Most of us are finding ourselves with abrupt new routines or lack thereof. We are all spending a lot more time at home, maybe that means more time alone, or with family, but one of the hardest parts about it is that most of us don’t know what to do in this sudden shift. Change is hard for us, all humans. We don’t like the unknown, nor do we embrace factors beyond our control. Yet, here we are with this collective huge wakeup call from the universe in the midst of an abrupt transition none of us requested or even saw coming. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve experienced racing thoughts related to tasks you “should” be doing or “could” be doing, maybe even things you want to do that you can’t anymore due to physical distancing recommendations. Am I the only one with increased anxious energy, accompanied by a few sleepless nights and irritability? Does anyone know what to do … right now?
Truthfully, no we don’t, but we can start by accepting that it is okay to do nothing at all. There is no right way to feel or process this time, and it’s perfectly normal if you don’t know what to do. None of us were exactly taught how to survive a pandemic, and that’s a privilege within itself. We haven’t had to know, but one thing I do know is that we are adaptable creatures. We are capable of interpreting the ever-changing information about this time and applying it to ourselves and our communities as we see fit. We are a highly-intelligent, evolutionary species that have made it through many obstacles over the centuries. However you choose to cope with the obstacles you are currently facing is perfectly fine, and if the first attempt is not the best fit, then I’m sure you will figure that out and adjust as needed by trying innovative methods moving forward.
I have to admit that telling myself “it is okay to do nothing” doesn’t quite match the unpleasant feelings I have when actually trying to “do nothing.” That was the point when I began to make meaning of the whole COVID-19 experience. Since doing nothing seemed so difficult, I must have been given this opportunity to learn something new and to live in a way that expanded upon my former existence. I’ve chosen to sit through tough emotions, my ball of anxiety, my depression, grief, or guilt, and I plan to take the time to look each in the face and know I was allowed to feel this way and I was safe in my current space to explore why these feelings were showing up for me. I allowed unpleasant emotions to flow in and eventually go on their way and sometimes return. I even found sources of support like talking to an online therapist, friends, significant other, mentors. We have been given this unique opportunity to bring many things forgotten or overlooked to the forefront in our lives and I intend to use it. Following are a few steps I try to take each day to ensure I continue this process.
Get in a comfortable position and begin to focus on the breath. Inhale slowly for about five seconds, hold for one second, and then exhale slowly for five seconds. I say or visualize breathing in what I need and breathing out what I need to release. As you continue to focus on your breathing in and out, do not judge the thoughts that may come and go during this time. If you could use some help, guided meditation apps or videos on YouTube are great resources. Deep, deliberate breaths that expand your lungs to full capacity naturally impact the body and nervous system to calm the physiological response to stress, which is something I’ve definitely needed.
Get up off the couch and move your body. Mindful movement like yoga and stretching can improve circulation and blood flow. If the weather is nice, go outside! Try various grounding techniques while outside like walking barefoot and feeling the stability of the ground beneath your feet. Absorb the elements of nature on a walking trail or stroll through your neighborhood, soak in the sounds of the birds, marvel at the blooms and beautiful features of the season, or simply observe other people in the distance attempting to do the same as you’re doing. Pick up an old hobby you’ve put away due to lack of time. Let your creative juices flow; express yourself through arts, crafts, or DIY projects. Reconnect with your inner child by engaging in something you used to love doing as a kid.
Take this opportunity to slow down and rest. We are not machines, and now more than ever we can see that the corporate America mindset is simply not sustainable. We do not have to hustle for our value. We are worthy of being without doing. Give yourself the space and grace to rest and recover. Consider the sport of weight lifting. The muscles are worked by lifting the weights that tear down the fibers, but it actually grows during the resting period. Whether it feels like it or not, we are developing throughout this experience. Hopefully, we will begin to see how Mother Earth, including our existence and connection to it and each other, is being given something that was desperately needed, whether we knew it or not.
Practicing gratitude and self-compassion during this time can have such a positive influence on our perspectives. Find five things for which to be grateful each day. Speak to yourself and others as you would a close friend or child as we all navigate this pandemic. We have been given the most valuable commodity of all: time. So, take the time to give yourself what you need in these moments and be more intentional with the way you live your life as a result of this opportunity. It is not a waste, and you know exactly what to do. Just take the time to listen and your mind, body, and spirit will tell you.
Alicia Freeman is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor who currently works as the Coordinator of Mental Health Awareness and Stigma Reduction at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She enjoys promoting health and wellbeing specifically ways to engage in self-compassion and vulnerability as foundation to drive human connection.