If you struggle with your mind at the best of times, it may be particularly challenging now.
You may feel your panic spike, perhaps triggered by a news announcement, something a friend says, or even just a sudden scene from an apocalyptic movie that sets your heart racing (when this happens, imagine projecting it onto a TV screen).
This is understandable: most people, even if they do not normally suffer with anxiety, are feeling it.
Things to try if you are feeling particularly stressed right now
A meditation: breathe into your anxiety (maybe you feel the source of it in your stomach or chest, legs or forehead). Imagine your breath circling it like a nest and ‘honour’ it before releasing it with the out breath. Count your breaths: 5 in, hold, 7 out.
If you think of anxiety as a frightened younger person, a soothing voice (“It’s okay. This will pass”) works better to lower the heart rate and calm the system rather than self-criticism (“Stop being stupid”). Turn down the inner critic and think what you would say to a scared friend.
Make lists: list five things you can see right now in your room. List your favourite TV shows, films or restaurants. Think of things you feel grateful for right now, or good things that happened to you recently.
The following is all true (otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this), so try saying it to yourself:
"All is okay in my world right now."
"I have survived many difficulties."
"Things always work out for me."
"This will pass."
Ask yourself what you are really frightened of – maybe write your thoughts in a journal or talk to a friend rather than telling yourself to shut up. Simply being listened to is extremely calming as you will know from therapy. Once you know what’s going on for you, reassure yourself with the reality of the situation; allow yourself to pause and take time out.
There are some things you can do, some you can’t - so focus on what you can do.
I am sure you have already come up with your own ideas on how to get through this. Here are some ideas I’ve heard from other people.
Stay connected online: You can gather in groups on Skype or Zoom. You can share stories and pictures and pieces of information. Some people are doing group yoga or fitness classes, dinner parties and lunches. If you are not tech savvy, now might be the time to gain those skills.
Learn something new:celebrities in lockdown are offering lots of free online lessons. You can learn an instrument (Fender are offering free guitar lessons to the first 10,000 people who sign up), a language; you can write that novel you always meant to write.
Use your imagination: If your mind is becoming adept at creating post-apocalyptic scenarios, it can picture other things, too. Even with a travel ban, you can read books or travel pieces, flick through your old photos, close your eyes and remember your favourite place: imagine you are there.
Don’t do too much: This is also a great time to pause and let go of that command to ‘be productive’. It’s a bit of a survival response – stay busy, don’t think – and can end up feeding your insecurities. Because you will get tired and give up. Carve space to you do nothing much. Stare at the sky or close your eyes and rest. Take time to reflect on what really matters in life or daydream an ideal existence.
"Every man rushes elsewhere into the future because no man has arrived at himself," Michel de Montaigne.
Go outside: You can mediate while walking absorbing and noticing everything you see. You can exercise outdoors, walk your dog or go for a run, join a food queue and listen to one of these free books.
Cultivate your family relationships: You need to respect your home spaces right now. Apply the same ideas above to your close ones. Listen, don’t judge, ask rather than yell, and go for a walk or take a shower if things get too heated. Make a list of what you do love about these people and keep checking it. If someone in your household is particularly toxic, try seeing them as the scared, small child they really are, and don’t let them project their fears into you.
I love Ester Perel’s podcast – she’s a relationship therapist and you get to listen in on other people’s marriages. It’s brilliant. It also reminds us that no relationship is perfect; whatever two people create together is totally and often ingeniously unique.
If you look at the world right now you can see panic and sadness, yes: but also, some amazing positive changes to the environment - for example, the massive drop in Co2 emissions. Here is some good news on goodnewsnetwork.org - we need balance, not black and white thinking.
I’d say every one of my anxious and depressed clients are intelligent and often very creative people – those overactive imaginations of yours need an outlet, your sensitivity is your finely-tuned response to everything around you. You have all experienced something in your past where you learned the world wasn’t a safe place, and triggers will send you right back to that time, making you rigid in your thinking and defended. But you also, throughout your life, adapted to that past trauma. Look at what you have achieved. Even if the past haunts you occasionally, you are okay, you survived.
There is a possibility, however far away, that may emerge from this kinder and wiser, in a better and more sustainable world. We need to hold onto that belief right now and prepare to make it happen.