CALM IN THE TIME OF COVID
Days that feel like weeks that feel like months—it’s a deeply unsettling and uncertain time for everyone. Hence, the idea of a newsletter was born. I hope it will offer a balm to you: to your body, soul and spirit.
CALM BODY…CALM MIND
If there ever was a time when calm seemed impossible to access it would probably be now. The news, the reports, the messages…all of it creates low-grade anxiety and maybe even some panic and dread as well. For some, there is grief, new and old, bubbling up to the surface, as well as regrets and sorrows of all kinds. I think we can expect ‘all the feels’ to show up at some point and maybe all at the same time. There are likely to be some tough days.
At the same time, we can also take some comfort in knowing that everyone is going through the same things and experiencing the same feelings. Our shared humanity and basic compassion for self and others is what will see us through these dark, scary times.
So that was the philosophical part, but now I’d like to get more practical…
In this newsletter, I’m suggesting a couple of resources to help with anxiety and panic:
First, a checklist for hitting all the known and well-researched tools for anxiety management
Second, a practice that I am doing that really seems to be helping i.e., the use of rituals.
1. CALM YOUR BODY; CALM YOUR MIND.
Basically, to calm your mind, the body must be calmed first.
The limbic system (back brain) is very primitive and when it senses a threat of any kind, it pushes our whole system into fight, flight, and/or freeze (also, to tend & befriend for some folks). You cannot shut this system down by willing it to go away. It’s a survival mechanism that’s trying to keep you safe.
But there are definitely some ways to change up the intensity. That’s where the following checklist might help. You will be familiar with most of these but I thought the basics could help the most.
(Note: If you want to use the list below as part of your day-to-day, I’ve created a printable page at the end of this newsletter for use as a checklist).
DAILY CALMING RYTHYMS: EVERYDAY PRACTICES
- Belly breathing: deep from your belly and not from your chest
- Exercise and water: dance, walk, yoga, move your body
- Be social: be as connected as you can
- Mindfulness meditation: sit with feelings; don’t dismiss them and build up toxins
- Body love: touch others if you can and nurture your body
- Purpose: set a goal for the day and do it
- Meaning: do something that has value to you, something that will solve a problem, help someone out, eventually (or currently) contribute to a goal
- Create: any kind of art-making; it’s soothing and therapeutic
- Nature: get outside & be very sensorial
- Beauty: notice it and let it soak in
- Order: clean, sort, organize
- Learn: focus your brain on something just difficult enough
- Spirit: pray, centre your soul with a mantra, read and/or write poetry, be still, be grateful
- Supplements: Omega 3; Vitamin B; magnesium, etc.
If you were only going to do a couple of things on the checklist, I would recommend you begin at the top of the list and work down. However, you are the expert on yourself, so do what helps the most. If curling up in a fetal position in bed is the only thing that helps, then do that…but not for too long or too often. This is the ‘freeze’ part of the fight-flight-freeze mechanism and you want to stay out of that cortisol-pumping zone whenever you can.
2. RHYTHMS TO RITUALS
Some days are really tough, so I have been creating some rituals to serve as anchors in my day.
Context: I have deep worries about my family getting sick, so it is no surprise that I sometimes wake in the night with a feeling of dread and sadness brought on by the fear that I will never see my grandkids or kids again. The feeling will wash over me and linger in my consciousness so painfully that I have to get out of bed to get rid of it. I started to fear waking up with the feeling just as much as experiencing the feeling itself, which, of course, made me wake up more often. Le sigh. Anxiety is so spirally.
One thing I have found helpful in the past has been to create rhythms, rituals, and habits, so that’s what I turned to first to reduce anxiousness. To subvert the waking-up problem, a ritual was needed, so I chose a habit that was already ingrained into my daily life: breakfast in the morning.
First, some definitions because they might be helpful:
Ritual: a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order
Rhythm: a strong and consistent action or pattern
This is a detailed (read: boring) of how I developed and used a ritual.
Rhythm: breakfast in the morning
Most mornings I will get out of bed in a stupor, make coffee and toast, read something, and gradually wake up.
Here’s how the habit morphed into a ritual:
Ritual: breakfast in the morning
The ritual now is in making of the pour over coffee and the toast mindfully, enjoying the series of practices and doing them in a very prescribed order. Then, I look out the window to the little bit of water that I can see and sit on the couch with with my face to the light coming in through the window. Next, I remember that I am well and that all will be well, and I allow my soul and spirit to settle into that declaration. I listen to the birds (I promise: I’m not making this shit up. Birds are awesome.). Then I read something that doesn’t distress my barely-there consciousness and sip and sup until I can face the rest of the day.
(Note: if you have children who wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and this seems impossible and your eyebrows are up somewhere near to your hairline right now…please choose another habit that makes way more sense.)
For the solemnity of a ritual…this part comes about by creating and performing a series of small, deliberate practices. None of them are random and all are necessarily meditative and sensorial (i.e. using the five senses). It’s about noticing and staying present and quieting your soul and spirit into any peace and beauty you can access.
And so, my plan to subvert the waking up problem: when I wake up in the night with the feeling, I go through the breakfast ritual in my mind and visualize it in rich detail. It comforts me somehow to know that there is another day to live into and that my loved ones and I will be okay. Of course, I don’t know for sure that anyone will be okay but I do know that I will wake up and I will have something pleasurable to do to anchor me for whatever the else happens.
This is the helpfulness of rituals; the storms come but the anchors keep us grounded and afloat.
Developing A Ritual
I would encourage you to develop your own rituals in a similar way and let them anchor you when life gets choppy and rough. Start with a rhythm or habit you already have; then add in detailed actions and some sensory qualities. Breathe in all the peace and wellbeing possible. Repeat.
Finally, as you go forward in the coming days…
Be as generous as you can, as kind as you can, as safe as you can.
Help others and let them help you when you need it.
Access all the resources that you can but take some time out if that’s what’s needed more.
Connection, community, creativity, and courage will see us through.
Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC