Threats to health. Upheaval in the workplace. Economic uncertainty. Unclear school timelines. Stock market turmoil. The coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented challenges and stressors for many of us. Here are five mindful steps each of us can take to help manage this journey:
Carve out a quiet space
We are all in our dwellings much more than usual, possibly hunkering down with family members as well. Navigating the swirl of work, home life, and other people’s activities can be difficult. If possible, find a space of your own that can serve as a retreat to settle your mind, think, and do your own work. It doesn’t have to be a formal room, but simply a space that you designate as your own. That space can create a welcome sense of oasis when you need it — and you’ll probably need it.
Write it down
If you notice yourself with rising levels of frustration or worry, put it down on paper. Try to identify and pinpoint the top two or three items that contribute to how you feel. Be as specific as possible. This can help to bring an amorphous cloud of worries into a more manageable focus. Research shows that by itself the act of identifying how we feel — or affect labelling — can help us remain calmer. That in turn better equips us to solve the challenges in front of us.
Take a mindful breath
In contrast to our usual continual habit of “doing,” mindfulness is a focus on our state of “being.” A simple definition of mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present moment, with an open and non-judgmental stance, moment by moment. Studies demonstrate that after an 8 week mindfulness training program, subjects report significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress, improved pain tolerance, and better life satisfaction. One way to engage a mindful awareness is to pay attention to the natural rhythm of your own breathing. If your mind begins to wander, simply say the word “breathe” to yourself, and bring your focus back to your breath. Try this for one minute, and increase up to five minutes. This is an easy way to refresh and refocus.
Connect with others
Studies show that even the small, casual interchanges that we participate in throughout the day can improve our moods and functioning. Take advantage of the digital avenues available to connect with peers, families, and friends, and be intentional about doing so. Or schedule weekly dates with a walking buddy – just remember to keep that six feet of space between you.
Be good to you
Movement, good food, and sleep are the foundations of mind-body health. Being good to yourself in each of these areas provides a strong defense against the anxiety and stress that are endemic during a pandemic.
- 20-30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise (for example jogging, running, or vigorous walking) three times a week is an excellent starting point to reap the health benefits of movement. Add to that two times a week of weight-bearing exercise and you have a great recipe to optimize physical health and better guard against anxiety and depression.
- Reaching for that bag of chips too often is not only a problem for our bodies, but we now know that highly processed foods negatively impact our emotional well being. Instead, choose whole foods that fight inflammation in the body. Examples include nuts, olive oil, leafy greens like spinach or kale, fatty fish like salmon or tuna, and fruits such as strawberries or blueberries.
Many of us are experiencing big changes in our daily routines, but we should continue to make consistent sleep a top priority. Sleep allows our minds and bodies to re-fresh and re-boot for the next day. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day — even on weekends. If you’re now working from home but your schedule has loosened, still schedule a standing morning appointment or goal to help your sleep stay on on track.
These are trying and difficult times, but there are things you can do to move forward with greater ease. Create space for yourself, build self-awareness, nurture your connections with others, allow yourself permission to simply be for part of each day, and be intentional about exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Finally, remember to give yourself room to learn as you adapt to this brave new world, and take your new journey one day at a time.
About my practice
As women we wear many hats: partner, colleague, parent, friend, sister, daughter. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck as we try to move forward in one (or all) of these many directions. At those times, it can make all the difference to have expert support, insight, and partnership. My practice specializes in women’s telecoaching and telepsychiatry (including medication management for mild-moderate anxiety). The emphasis is on insight that leads to actionable steps you can make use of in real life. Services are available in CA, FL, and NY, and I offer in-office sessions for local clients. Please visit my website to learn more: AnnParkMD.com