In this article I want to give you handy tools that my clients and I use in order to adapt quickly to the new environment that causes a lot of anxiety about threatening present and unknown future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a sort of EMERGENCY CHECKLIST, which covers all aspects of life. I use a holistic approach based on Enneagram, Ayurveda as well as the latest studies in psychology and biology that make it very efficient.
Let’s begin. Let’s begin by pausing. Before you start doing anything, STOP. Your STATE is key to everything that is going on in your life: your thoughts, emotions, decisions. If you feel fear, out of this state you will make certain decisions, take certain actions that will have certain results. If you have the “that’s all b.s.!” attitude, you will make completely different decisions, and this will cause totally different consequences. Therefore, before doing anything “put the mask on yourself first” as the flight attendants instruct, which means, take care of yourself, YOUR STATE, and only then do all else: making decisions, taking steps, including taking care of others.
STEP #1. SELF-AWARENESS
Self-awareness is like holding the stirring wheel. When you are aware of what’s going in you, you have pretty good chances to control these processes. Otherwise, you’re driven by an autopilot of your subconsciousness. And the higher the speed, the more dangerous it is.
Observe what your autopilot is telling you. Separate facts from the information of your autopilot. E.g. FACT: as of 5th April more than 1,2 mln people in 182 countries have been infected by the coronavirus and a bit more than 65K died.
AUTOPILOT: “OMG! This is a disaster!!!” or even worse: “F@@k, I have HBP, I can die!”, or “I’m gonna lose my job!” or “My company will go bankrupt!”
Yes, you can also die from the coconut that falls on your head! I’m serious, 150 people die annually from that. As well as almost 18 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases. So why are we so scared of coronavirus knowing that fear can cause hypertension and heart attack? Because fear is contagious. It spreads worse than the coronavirus – it is transmitted not only from person to person but also from screen to screen.
ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR STATE?
ARE YOU AWARE OF THE STORIES THAT YOU TELL YOURSELF?
After you turn on “manual operation” for better navigation through the storm, you might want to check how you function on all 3 LEVELS: (1) emotional, (2) mental, (3) bodily.
Let’s start from the EMOTIONAL center as it is the least stable and the most affected by the fear pandemic.
STEP #2. COPE WITH YOUR ANXIETY
In the time of threat and unpredictability, most of the people feel worried, anxious or fearful. In addition to that, the habitual lifestyle is changed, which affects us enormously at the hormonal level – when the body is knocked out of the usual rhythm, it’s a stress for our bodies.
The next step in managing your state is not only being aware of your arising anxiety, but also coping with it. Be very attentive now. Enneagram says, that some types of people automatically suppress their emotions or disconnect or distract themselves from them. So if you don’t have any anxious emotional reactions to the current pandemic, you’re either safely on the deserted island or these emotions hide from you, running the muppet show from the hidden places of your subconsciousness. In any case, it’s good to deal with the anxiety first. Allow yourself to feel it. Remember, our emotions are just signals that inform us about something. When you do it without feeding with your stories it goes away quickly.
There’re many techniques that help cope with anxiety. The simplest and very efficient ones are:
Sit or lie down. Relax. Focus on your breath:
- Inhale for 4 sec.
- Pause for 2 sec.
- Exhale for 6 sec.
Keep counting and observing movements of your chest and/or belly you turn on the sympathetic nervous system that allows you to relax. Repeat for at least 1 min, but better until you feel relaxed.
FEELING IT AWAY
If you have high body sensitivity, the following technique helps to release the anxiety or other emotions: locate the fear (or any other emotion) in your body and just feel and observe how it lives through your body. After a short while (around 30 sec. if you stay focused), its intensity will lessen dramatically. It’s important to focus on the emotion itself, not on the story that causes it.
QUESTIONING YOUR FEAR
If your sensitivity is not so high, you’re the more mental type of person, you can ask yourself these questions:
1) What do I feel?
2) Why do I feel it? What does this emotion signal to me? Which need stands behind it? (Need of security? Stability?, etc.)
3) How can I satisfy this need? What are the practical and simple things that I can do to satisfy this need?
There’re many other techniques that help cope with the anxiety. What’s the secret to success? Doing them! Experimenting. Trying different things. Reading about them, knowing them is NOT enough. Even if you’re a guru of meditation but you don’t use your skill, then it’s useless. Try several times each technique to see if it works (1) for you (2) with this emotion (3) of such intensity (4) now.
STEP #3. INTEREST AND CURIOSITY
These are 2 very important emotions for adaptation. You can ask yourself:
- What can I DO for MY BENEFIT in this situation?
- WHAT OPPORTUNITIES open to me?
The answers to my question “How do you want to use your self-distancing time at home?” on Instagram fall into 2 groups:
(1) “What I wanted to do for a long time, but I had no time doing it.”, e.g. reading books that I bought a long time ago, or sort out in my closet. I like the joke: ONLY TRY by the end of the quarantine not to have your windows clean.
(2) “What I dreamed of doing but has never tried.” For example, I always dreamed of water coloring or embroidering or learning English / Italian / Chinese, etc. and this situation gives me an opportunity.
WHICH OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU SEE FOR YOURSELF?
In order to successfully answer this question, you might want to use REFRAMING. When we change either the meaning or the context. For example, many clients complain: “Quarantine is like a prison.” By reframing the situation, asking yourself with curiosity “HOW CAN I USE THIS TIME FOR MY BENEFIT?” many came up with the following statements: “Quarantine is an opportunity for me finally slow down and spend more time with my family,” “I will use this time for self-improvement” (guess, which Enneagram type said that?), “I want to finally read all those books that I bought” – The situation has not changed, but the attitude towards it has changed.
STEP #4. HUMOR
I will not even waste time listing the positive effects of humor on mental and physical health. I admire the sense of humor of people during the time of adversities. Thanks to the Internet, we can spread not only negative but positive information and vibes as quickly. HOW PROACTIVE are you adding humor to your life?
HOW CAN YOU INJECT MORE HUMOR INTO YOUR LIFE?
STEP #5. GRATITUDE
I will never be tired of saying that GRATITUDE is a powerful skill against depression. I devote a lot of time during my coaching and training to this skill. It can be just daily gratitude journaling or a daily exercise of saying three things that you’re grateful for. So many studies have proved that gratitude is an omnipotent tool! The key is to really be filled with gratitude when doing it. Avoid doing it formally from your head. It’s a waste of time. Fill yourself with gratitude. The possibilities of reasons to feel grateful are endless. For being healthy, for blue sky, for a cup of coffee made by the partner, for a joke of a friend, etc. If you are sincerely grateful, you cannot be depressed at the same time.
WHAT CAN YOU BE GRATEFUL FOR TODAY?
STEP #6. MANAGING YOUR MOOD
It’s a more proactive, than coping with anxiety, I’d say, a preventive step. It’s like staying healthy in order not to get sick. When in a good mood, we perceive the environment better and feel better. It’s better to start taking care of your mood in the morning, when we are full of energy and are more positive by default. As one client who suffered from depression said, “I wake up happy every morning. Then I remember, that I am depressed and why I am depressed.”
WHAT can you do that fills you up with positive emotions? For example, besides other things, I love my morning coffee, and I wouldn’t trade these 10 minutes of my coffee “meditation” for anything as it fills me with so much pleasure. WHAT it is it that you CHOOSE to do that gives you positive vibes? MAKE A LIST OF THINGS THAT NOURISH YOU WITH POSITIVE VIBES and DO THEM. Or if you don’t know what gives you joy, pleasure, fun, it’s a wonderful time to explore yourself!
MONITOR YOUR MOOD THROUGHOUT THE DAY.
When you notice that little by little your mood begins to slide down, most likely, because of an unnoticed thought, that like a drop of black paint, stained clear water, immediately intervene so that the drop does turn into an uncontrolled flow. The sooner the easier to do that. You can use gratitude, reframing, humor or many other things to change the direction of the mood.
There are other skills of the emotional center that you can practice. But I guess if you do these, you’ll be OK. Next is the mental center. Here we create meanings, e.g. of our existence, a vision of our future. Here lives the belief that everything will be fine with me. This is not a naive vision through rose lenses, but rather a belief in my resources that will allow me to cope with all difficulties. And after I coped with anxiety I’m able to make practical decisions with a clear vision and at the same time internal silence. I do not fall into the vortex of negative thoughts and emotions, but rather perceive the reality with minimal distortion, and with confidence that no matter what happens in life, I will find the best solutions and will cope with the situation. This is a basic trust in myself and life. So what are mental skills that can help us quickly adapt?
WHAT CAN I DO TO FILL MYSELF WITH POSITIVE VIBES?
STEP #8. INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL
Or simply put taking responsibility for one’s life. The famous prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
is in fact a wonderful principle that works in absolutely every situation as it helps to divide everything into two categories: things that I CAN control and things that are OUT of my control. So what is under our control? Mostly our thoughts, emotions and actions. Thoughts, emotions and actions of other people, as well as external situations are out of my control. Yes, I can try to influence other people and certain situations with my action but the result is out of my control. The other polarity to trying to control others is taking a position of a victim of the circumstances: “I can do nothing!” The golden middle is to focus on things that are UNDER YOUR CONTROL. WHAT CAN YOU DO to take care of yourself in this situation? This principle also helps to filter useful activities and not so much. For example,
Does criticizing the government / politicians / neighbors / relatives, etc. help you in this situation?
What can you do to improve the situation for yourself and others?
WHAT IS IN THE ZONE OF YOUR CONTROL?
STEP #9. VISION AND PLANNING
During the times with high risks to health and unpredictable future, we FOCUS ON TASKS time bound to very NEAR FUTURE. TODAY. TOMORROW. Long term strategies are not effective. Short-term tactics: How do I protect myself from the virus? How do I take care of my basic needs? What will I eat and drink? Where will I sleep? How will I finance that? How can I take care of my loved ones?
I do have one mid-term strategy that I would like to share with you. It does not mean that it is right and good for everyone. It is my decision to protect myself from the virus infection for as long as possible. Specialists suggest that 60 – 70% of the world’s population will get infected. I decided for myself that I will do my best to get sick later, rather than sooner, as with time the doctors get more experience in treating this virus, my immune system will be stronger, than in early spring, and there is a better chance that they create a medicine or a vaccine against this virus. Or after 60-70% of the world population gets infected, my chances of contracting the virus will decrease. WHAT IS YOUR VISION?
OPTIMISM is the mental habit of perceiving the situation as “half full glass”
Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees this opportunity in every difficulty.”
Studies show that, on average, people are more optimistic than not. Therefore, humanity survives and adapts, despite epidemics, tsunamis, wars. Optimism does not mean that you ignore situations; optimists simply approach difficulties more productively for their livelihood.
Specifically, optimists, most likely, see the REASONS for NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE as
- TEMPORARY rather than permanent:
The pandemic will end sooner or later. This is temporary.
- SPECIFIC, not general:
It affects my life, but not critically: I am alive, healthy, and have a place to live at. As well as my loved ones. And even if I get sick, the probability of my recovery is 99.8%.
- EXTERNAL, not internal.
The situation is as is. I accept it. But I will do my best, and I CAN DO A LOT OF THINGS to cope with the situation.
HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE THE CURRENT SITUATION?
There’re many more skills that belong to the mental center, but if you practice those that I mentioned it will be enough.
The BODY center is responsible for our vitality, our feeling of aliveness, our energy, ability to act spontaneously. Many skills and habits belong to this group. But the most important is SLEEP.
STEP #10. SLEEP
It is a vital skill for our physical and psychological health as well as immune system. Quality of the sleep is as important s the number of hours you sleep. Huge number of studies show that it’s important for metabolism, muscle recovery, productivity, creativity, immune system, mental health, mood, you name it. WHAT DO YOU DO to have a good quality sleep? And there are so many things that you can do to improve it! From turning off blue light at least one hour before going to bed to choosing the activities before going to bed and many others.
HOW REFRESHED ARE YOU IN THE MORNING? WHAT CAN YOU DO TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP?
STEP #11. PHYSICAL EXERCISES
Difficult but not impossible mission under the quarantine. Taking into account the specificity of the coronavirus, exercises aimed at improving the lungs functioning would be very useful. Your exercises must meet two criteria: (1) they should strengthen your immune system. (2) It would be great if you enjoy doing them. When you do something with joy it has many positive side-effects, such as good mood, more energy, and as a result, better health. So why don’t you explore WHICH EXERCISES YOU ENJOY DOING?
STEP #12. NUTRITION
Indians say: we are what we eat. Your diet must be aimed at the same goal of boosting your immune system, energy level during the difficult times of adaptation. And you have no excuse like “I have no time.” There’s a unique opportunity now (if using reframing, curiosity and optimism) to eat delicious and healthy home-made food. And doing it slowly, chewing it well. You have time to try different diets and figure out which one suits you. Now you have time to listen to your body. After all, no diet is good for everyone. In addition to adding HEALTHY FOOD to your diet, it is now a great opportunity to avoid unhealthy foods that you ate before, justifying yourself by the lack of time. The latest studies are unanimous about dangerously unhealthy foods: sugar, trans fats, gluten, lactose, products containing antibiotics (e.g. industrial meat).
In addition, evidence suggests that people with diabetes or high blood pressure are more vulnerable to coronavirus. Isn’t it a good incentive to cut on sugar and unhealthy stuff in order to improve your health?
Vitamins and supplements help you in many ways to strengthen your immune system and give you more energy for quicker adaptation: vitamins C (up to 1 g per day), A, E, B group, D3 + K2, magnesium, potassium, zinc.
Anti-inflammatory supplements like turmeric, ginger, guduchi can be taken preventively on the daily basis, as they help reduce inflammation in the body.
As simple as chamomile and / or linden tea also works well.
In addition, for those who feel heightened anxiety, ashwagandha, an Indian medicinal herb that besides numerous benefits for your body and brain, e.g. it lowers inflammation, and blood sugar levels. it also reduces cortisol.
WHAT IS YOUR DIET? WHAT WILL YOU ADD TO YOUR DIET? WHICH FOODS WILL YOU CUT OUT FROM YOUR DIET?
STEP #13. SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
Social distancing is not the reason to stop but rather to transform our modes of communication. World web gives us wonderful opportunities to stay in touch with others. Viral memes and videos, Zoom parties and even online quests games, not to mention just one-to-one chats and calls.
The key here is to be selective. Have you noticed that some people send you jokes and are happy to respond to yours, while others constantly complain or have dropped out of communication? It is your conscious choice, whom you will keep in touch with, keeping in mind that we can “infect” each other with emotions, and emotions do affect our immune system.
WHOM DO YOU CHOOSE TO CONNECT WITH TODAY?
STEP #14. COMPASSION
Helping others not only benefits others but also ourselves. Proven by many studies: we feel good. How you help is not important. The most important is that it comes from the bottom of our heart. By supporting others, helping them, being compassionate we make this world kinder, nicer, we feel ‘bond”, pride, because we belong to the class of noble and kind creatures. And who knows, maybe the virus will retreat.
Did I tell you that dreaming is also good? 😊