Five Ways To Protect Your EnergyPublished March 11, 2020 by Sheila Anne Murray
My feed is full of the coronavirus.
I’m not talking about the news headlines and recent updates. I’m talking about people reaching out and crowd sourcing their concerns about their own mental health because of the changes that the coronavirus may have, or already has had, on their own life.
- “I’m scared of how two weeks in quarantine will impact my mental health. I have diagnosed depression and anxiety and go to therapy weekly as well as take medication. What happens if these things become unavailable?”
- “The tension and panic is really getting to me and I feel like I’m taking on everyone’s stress. How are you protecting yourselves and your energy?”
- “I’m worried about not having access to outlets that serve me and seeing people who uplift me, and worry that it would cause me to spiral into depression.”
The reality is that this virus is exposing more than just the ability of our healthcare systems; it’s also triggering one of the most human responses — anxiety due to uncertainty.
People are hopping online to express their anxiety, ask questions, and to (hopefully) find respite. There is a reason for this. While people could simply read the news and build their own beliefs about the future and make their own judgement calls, they are looking for more than this. Among the chaos, people are looking for community, for connection, and for certainty. Anxiety levels are high, and our ability to react with our mental health in mind is vital.
I want to briefly address the difference between fear & anxiety. News-Medical.net says that while fear occurs in response to a specific threat and is typically short-lived, anxiety produces a sustained stressful response to an uncertain and unpredictable threat. The latter is what most of us are experiencing — the “what if”s — and it’s causing us to leave our ability to respond rationally at the door.
I really like the phrase “prepare, don’t panic,” that some news outlets (and people!) are using to re-frame how we should react to the situation. In light of it, I wanted to share a few tips on how to mentally prepare, not panic. I am not a medical expert by any means, so you won’t find best hand-washing practices here, and I’ve limited myself to 5 points because I believe we are already inundated with a lot of information. That said, I also invite you to “love it or leave it” when it comes to my suggestions. See Winds of Advice for how to manage the opinions of others.
- Be intentional about when and how much of the news you consume
The other night I found myself watching the news at 9pm. There I was, curled up on the couch, listening to a reporter in the center of Italy discussing the lockdown. Suddenly I became very aware of my stress level, which was inching its way up. I never watch the news. I usually don’t have a TV within my living space, so I don’t even think to turn it on. When I do read news articles, I try to do so just once during the day because I know that becoming too absorbed can impact mental and physical health.
Since I recently had a family member experience a heart attack that the doctors deemed was stress-induced (they were not the “typical patient” and were in all other ways very healthy), I am reminded that by trying to educate ourselves on the implications of the coronavirus, we could be simultaneously putting our own health at risk in another way.I recommend silencing 24 notifications on your phone, trying to read the news at a time that you can bookend it with something fun, and simply noticing how the news makes you feel and increasing your individual awareness.
- Don’t give up your self care
There has never been a better time to dedicate yourself to self care and intentional movement. Ensure that you are checking in on yourself as often as you are checking the news and social media. Drink more water than you typically do — not just for health reasons, but also because even mild dehydration causes cortisol levels to increase. If you’re new to the working-from-home scene, schedule yoga/meditation/an at home workout into your day. The way that you move can affect the way that you think & feel — so if you move with intention and focus on releasing negative energy, that will inevitably ripple out to your mentality and ability to respond to stressful scenarios or thoughts.
- Keep in mind what you can control, and what you can’t
I love the work of Byron Katie who says that, “For people who are tired of the pain, nothing could be worse than trying to control what can’t be controlled. If you want real control, drop the illusion of control.” It’s a bit hard to imagine, right? It’s unrealistic that any of you will read this and say “Oh, okay I see I can’t actually control the global spread of this virus. Stress = over!” However, the idea does carry a great amount of significance. Take a moment to recognize that there are things that we can control, and things that we cannot, and that we do have the ability to figure out the difference between the two. When a stressful thought comes to mind, can you be brave enough to ask, “Is this in my control?” Or take it one step further and ask, “Is this in my control and is this thought serving me right now?” The more you ask yourself those questions, the more you will become aware of the conscious and unconscious thoughts that are impacting your mental health. The more you become aware, the more you will be able to control your response. We are retraining our neural pathways, people! This is powerful stuff!
- Make a list of what you know
It can feel overwhelming when there is heightened uncertainty. That’s human nature. Making a list of “truths” can help us to reestablish what we know and can be certain of. This list can also serve as a reference point to return to when you feel yourself spiraling into panic.Examples: “I know that 8-9 hours of sleep will help keep me healthy, mentally & physically;” “I know that right now I feel healthy and stable;” “I know that I have a supportive community around me;” “I know that (insert specific self-care practice) will make me feel calm and aligned.”
- Hit the pause button on relationships that are stressing you out
Anxiety is contagious. If you find yourself spending time with friends or family that are making your cortisol levels peak, take a break. It’s ok to be selfish right now and remove yourself from situations and relationships that are not serving you. This might mean limiting your time with certain people, silencing friends on social media, or making the coronavirus a “taboo topic” during certain times of the day or during events (ie. When you are enjoying dinner with your family). This doesn’t have to last forever but taking the time to notice how people and situations make you feel, then taking action to protect your energy and mental health, will be extremely beneficial.
Digging these tips and looking for more? I know that this is top of mind for so many people right now, so I’m opening up my schedule over the weekend for anyone that needs to vent, talk it out, or get personalized coaching on this. Check out my calendar to apply for a Stress-Free Sesh.