This is certainly an unexpected reality in which we find ourselves. You don’t need to spend much time on social media to realize that even the air we’re breathing is charged with fear and anxiety. As I write this, we’re on day 2 of a 30-day stay-at-home order. Over the last several weeks the term “social distancing” has been added to our lexicon. Trauma expert, clinician, and author, Dr. Peter Levine proposes that we change this new term to “physical distancing”. We are social beings and we are not made for social isolation. During this turbulent season it is right that we do what we can to protect ourselves and others, especially the most vulnerable, from contracting this virus. However, in order to stay emotionally and mentally healthy, we need to find ways to stay connected to others.
I want to share some ideas that will gives us the best chance of getting through this with our sanity intact. Our brains don’t like uncertainty and unpredictability. Putting together a daily schedule and developing a routine can help bring a sense of calm and order to what feels like chaos. When our minds are racing with anxiety and fears of the future, logic and reason are often not the best defense. We need to focus our attention on our bodies. A fun and practical way of doing this is putting on your favorite jams and dance; literally let the music move you. Don’t be afraid to get a little bit crazy.
For those of us with children, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regulating your own negative emotions. Our children look to us for security and safety. This situation is disorienting and frightening enough; when we have the ability to self-regulate, we can be the solid anchor of safety that our children need us to be. As adults, we sometimes need help staying regulated. This is a great opportunity to co-regulate with another adult. It is unhealthy for a parent or caregiver to look to a child for emotional support; this is a role reversal and violates the child’s boundary.
Other ways of staying mentally and emotionally healthy are daily prayer time and spiritual reading. Practicing mindfulness is also a great way to check in with yourself and begin your day with focus and clarity. When feelings of fear, sadness, anxiety, and even grief come up, locate where in your body those sensations are most intense and simply notice what you’re feeling. We need to honor our feelings and those of other people. We are made to bear witness to what others are experiencing. This will not change the external situation but it draws us closer to each other and gives us a sense of mastery over our emotions. And finally, choose beauty, joy, and delight. Be kind to yourself. Cook together, go outside for a walk (be mindful of physical distancing and honor others’ boundaries), and instead of turning to the news or social media, play games.
I hope that this helps you and those you care about in this turbulent time. Regardless of how long this will take, our world will be different, I will be different, and you will be different. Let’s hope that we all change for the better.
Chris Ellman MSW, LCSW, SATP, CSAT Candidate