These are challenging times. Here are few things that might help.
Actually, you’re already breathing. That comes with being alive. Something we’ve all been given good cause to celebrate, at the moment. So enjoy your healthy lungs. Stop reading this, and just take five deep breaths.
Really fill your lungs, then empty them. Open your chest, feel your ribs expand, then relax. Breathe in life-giving oxygen, plus love, energy, and hope. Breathe out stale air, along with fear, anxiety and worry.
Feel better? You can do this, any time you want. You just need to remember.
2. Turn off the news
Stop checking social media. Or clicking on links to stories that may or may not be true. Turn off rolling news channels and bulletins.
Try this for 24 hours, a week, or a month, and see how you feel. Then decide how much of it to let back into your life.
3. Focus on what you can control
Sit down and write a list of everything that is worrying you, everything you are concerned about. Then cross out every single one that is out of your control. The news, the weather, the virus, the economy, the people breaking lockdown rules, the Government, the impeachment trial: there’s little you can do about any of this, right now.
Now look at what is left, and choose to focus on that. Your thoughts and feelings. How you’re helping your family, supporting your friends, reaching out to your community. What you’re watching, reading, spending, sharing. How you’re speaking to others on the phone, online, on the street. Even a friendly distant wave can mean a lot, to a lonely neighbour who is shielding. As a bonus, it will make you feel better, too.
Take naps. Especially if you’ve never had a daytime doze before. Have a duvet day, when you never get out of your PJs, you snuggle in blankets and do nothing but read, listen to music, and watch TV. Sleep more than usual, if you can.
You really don’t have to be manically productive, every second of the day.
If you want to read Proust, learn Mandarin, launch a new business, start playing the ukulele, write a novel or get super-fit, go right ahead. Why not use this time well?
But if you’re just feeling numb and exhausted, cut yourself some slack. This is a difficult time. Be kind to yourself. You’ll be much more ready for the challenges to come, after this is all over, if you rest and take care of yourself now.
5. Let your loved ones rest, too.
We’re all going through phases of boredom, exhaustion, despair, denial, optimism, productivity and apathy. And that’s OK.
But bear in mind that the people you’re sharing living space with might not be in the same mental space as you. One of you might be baking bread, the other staring slack-jawed into space. Perhaps you are launching a new online venture and using the word ‘pivot’ rather a lot. While your partner is still in their PJs at 3pm, watching Netflix with a family-sized pack of Doritos for company. All of these are valid responses. And many of us are moving from one extreme to the other, day by day.
If your children are not in school, it’s also worth remembering that people who chose to home-educate their children don’t tend to put in eight-hour days. Teaching a child is not like fattening a pig. You don’t have to stuff them with work, reading and facts, relentlessly. They need a bit of afternoon PJ time, too.
There is a lot they can learn from this challenging time, if you model being calm and kind, and say sorry when you get snappy (because you probably will, being human and fallible and locked in with your offspring 24/7). They are on the same emotional roller-coaster you are, so keep reminding them that this too will pass.
6. Listen to these podcasts
At the start of the pandemic Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield embodied calm on The Tim Ferriss Show, and gave some useful perspectives on anxiety and chaos that helped me enormously. His website is packed with other resources to help you stay steady in this difficult time.
Brene Brown talked brilliantly on anxiety and calm in her podcast, Unlocking Us. She discusses how we all tend to over-respond or under-respond when faced with anxiety. I winced in recognition of myself in her descriptions. I’m a classic over-responder, jumping in to take over and fix everything for everyone (whether invited or not) as a way of dealing with my own fears.
Grief expert David Kessler talking to Brown in a later episode of Unlocking Us is also something I found very useful and moving. There’s also this great, short article about Kessler’s view on how many of us are feeling right now: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.
7. Watch Zoolander
OK, for you it might not be Zoolander. Or even Anchorman, Groundhog Day, Lost In Translation or Zombieland.
These are my comfort films, the ones I go to when I really, really need a laugh, or to have my heart gently warmed. (Clearly, Bill Murray is some kind of father figure for me, as I’ve just realised that he’s in most of these.)
Whatever your equivalent is, watch it now. Lose yourself for a couple of hours. Ice-cream and popcorn purely optional.
8. Let go of judgement
Those people in the park, who seem to be flouting the rules and putting us all in danger? They might have been confined to a tiny apartment all day, and are just desperate for fresh air.
That woman selfishly loading up on food and toilet roll in the supermarket? She might work for the food bank, women’s refuge, or homeless shelter, or be delivering it to the elderly and vulnerable who can’t get to the shops.
Those immigrants who were portrayed as draining our resources? We’re now seeing how many of them are actually frontline health workers, or put themselves at risk driving buses, working in care homes, delivering goods and keeping food on the shelves.
Judging is tiring. For you and everyone around you. It’s another expression of fear and anxiety. See how it feels, to let go of it for a while. Better, no?
9. Only connect
A confession: I found the endless get-togethers on Houseparty and Zoom at the start of all this pretty exhausting. And I’ve never found the chaotic shouting of social media much fun. But I’m an introvert, anyway.
Calmer, quieter phone call and Zoom sessions with my closest friends have been life-enhancing, though. And I’ve made an extra effort to check in with people I know who are isolating at home alone.
Jump up and down. Dance to some cheesy techno tracks, or play some air guitar. Get outside, if you can. We all know that we feel better afterwards. Yet it can be hard to do, when life is weighing down on us. All I can say is, no matter how reluctant I am to get off the sofa and out of the warm house, once I’m in motion I never regret getting up and going out for a walk.
11. Be grateful
This can be difficult, when times are tough. But it always helps.
For me, it was made easy by my elderly mum getting the virus early on, and spending the last month in hospital, fighting for her life. She’s still very frail, and can hardly get enough breath to speak. But she came out of hospital after six weeks, so she was one of the lucky ones.
So I’m grateful to all of the healthcare workers who were with her, helping her, when I was unable to be. I’m grateful to live in a country where such healthcare is available to all, not just those who can afford it. She’s 85, so I’m also grateful to have her a little longer. And very sad for those who have lost people they loved in this terrible time.
12. Decide how you want to grow through this
Bear with me, here. This is an awful time. People are dying. People are lonely, and isolated, and afraid. Many more are losing their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods. And going to bed hungry. I’m not minimising any of that.
We didn’t choose this, any of us. But we can choose how we want to respond to it, and who we want to be at the end of it. We can choose to be kind. To help, when we can. We can strengthen our relationships, and connect to our communities. When this is all over, we can come out of this stronger, more resilient. And ready to make changes, to create a world that is safer, fairer, better. For everyone.
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Are you ready to grow your creative business? Get my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives.