We are all dealing with new and unexpected types of anxiety lately. It is impossible to know how to navigate these heavy waters of confusion, fear and isolation.
I knew I wanted to speak to mental health during this pandemic, but unsure of where to begin and also not having the appropriate tools in my toolbox to truly help you guys, I phoned up an old friend, Kathryn Lubow to pick her brain on pro-tips from the very best.
I met Kathryn a few years ago when I was in a really dark place in life. Her incredibly calm demeanor and almost zen-like wisdom continues to bring me peace and clarity to this day. I am in awe of her wisdom and certainty about who she is as a person. Outside of her integrated mind body and spirit approach to psychotherapy, she is the host of the Awakenings in Real Life podcast where women share insights, challenges and laughs on what it’s like to awaken in the middle of our everyday lives. Whether it’s a breathing technique, daily affirmations and quotes, or just a recommendation for a good book, Kathryn always seems to have the right words and wisdom to help talk me off my “ledge.”
Q: What are 5 tips for managing anxiety during this pandemic?
A: Three weeks into social distancing- you are probably noticing a different wave of feelings than when it first began. All feelings are welcome, but let’s explore some ways to help us to regulate our nervous system which may feel overwhelmed at this time.
- Remember that though we may be practicing distancing, that you are not alone. We are all going through this challenge together, and we can offer self-compassion and kindness to ourselves as well as compassion to others (It can be easy to lose patience or get frustrated with our family in our tight quarters for extended periods of time!) Below, I will offer some strategies to help us cultivate compassion for ourselves and others.
- When we find that we are being hard on ourselves for not doing enough to “take advantage” of this time during the pandemic, think of what you might say to a close friend experiencing something similar. Perhaps, you might be more understanding and encourage them to take the pressure off, and to remember that they are doing the best they can during a very difficult time. We can then include our own self in that same circle of compassion and not be as self-critical if we don’t feel we are doing enough, or if we are feeling overwhelmed.
- Take it one day at a time. Focus on the small victories, whether a virtual chat with a friend, helping a neighbor out, a moment where you forgot the stress of this time.
- Set aside time to worry. Instead of allowing your thoughts to go to worse-case scenarios through the day, spend 10 minutes only once a day to focus on the anxious thoughts. It can help to reduce our anxiety by shifting the focus away from the state of constant anxiety and to a moment to moment presence. What do I see, smell, hear, taste, or touch in this moment? Can I notice my breath?
- Mind your mind. Notice when your thoughts start to spiral towards a future worse case scenario. We can even place an image of a big, red stop sign in our mind to interrupt an intrusive negative thought. A great short mindfulness practice for this is called:
S= Stop what you are doing.
T= Take a Few Deep Breaths (or as many as you might like)
We can notice our thoughts, feelings and sensations in the body. Perhaps there is a tension in the shoulders, or we can’t stop thinking about the news story we heard earlier in the day, or feelings of grief. Maybe we are stuck in a mental loop, noticing the negative script we tell ourselves. We can also observe if there is anywhere in the body that feels ok, or something in our environment that is pleasant in our home.
P= Proceed (With Compassion).
There are many ways in which we can proceed with compassion. We may opt for a more optimistic alternative self-talk, and repeat the phrase, “I’m doing everything I can to stay safe and healthy.” Perhaps there is a course of action you could take that might help you decrease your anxiety or feelings of isolation such as turning off the news, taking an exercise break, calling a friend or doing a short meditation. All these things can help bring down the anxiety or tension in the body. Are you getting enough sleep and eating regular meals? Do you need to find more support for your mental health?
One of my favorite methods for this step is called the Self Compassion Break, developed by Kristen Neff and Chris Germer.
Take a few deep breaths and say to yourself:
“This is a moment of suffering,” Or if you prefer you can say “This hurts!”or “This is stressful” which brings us to the mindfulness of this moment, turning towards what is present now for us, which may be uncomfortable.
Next, we remember that “Suffering and difficulty is a part of life,” or “I’m not alone”.
Many people all over the world are struggling with these same feelings, which is our shared common humanity and can help to take us out of the feelings of isolation.
Finally, place a hand on our heart or another place on the body to shift out of the fight/flight/freeze mode and into a space of more safety and calm. We are wired for attachment, and this touch reminds our body to decrease levels of cortisol and produce oxytocin – the hormones of caregiving. This is when we can offer ourselves a self-compassionate phrase such as:
“May I be strong. May I be kind to myself. May all beings be safe and healthy.”
If you are having trouble finding the phrase that fits – imagine that a close friend was offering this wish to you. Allow yourself to stay with this sense of self-compassion as well as the extending these well wishes to expand beyond you – out of your place of quarantine and social distancing to as wide a circle as you might wish – even perhaps throughout the world. Stay with the phrases that resonate for you and repeat them quietly to yourself for as long as feels comfortable.
More info and guided mediations on Mindful Self-Compassion can be found at www.self-compassion.org
Q: What are some ways to help children understand what is happening and how can we help them adjust easily?
A: It can be helpful to have an open conversation to talk about how they are feeling and if they have any questions you can answer in an age appropriate way for them. Taking time, when you have it, to focus on activities that you can enjoy together can assist in a positive focus and reduce anxiety. It is also important to remember to place the oxygen mask on yourself first when caring for kids. Schedule in time for self-care during the day, as working from home and being expected to homeschool your child can take a hefty toll. For more resources, visit parenting expert blogs like this one.
Q: How can we all prioritize our mental health during this time?
A: If you are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, or depression, know that you are not alone.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has put together a collection of free mental health resources http://www.sprc.org/covid19 as has NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness). https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide
Stay at home orders are also increasing risk for domestic violence, and if you are in need of help, please visit:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
Refer to this guide for access to hotlines, as well as warmlines where you can call to receive emotional support at this time.
There are also a number of free resources for online sessions for group meditation, yoga, dance, exercise and much more that is available on various social media platforms such as IG and FB as well as Zoom. The amount available can also feel overwhelming, so pick one thing at a time to explore, or ask a friend for a recommendation. Maybe you can try out a class together! Some local meditation studio recs can be found at www.insightla.org and www.denmeditation.com
Q: Many couples are facing new relationship challenges due to being cooped up nonstop together. What are some ways they can navigate the stress that is being put on their relationship during this time?
A: Dr. Stan Tatkin, Couples therapist and Best selling author of “Wired for Love,” recommends setting up “home isolation agreements” with your partner that you decide ahead of time before tempers run hot. Examples include “keeping arguments under 15 minutes,” or setting up times of the day when you can spend time alone, as well as spending quality time together as the last thing before you go to sleep. For more ideas, check out @drstantatkin
What are some ways that you all are staying in check with your emotions and mental health during this time? Please leave a comment below for the rest of our community to share.