It’s been drama-filled days since the World Health Organization first declared COVID 19 a pandemic. Countries around the world have closed their borders and asked their citizens to shelter in place to avoid contracting and spreading the virus in an effort to protect the physical health of their population. A new concern is now emerging – managing the mental health of the population. Many of us are having coronavirus anxiety as we all have to adapt to a “new normal” of social distancing while existing in close proximity with our immediate family, or isolating alone.
As a mental health professional working online with clients, I’m hearing people’s very valid concerns. “I’m frightened about getting the virus, what if I die?” “I’m worried sick about my financial situation.” “I’m feeling very isolated and alone.” “What do I do if I get sick?” “I feel out of control.”
We’re all feeling out of control. Governments, infectious disease experts, health care professionals, and essential service people are doing their best to manage a very difficult situation. They’re trying to gain control. The truth is, most of us who are sheltering in place have no control over any of this, the only power we have is to take charge of what is happening inside of us.
Does the Coronavirus Outbreak Cause You to Feel Out of Control?
Reflect for a moment. How much in your life do you actually control? Maybe your dog (sometimes), but certainly not your cat, your kids or your partner. You don’t control the weather or the people with whom you work. This begs the question: What can you actually control? Anything?
Here’s another question for you. What happens in your body and your mind when you try to control something? Do you tense up and become rigid? Most people do. Trying to control most things in life is an impossible task. However, it is possible to learn to be in charge of your inner life.
Take Charge of your Inner Life
This coronavirus outbreak is shaping up to be a many months long marathon. We can hope for a miracle drug/vaccine, but it’s best for your emotional health to develop a long-term plan for this new normal.
Imagine you are planning to spend four, six, or nine months on a deserted island. Unlike Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway”, you have enough food, and you are surrounded by all the comforts of home. What have you always wanted to do if you had the luxury of this time?
During normal times, the area of life that most people tend to avoid working on is their emotional/mental health. Life is just too full. Yet, the one big obstacle to living a well-lived life is that most people don’t know how to manage their emotional life.
Have you often felt stuck, lonely, anxious or depressed? This is how many very high functioning people are feeling a majority of time in our modern culture. If you’re resonating with this, you’re probably overwhelmed with stress. Stress results when you’re leading a very full life with multiple demands on your time and attention. Something has to give, and it’s usually the time and attention you pay to your inner life. After all, there’s no time or space for reflection and going inward.
However, if you’re marooned on a desert island for the next few months, it’s possible for you to use some of your time to build new emotional muscle. Here is a simple exercise that you can use anytime and anywhere to begin the process of taking charge of your inner life.
You Can Take Charge of Your Emotional Life
Notice. Become aware of the sensations in your body when you feel anxious or depressed. Anxiety feels like tension, and depression feels empty.
Breathe. When anxious, breathe deeply into your belly and feel it push outward. If depressed, breathe deeply so that you can feel your belly push outward and your chest rise.
Get Present. Use your eyes to look at colors and objects in your field of vision. Out loud, say what you are seeing. Keep taking deep breaths.
Soothe. Take some time to soothe yourself. If you’re able to walk outside, take a walk and get a breath of fresh air. Or, if you’re quarantined inside your home, stretch, make a soothing warm drink, take a bath – anything that helps you feel like you are taking care of yourself.
Journal. Once you’ve soothed yourself, be curious. Write in your journal, and explore what triggered your anxiety or depression. It’s not about what happens on the outside, although it’s easy to blame your upset on your kids, partner, or the coronavirus. The truth is, it’s how you deal with life’s challenges on the inside that keeps your anxiety and depression looping.
Make the Giant Pause of the Coronavirus Outbreak Work for You
I encourage you to take this time to go inside to get to know yourself. Find ways to learn and grow. Be curious. Deepening your sense of self builds develops a sense of connection and inner resilience. Accept that you cannot control what happens on the outside. However, you can be in charge of how you feel on the inside. This can make all the difference in your ability to live a well-lived life.