by Jen Ochsner
For those who have been struggling to feel okay, I’ve listed some relevant tools that have helped me cope with challenging circumstances including this pandemic. Before changing careers and getting hired at CityROCK, I worked as a counselor for 4 years. Some of this may be common sense or things we’ve all heard before, but I’m hoping it will be a nice reminder of ways we can stay mentally healthy during an isolating and scary time.
Avoiding rumination: It’s easy to fall into repeatedly dwelling on all the terrible things that have happened, are happening, or can happen as a result of this situation, which will keep us feeling bad and immobilize us from doing healthy productive activities like exercise, cooking, reading, home improvement, etc. If we notice we’re excessively ruminating, starting to engage in any simple activity can help pull us out and shift our focus. The goal is to stay in the physical moment and concentrate on things that are in our control vs. things that are not...i.e. I can’t control when the virus will fade out or what the consequences of prolonged quarantine may be, but I can control what I do with my time.
Reframing: Circumstances don’t make us feel a certain way...it’s how we interpret the circumstance that influences how we feel. Having automatic thoughts that lead us to feel bad is sometimes unavoidable, but reframing those thoughts can help ease the discomfort...i.e. “I’m a lazy piece of doo-doo,” to “I’m relaxing today, this is great”...essentially just putting a positive spin on whatever negative thought or judgment we’re having. Most negatives can be seen in a positive light if we think hard enough :)
If you’re not one for optimism, even shifting to realistic is helpful...i.e. “I won’t be able to pay my bills” to “I don’t know what will happen yet.”
Letting go of judgment: Self-judgment and judgment of others is normal and can come naturally during challenging times, but it also puts negativity into the world, which only hurts us and others. I’ve personally noticed the harsher I judge others the harder it is to not judge myself when I inevitably end up in similar shoes. Not many of us were prepared for COVID-19 or know the best way to go about this situation. If we place ourselves in another person’s shoes when we’re feeling judgmental, it helps us shift from letting negative energy fester to understanding their perspective, even if we want that person to behave differently. Also, let’s not judge ourselves for having judgments! Judgments are human, and it’s what we do with them that counts.
Acceptance: Acceptance that this pandemic is happening; acceptance that we’re going to experience negative emotions and we can take action to feel better, but it’s okay if it doesn’t work right away. Sometimes feeling bad about feeling bad exacerbates the negative feelings. The more we try to control them the more they overwhelm us. It’s been helpful for me to think about uncomfortable emotions as riding a wave, they come and go. So if I’m feeling really bad right now I remind myself that’s how I’m feeling now, but it will pass soon enough, just like a wave.
Deep breathing: Yep, the classic “take a deep breath." But it actually works! Breathing slowly into the diaphragm activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate and prepares the body for rest. In other words, it calms us down. If I spend a few minutes deep breathing when I’m feeling anxious, adversity starts to feel less catastrophic and it’s easier for me to focus on whatever I’d like to be doing. There’s a number of structured breathing exercises you could look up online, but pretty much any form of consistently deep breathing for a few minutes will do the trick. I like box breathing (in 4 seconds via nose, hold 4 seconds, out 4 seconds via mouth or nose, hold 4 seconds, repeat).
Physical health: As many of us know, the health of the mind and body go hand-in-hand, so the more we take care of ourselves physically the better we will feel mentally. In general, eating nutritiously, maintaining a regular sleep pattern (including enough hours), exercise, and sunlight help us feel healthier overall. Some of these are more challenging during this time, but we can find small ways to incorporate them while social distancing. i.e. walking or hiking in areas that are easy to avoid other people, yoga/fitness videos, sitting by the window while the sun is out, etc.
Social support: Anything that increases our sense of social connectedness will be helpful. Phone, video chat, texting, hanging with roommates, whatever works for you and your specific situation. I live alone so calling family and friends I have a close connection or bond with helps me feel a lot better. The more connected we are, the more resilient we are to stressors. CityROCK wants our community to feel connected even though we’re closed, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re feeling isolated.
Humor: Nothing lifts my spirits more than a good laugh. Maybe finding the humor in aspects of this situation is helpful (i.e. everyone in the grocery store looks like they’re gonna rob it), or maybe reading/watching unrelated comedy feels better for you. Either way, laughter is great. Gotta keep that core strong for climbing! ;)
Also, it’s normal to struggle to use healthy coping skills all the time, so go easy on yourself and hang in there!