How do we manage the uncertainty and worry that arises out of the COVID pandemic?
On a psychological level, COVID is a big challenge for many of us – the very real risk to our health and the health of loved ones, the disruption to our routines, the economic and financial implications and imposed disconnection from community and social engagement are daunting to say the least. It’s inevitable that the associated unpredictability and uncertainty of COVID causes very natural and normal emotional reactions of fear and anxiety.
If we think of a tree facing a storm, its ability to survive is dependent on how deeply its roots are embedded in the earth and how well its branches are able to move flexibly with the forces of the storm. If the tree is rigid and resisting, it is more at risk of damage or even falling. In human terms, our ability to stay deeply grounded while responding flexibly to the thoughts and feelings arising within, is critical for our ability to respond adaptively to the challenges of COVID. Our capacity to do so involves finding ways to connect to the still, centred place within ourselves that I call ‘being mode’ so that we’re not overwhelmed by the many obstacles and interruptions impacting our lives from this crisis. Fresh, creative ideas come out of that stillness.
We have many different ways of connecting to being mode. All of them involve stepping out of thinking. Meditation is probably the most well known. But there are many informal ways of grounding ourselves which we can do wherever we are, multiple times throughout the day. For instance:
- Just pausing: Moving our focus from the story running in our heads and noticing the difference between how it is when we’re thinking to how it feels when we just pause.
- Following the breath: Bringing attention to noticing the sensations of the breath as it moves in and out of the body – the stronger sensations as the chest and belly rise and fall and the more subtle sensations at the nostrils or throat.
- Connecting to the five senses. For example, feeling the ground under our own feet, the chair we are sitting on, the movement as the arms swing with our stride, the taste of the food, the scents wafting in the air, the sounds close by or distant, or what we see as we look around us.
- Dropping into the body (as opposed to being in our heads) and noticing how our body feels in this moment. What body sensations we are noticing? What emotions are felt? Noticing their location in the body, the colour, size, shape. Just noticing, not thinking: Bringing the felt sense into awareness.
There’s value in pausing; value in coming back into this moment. Keep coming back. Often we’re so busy that we don’t take the time to stop and ask, ‘what am I feeling?’ This is the beginning of letting our experience in but also of letting it go. By allowing it in and making room for it to be just as it is without thinking or judging our felt experience, it begins to unravel. When we can be still and open to what shows up, we become friends with our inner feelings. Like the tree, deeply grounded in stillness we can learn to open and allow the emotional weather to pass through rather than resisting the forces of the emotional storm.
There is very real hope in knowing that the impact of any adversity is determined by how adaptively we work with our internal experience. Our greatest obstacle is the unobserved thoughts and feelings that drive habitual and unhelpful reactive behaviours
The pandemic has caused many of us to become isolated – we can’t get on a plane, visit friends, go to the shops or the cinema. We often think there’s some better state to get to, but now we have nowhere to go. Perhaps the value in slowing down comes in reconnection to our own being. Instead of our busy ‘doing’, there’s more opportunity to sprinkle the ‘doing’ with ‘being’: Becoming a little more connected to stillness or “being mode” where we are more open and more willing to become friends with what is showing up on the inside.
Other strategies of a more practical nature include:
- The benefits of a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and exercise are well researched: They are identified as the very pillar stones supporting and maximising our mental health and wellbeing. Please see https://mindwellnesstherapy.com.au/sleep-diet-exercise-and-mental-health/ for more information
- Maintaining routines. Familiar routines support our ability to cope with the disruption and uncertainty of significant change.
- We are social beings and it’s in our DNA to connect with others, so stay connected with friends and family. There are also many helplines available if family and friends are not an option.
- Reconnecting with old hobbies, interests or activities that we may have lost touch with because, pre-covid, we ran out of time.