With the world practicing social distancing amid the COVID-19 crisis, each of us is experiencing a level of isolation many of us never faced before. And that’s causing lots of us to struggle emotionally and physically.
As the director of WWP Talk, a non-clinical, telephonic care program at Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), I lead a team that has been helping the organization’s most isolated population of wounded veterans and family members since 2013. Now more than ever, these weekly phone calls are helping warriors and their family members manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and other invisible wounds of war. During these calls, we focus on ways to develop coping skills, set goals, and build resiliency to help them overcome isolation and improve their quality of life.
While the traumatic experiences of the warriors and family members we serve can never be compared to what some may be experiencing today with this virus, the following strategies can be practiced by anyone in isolation:
- Focus on the positive, and challenge negative self-talk. Have you heard the tale of the Cherokee grandfather telling his grandson about the fight inside him between two wolves? There is an evil wolf, he says, who is angry, envious, greedy, arrogant, and resentful. Then, there is a good wolf who is joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, kind, empathetic, generous, truthful, and compassionate. The one who wins, the grandfather says, is the wolf you feed. So, feed that positive wolf within you. Each day note one thing that is positive about yourself or your day. When you start to think negatively, challenge those thoughts with positive ones.
- Prioritize thoughts of gratitude. Starting each day with two or three thoughts of gratitude can really help turn your day into a positive one.
- Recognize and accept what is within your control. A lot of anxiety comes from thinking we should be able to control something that we have no control over. If you think you’re in control of the global situation we’re facing right now, that’s going to cause more anxiety and stress. You have no control over when stores will be stocked, or when you can start hanging out with your neighbors again. It’s best to separate what’s in your control from what isn’t.
- Practice mindfulness, and stay in the present. I think many of our concerns and worries today come from us questioning what the world will look like in the coming months. Being present in the moment will decrease this anxiety. Breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and journaling are all good examples of mindfulness that will help you stay in the present.
- Establish a support system and stay connected. None of us are alone in this situation, so reach out if you need additional support. So much positivity can be found by talking through the challenges you may be experiencing, especially if it’s with people facing the same things. If you have friends across the country, call or FaceTime them. Use the technology we have today for good. There are also several organizations available to the general public for this type of support if you need it. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Also, even if you don’t need support, check in on somebody else who could really benefit from a call or text. In doing so, you help yourself in a positive way.
- Practice healthy living habits. Engage in healthy eating habits. Exercise. Even during isolation, it’s important to practice healthy hygiene habits, too, for your physical and mental health.
- Engage with nature. You don’t have to be in a crowd to be outside. And even if the weather in your part of the world is not great, be mindful of that. Find the positive aspects.
- Find and enjoy new hobbies. What are some things you like to do? Whether it’s reading, playing games, or building something, identify a hobby — or find a new one — and take advantage of the additional time you may have.
Dana Dreckman is the director of WWP Talk. She is responsible for the leadership, oversight, and direction of the WWP Talk team, as well as strategic program development. Since joining WWP in 2009, Dana has worked in donor care, family support, and community fundraising.