As the spread of the coronavirus threatens our physical health, it is also becoming a real threat to our mental health. As Americans, it is not our norm to see our grocery store shelves empty and to be quarantined and unable to gather in large groups.
When we experience real or perceived threat, our bodies react accordingly and our survival physiology kicks in, leaving us in states of “fight” and “flight.” While these states are meant for acute trauma situations to help us mobilize, in more chronic states of disruption — like the crisis we are experiencing with the coronavirus — our nervous systems become imbalanced, making it difficult to manage our emotional states. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline start pumping through our bodies. Our immune systems become compromised, making us more vulnerable to viruses and infections.
Restoring our sense of safety is key to bringing our nervous system and emotions back in balance, as well as maintaining our physical health. But how do we do this in a time when socially distancing is a must and everyone around us is validating our experience of not feeling safe? There are many small steps we can take each day to stay present and connected.
Restoring Our Sense of Safety
As adults, the more we can regulate ourselves, the greater capacity we will have to support our loved ones. Here are five ways to stay present and restore your sense of safety during this crisis:
- Cultivate your news intake. During this time of social distancing and staying at home, it is easy to get caught up spending hours surfing the internet looking for information, much of which may not be based on facts. Pick two to three reputable news sources and stick with only gathering information from them. Additionally, limit your news checking to two to three times a day.
- Commit to finishing projects for a sense of accomplishment. Since we are being forced to stay home, use this time productively. This is a good time to organize closets, clean out your garage, or just simply conquer the many home projects you have been putting off this past year. Feeling productive and accomplished during this time will keep your mind occupied and give you a sense of purpose and well-being.
- Nurture safe connection. Staying connected to friends and family is crucial during a time of crisis. What we know is that when communities pull together during times of stress, they recover more easily. While this is a bit of a challenge because of social distancing, pick a few friends to stay in touch with on a regular basis. Perhaps you can set up a conference call with a few friends to check in daily or set up a group chat to stay connected, share information and daily downloads of your day and how you are keeping yourself occupied. Either way, take your safe connections and utilize them to their fullest.
- Make time for your children to voice their questions and fears. It is imperative that we make our children feel safe during this stressful time. Set the stage for honest and open discussions, relating the facts without causing them stress. Answer questions appropriately while doing your best to help them feel safe. Your children will only be as calm as you are yourself.
- Inhibit your anxiety response. When your anxiety starts creeping in, find a comfortable place in your home, ideally a space that you already find relaxing. Once you can feel your feet on the ground, begin to make the sound of “voo.” This vibrational sound provides a massage for your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve works with our autonomic nervous system and regulates many functions in our bodies, including social engagement and emotional regulation. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times. This exercise works directly to bring your nervous system back into balance.
If you are feeling anxious and uncomfortable this is an opportunity to slow things down and breathe. Use this time to get in touch with your feelings and lean into them. Remember that if we can stay calm and allow ourselves to be with our emotions, we are going to keep our immune systems stronger.
Our sense of community can easily get lost during a crisis. While these are trying times filled with uncertainty, remember you are not alone. If we as individuals do our part to make ourselves feel safe, we can be that much more effective in contributing to the safety of our families and communities.