Responding to Stressful Events
Here are a few suggestions and strategies to help you implement all these principles:
Focus on what you CAN do rather than on the things you can’t.
Encourage verbal expression of thoughts and feelings.
Provide predictable bedtime routines.
Encourage indoor physical activities.
Encourage communication with friends via phone, email, text messaging, or other social media outlets.
a) Establish a routine
Structure has to become a habit. As the old saying has it: “Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Provide structured but undemanding home chores and activities. Keep yourself on a flexible routine of some type. For example, get out of bed at a similar time each day; get out of your sleep wear into comfortable daytime clothing; set a “shower schedule”; have regular mealtimes, establish set “work times”, (your own ‘9-5’!) whether working at home, kids doing schoolwork, reading etc., tackling a project; or having a scheduled break or exercise time; then going to bed nightly at regular hours.
Having a general, albeit loosely structured schedule will help to keep your spirits up as the weeks go on, and give you a surprising sense of safety and security.
If at all possible, getting some time outside daily can have a huge impact on your mental health. If walking makes you feel more anxious because of maintaining physical distancing, just standing on a balcony or in your backyard for a few minutes in the sunshine can improve your mood.
b) Be social
Checking in with others through technology or phone calls is important. We all need social support, and just hearing a human voice can remind us that the world outside of our home still exists. If you’re used to having a coffee with a co-worker each morning, or chatting to family in the evening, why not set up some virtual (Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype or Face Time) meetings for those times where you’re able to be connected.
c) Take breaks from social media and the news
Staying informed on developments within your own country and across the world is important, but try to monitor and limit media exposure to traumatic events and horrifying headlines which can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Over exposure to such scenes and events can in itself be traumatic. Limit your news intake to “once or twice a day” from reputable news sources where you get accurate, up-to-date information.
When you talk to family and friends, keep your conversations to things other than COVID 19. Talk to them about the silly things you’ve been reading or watching on TV, or perhaps some happy memories of better days. Send jokes or funny things that appear on social media.
However, this doesn’t mean you should not talk to loved ones about your stresses and how you’re holding up during this crisis. It’s really a matter of finding a balance.
d) Engage in “active diversion,” rather than “passive distraction”
When we are overwhelmed by situations, having downtime where you don’t have to “think” is important, and watching TV or movies can be great for that.
But also try to include some active diversions that not only distract and relax you, but also engage your brain. So pulling out a board game, doing a puzzle, or finishing an old craft project that engages your thought processes can help take away some of the feelings of helplessness people can experience in this time. Maybe this is the time to tackle those “I’ll do it when I have the time” projects.
e) Maintain a positive outlook
Focus on positive things. Keep a sense of humour. Structure fun and/or absorbing activities into your day, such as exercise, reading, writing, or organizing … and calling your friends. Maintain your normal daily routine. Exercise, eat well and rest. Find comfort in your personal spiritual beliefs.
Thank you for “hanging in” with me through these blogs.
Let me leave you with a story:
One dark and stormy night, a sea captain saw what he thought were the lights of another ship heading straight towards him through the fog. He had his signalman blink a message to the oncoming vessel, “Change your course 10 degrees north.”
A reply came back, “Change your course 10 degrees south!”
Somewhat indignant, the sea captain answered, “I am a captain, and I order you to change your course north.” The response was instantaneous, “I am just a seaman first class, but I order you, sir, to change your course 10 degrees south.”
By now the sea captain was furious. “I said change your course north. I’m on a battleship.”
To which a final reply came back. “And I said change your course south.
I’m in a lighthouse!”
The moral of the story is this. There are some things you can change, and others you cannot. We may not be able to change what is happening in our world these days. But we can decide how we are going to allow ourselves to be affected by whatever happens.
We cannot change the circumstances we find ourselves in. But the good news is that you get to choose what you are going to do about the circumstances, whatever happens.
And so, as Queen Elizabeth famously said in her recent speech: “We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”
Till then I wish you all well. Please take comfort wherever you can find it.