The one thing you need to know about self-care during Coronavirus.
It is mind-boggling how much the coronavirus has changed our lives in such a short period of time. Many of us have gone from regular interaction with others to complete isolation, from exercising in gyms to working out in bedrooms, from kids in school to kids at home, from running meetings in offices to having virtual freak-outs on Zoom. Some of us have gone from healthy to sick and employed to jobless. All of us have gone from routine to uncertainty.
No wonder anxiety is running amok across America and around the world. These are very strange, very scary, very dark times. Fear, frustration, anger, sadness, loss, and loneliness are all understandable. We can’t fault ourselves for the worry that results. We are human, and this is a pandemic.
Are there ways to self-help? Thankfully, yes there are, and it’s important that we
do what we can to sustain our wellbeing. It’s equally important to keep in mind that anxiety isn’t a button with an on-off switch that we can control when we want to. Anxiety seeps into our brains and rewires how we think and respond to challenges. Everyday tasks can feel overwhelming. Simple self-help tips can strike us as too much to bear.
As a leadership coach I get concerned about the commands I see on social media for what you should do to take care of yourself. There’s a lot of self-help posts and articles circulating lately about how this is the perfect time for spiritual transformation! This is the time to bond with your kids! Do Yoga! Make sure you take a bath! The trouble is, if your brain is overrun with anxiety, you may not want to do any of these things. Even if you do, they may not help you. That’s because helping yourself doesn’t start with one-size-fits all recommendations. It starts with you.
SELF-ANALYSIS IS THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS SELF HELP
There are many ways that we can short-circuit anxiety. What’s important is finding and practicing what is effective for us in different scenarios and being able to easily access these solutions in times of need. This requires some work in the self-analysis department, and I say that knowing just how much work we all have on our plates right now. But if you want to get your anxiety under control, try and set aside even just ten minutes when you’re not feeling stressed out to come up with a plan.
First, reflect on how you have experienced worry in the past. Be clear on what your triggers are. During the pandemic, perhaps when you watch the news in the morning you notice that you struggle mentally for an hour afterwards. Or perhaps when you check social media or speak with your grandparents on the phone. Connecting with them may feel good but may also make you anxious and upset. Take note of this.
Also take note of what remedies and actions have worked or not worked for you previously. Is it helpful to go for a run, meditate, cook a delicious meal, listen to a podcast, lie on your partner’s chest, listen to your own breath, write in a journal, or take a walk with your pet? Or is it best to chill out and take the pressure off from doing anything for a while? Create a list of what has worked for you. Don’t take what you see on Instagram as gospel, see it as inspiration. If we want to help ourselves, we have to look inside and strategize, the same as we would for a meeting or a presentation at work.
CREATE A BLUEPRINT FOR YOUR OWN SUCCESS
Once you have a list of triggers and remedies, you can create your own blueprint. This can include a routine built around proactive and habitual steps that help you to avoid unhelpful situations and equip you to deal with the unavoidable ones. Try creating some time to schedule that thing you know (or think) might help for you. It can be prescriptive or spontaneous.
We all respond differently to routine — some of us like a good dose of rigidity to help keep us disciplined, others like more flexibility so they can adjust their schedule depending on what they need each day. Many of us fall somewhere in between. More and more of my clients have started to put visual reminders on their laptops or fridges — somewhere they will see it often throughout the day. These reminders can be anything from a family weekly schedule to a list of the most important things to be focusing on and prioritizing each day. Sometimes our stress and worry can make us forget what truly matters and visual reminders are a simple way of helping us get back on track.
A GAME PLAN TO SHORT-CIRCUIT ANXIETY
Our blueprint can also include a game plan for how to respond to anxiety and help short-circuit it when it arises — as it inevitably will. Many of my clients have talked about how the news increases their anxiety; however, they don’t want to stop following the news right now, so they’ve created a plan to enforce boundaries and time limits and reduce the sources they expose themselves to.
A number of clients have also talked about having anxiety in the middle of the night and how this then affects their wellbeing and productivity the next day. Sleep and nutrition need to be our highest priorities right now, as they directly impact our core wellbeing. If sleep is being affected, we need to create a strategy that helps us get rest and manage the night anxiety when it arises. These strategies again are particular to you. But these might help since they impact us on a physiological level:
Take three big deep breaths
Smile and think of one thing you are deeply grateful for
Say an already concocted affirmation in your head (or if possible out loud)
Focus on your natural rhythm of inhaling and exhaling
Breath work, smiling and simple affirmations are also examples of things we can do when we are experiencing anxiety but are not able to immediately disengage with the source of the anxiety (for example stressful work zoom meeting).
THE IMPORTANCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Once you’ve come up with a blueprint for yourself, it’s time to put it into practice. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of accountability here. Some of us can easily create accountability within themselves but many of us need to feel like we’re not in it alone. That’s where having a really good partner, friend, coach, therapist or family member comes in. It’s helpful to have someone else reinforce that we do need to get up and get on this treadmill or make sure we do some journaling or whatever it might be for us. For example, one of my clients is doing an online meditation course with a group friend to help her stick to it.
“I never would have done this alone,” she said.
It’s a nice reminder how important we are to each other right now. We’re all experiencing some level of stress in our own ways and in our own worlds. But if we confide in each other and collectively strive to hold each other up, managing worry and anxiety becomes just that little bit less overwhelming.
Amelia Kruse is a Certified Leadership Coach based in New York City.