all of us.
"My business deals are on hold. My stocks tanked. If the deals don't come through, this will wipe the last five years of my hard work and will be the death of my company." — 35-year old male
Before we delve into our five self-care to shore up our resilience, let's pause to review what coronavirus is: coronavirus (COVID-19) is a highly transmissible and pathogenic virus that likely originated in bats, and was first identified in 2019 in China. Coronavirus belongs to a group of viruses causing disease in birds and mammals; it derives from the Latin term corona, meaning "crown" or "halo" that surrounds the virus. Since then, coronavirus (COVID-19) has entered our living rooms with the cancellation of the NCAA basketball season and now we are experiencing a different kind of March Madness.
"There is no way now that I can file for a divorce, I thought. I spent the afternoon with my head between my knees taking in large gulps of air." — 46-year old female
We need to care for our psychological health that is intrinsically tied to our physical health. As our sense of personal control and optimisms dips, research demonstrates, so do our health outcomes. As a clinical psychologist who also works with refugees of war, I have been a witness to unimaginable traumas and also the resilience of the human spirit.
"My father said I was the "Corona Police" when I asked him to wash his hands. We got into one of the most harsh arguments of our life." — 24-year old female
Here are five habits we can engage in to boost self-soothing, reduce cortisol to cultivate some inner calm:
This the time to reflect and rejoice on the certainties we enjoy in the present moment, such as the presence of loving others - parents, peers, partners, friends or pets. Some examples to foster positive experiences could range from:
Penning a memory or experience: What is your first memory? The last time you were happy?...Take the time to write about your memory using your five senses. Writing will help you reflect on what this unique time in history has meant for your life story. As your days of writing unfold, let your pen help you explore the crevices of your mind.
2. Plug into Self-Compassion
There may never be a time as frightening nor as unpredictable as the present. Embrace the tragedy of the present and acknowledge the hopes that may have been curtailed or aborted. Accept that your hopes and priorities will need to be realigned for the present. In the end, you're not in this alone and it will be OK.
3. Physical Space
A cluttered physical space can add to our personal angst. Imagine a simple and tidy space with a few of your favorite comfort things. Set up a daily routine with 1-3 daily goals, asking yourself - what do I most want to achieve today? and boost your sense of personal control, one day at a time.
4. Mind your Pondering
If you are a die-hard worry-wart, set aside 30-minutes a day on a time as a specific time to worry. At the end of your "self-assigned worry session", invite yourself to refocus on a
Different topic or engage in a different activity (such as: crossword puzzle, reading a novel, drawing, or solving a sudoku puzzle or speaking with a friend/family member about themselves steering clear from your own concerns).
Reduce your reliance on television and the internet or seek out sources of repute like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center to rein in and put your troubles in perspective.
5. Psychological Soothing
Self-soothing activities are important for psychological wellness while also providing a physiological outlet for stress reduction. They are of two kinds of habits: one, those that offer succor and two, those exercising personal responsibility to control your self-defeating habits. People with a high self-control have better mental health, experience life as more satisfying, make better friends and lovers, and enjoy higher finances and careers, and are viewed more positively by others, much scientific literature shows. Conversely, low self-control is a major predictor of overeating, overspending, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, procrastination, and unethical behavior.
Meditation and mindfulness (Some apps: tenpercent.com; calm.com; headspace.com)
Dose of bibliotherapy? A good book never hurt anyone (Ever read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment?). Pick up a book and find a character you can connect with. Find a character that you like, empathize with, or feel repulsed by, but in the end, a character that connects and consumes you.
Listen to music in candle-light. Invite yourself to rekindle your relationship with light and darkness.
Schedule a virtual chat or happy hour with your favorite people around the country or the world
The coronavirus will not be the only unsettling, inexplicable or disruptive chapter in your life story. It will be only one of the many despairing chapters in your life. In the face of catastrophe, as humans we have shown boundless resilience or the capacity to bounce back from our adversity. There are no quick fixes. However, this may be our moment to calibrate our inner selves and curate our self-care for this phase of our life story. Perhaps, it could herald the beginning of a more authentic and compassionate journey with ourselves.