With the COVID-19 pandemic precipitating an unprecedented and unexpected lockdown, billions of individuals, all around the world, are dealing with amplified feelings of fear, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, overwhelm and uncertainty. Concerningly, most people are discovering that their usual well-being practices are inaccessible … just when they are needed most.
What happens to our well-being when everything ‘external’ is out of bounds? The answer is simple: we enhance our well-being from the inside, out.
Many of us are accustomed to well-being that flows from the outside, in. Full of anger or angst, we head to the gym, hike into the mountains, or sign up for an extra session of yoga. Unable to process intense emotions, we go partying with our friends or distract ourselves with some overtime at the office. Seeking peace or comfort, we attend a meditation group, join a local faith service, or settle in for an evening’s conversation at a best friend’s home.
The fact is, in our normal, mobile lives, we have access to a multitude of external solutions that meet our demands for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. So, what happens to our well-being when everything ‘external’ is out of bounds? The answer is simple: we enhance our well-being from the inside, out.
Holistic well-being, as I term it, is the practice of enhancing your physical and emotional well-being from the inside, out. As elusive and intangible as many holistic concepts may be – such as happiness, purpose, altruism, mindfulness, compassion and social connection – research has shown that when you engage in these practices, it has a very real (and overwhelmingly beneficial) impact on the subtle physiological and neurological functions of your body.
Put simply: a good life is good for you, and by tapping into the scientifically-proven, health-enhancing power of profound ‘holistic’ human experiences, you have an opportunity to enhance your well-being without leaving your home.
To enhance your sense of well-being in these difficult times, I encourage you to:
Forgive life for what’s happening: Although this sounds cliché, it’s vital to accept the reality of what life’s throwing at you. Holding a grudge, or resisting ‘what is’ activates your body’s fight-flight response, increases stress, and decreases your immunity. Although not easy, we can all learn to let go of resistance by consciously reframing the question, “Why is this happening to me?” into “Why is this happening for me?” By tuning your thoughts into the benefits and positive outcomes that are inherent in home-isolation, you can come to accept (and even enjoy) this period of retreat, relieve your fight-flight response, and boost your physical and emotional well-being.
Seek purpose, meaning and creativity: Research has shown that purpose and meaning are not just wishy-washy buzzwords – filling your days with meaningful and/or creative activities enhances feelings of happiness, increases physical wellbeing … and helps you live longer! Filling your days with meaningful activities has been shown to enhance feelings of happiness, increase physical wellbeing … and even extend your lifespan. With the internet, it’s possible to use this time of relative stillness and isolation to find other avenues for purposeful and meaningful projects. For instance, there is a multitude of online platforms offering free or cheap educational courses, and there are a thousand ways you can turn your creative prowess into a meaningful contribution to the community. The key is to tap into tasks, campaigns or projects that feel meaningful to you and/or that align with your highest personal values. (For an added well-being bonus, choose a meaningful project that serves or supports others, such as knitting baby beanies for a women’s refuge, or sewing medical masks for your local hospital. When you engage in kind and altruistic behavior, the reward centers in your brain spring into action, and you flush your body with health-enhancing hormones.)
Practice self-compassion. Studies show that being a kind and comforting friend to yourself in times of emotional overwhelm can lower stress, boost the immune system, mitigate the effects of depression and anxiety, and compel you to make healthier life choices. Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher in this field, and she offers a range of helpful practices on her website. According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion consists of three factors: accepting your struggles (acknowledging when you are in pain), understanding our common humanity (“It’s not just me”), and being a comforting and compassionate friend to yourself in your thoughts/words, and actions. Most people are not used to turning their compassion inward, towards the self, so don’t despair if these practices feel awkward or unnatural at first. I encourage you to persevere and, in time, it will feel more natural and instinctive to be your own best friend in stressful circumstances.
Commit to a mediation or mindfulness practice. When it comes to staying afloat in rough emotional waters, there are few actions as beneficial as a meditation or stillness practice. By incorporating meditation into your daily schedule, research shows you will reduce stress, enhance your ability to sleep, gain mental clarity, and boost your immunity. A meditation practice is not something that comes naturally or easily for many people. However, I do encourage you to persevere and keep experimenting (and re-experimenting) with various meditation modalities. Eventually, I believe you can and will find a practice that works for you.
Acknowledge your brain’s ‘negativity bias’, and filter your information diet. In times of great anxiety, such as the moment we’re living through, it’s vital to actively engage in positivity. This is not about avoiding reality – it’s tough out there and we are all uncertain and scared at this time. However, studies show that your brain and body work best when you choose to activate hope and consciously engage in solution-based thinking. Neurologically, you are naturally wired with a negativity bias – you unconsciously and instinctively notice and amplify fearful or negative information. Therefore, for your ultimate well-being, I encourage you to filter your information diet carefully and ensure that you are balancing unpleasant headlines with more optimistic and productive news. Vitally, take action on the things you can control in this environment. This will help you avoid the emotional pitfalls of ‘learned helplessness’ and will empower you with a health-enhancing sense of agency.
Finally, allow yourself to be vulnerable, scared and anxious at this time, and allow others the opportunity to express their grief, fear and concern. There is a common perception that emotional well-being requires a commitment to ‘positive thinking’. However, studies show that emo-diversity is a vital element in ongoing well-being and life satisfaction. Allowing yourself moments of pain and unpleasantness is essential if you want to enjoy sustainable and authentic emotional equilibrium. So, I encourage you to let the tears flow; feel fragile and accept the moments of grief, even as you lean into faith, activate your hope and reach for optimism.
“Engaging in subtle well-being practices is particularly important if you are in home-isolation with others.”
Engaging in subtle well-being practices (such as those listed above) is particularly important if you are in home-isolation with others – such as roommates or children – and are finding the constant company burdensome. When we soothe and comfort ourselves through a range of holistic practices, our housemates are likely to mirror that calmer behavior through the activation of their ‘mirror neurons’. In other words, when you choose to be more mindful, inspired, accepting, and/or resilient, you enable a psychological chain-reaction that creates a more peaceful (and tolerable) home-isolation environment.
During the coming weeks and months – for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic upends our lives – it is important for us all to appreciate the importance of holistic well-being. By recognizing and amplifying the powerful, yet subtle, factors that enhance the human experience – such as forgiveness, purpose, compassion, and hope – you can experience a greater sense of peace and happiness … without leaving your home. Put simply, holistic well-being is an accessible and sustainable way to cope ‘on the inside’ until you are, once again, able to source your well-being from the outside.