Coronavirus has changed our lives and us. It has entered our lives and continues to drip into them daily.
News bulletins, perspex screens in supermarkets and on television quiz shows, noticing crowd scenes or people hugging in movies that are only a couple of years old, people stepping aside when we are walking towards them in the street, birthday celebrations by Zoom, juggling working and living at home, deciding who we can meet safely, checking we have our keys and a face mask when we leave the house are a few of the daily droplets. We absorb the drips like a sponge even when we are determined to limit our sogginess. Some of us are damp, some wet and others saturated. That happens because we all have different resources, experiences and ways of coping.
Can we dry ourselves out? Wring out our sponge and reduce our saturation levels? Maybe even put an umbrella up and dodge some of the drips? I think there are ways.
The first step in reducing how damp you are is knowing that life feeling harder going when we feel fearful is a natural response. Its not your fault. Your brain likes certainty. Actually make that craves certainty. It wants to know what’s going on so it can feel safe and protect itself.
Like radar your mind and body are continually monitoring and responding to what’s going on inside your body and externally. When you feel threatened and become stressed your mind and body uses the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to react instantly and survive the threat. It’s the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response most of us know about. It’s flip side is when you feel calm and relaxed your body inhibits the same hormones being produced and you’re in the ‘rest and digest’ state. You need both reactions to live. Its a system that’s work well and if you’re reading this you’ll know it does from first hand experience!
The effectiveness of this system relies on any threat being brief or short term and that your body use the adrenaline and cortisol produced in a physical action to deal with the threat. Its when the threat is on going or its psychological or emotional rather than a physical threat and you can’t use a physical action to handle it that problems can occur.
You are not designed to feel threatened and under stress for sustained periods of time. You start to suffer no matter how stiff your upper lip is or how stoic you are. There is an impact. Physically, emotionally or psychologically something will, has to, shift. There will be short term changes and there will be longer term changes. There will be a cost. There is a cost. Now.
Sustained exposure to stress results in excessive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol being in your body continually. Though linked in the long term to numerous health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, there are impacts before that.
Your body gradually slips into ‘survival’ mode and focuses on using energy only on systems that enable you to survive. Your other bodily systems get put on hold. Think of it this way. When you are being chased by a bear you are hardly likely to be noticing its a beautiful sunset!
Your performance drops, your immune system becomes compromised and its harder to motivate yourself. Noticed any sniffles lately? You may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping and with your memory. Getting up is a struggle, and that’s not because its January though that doesn’t help, and finding the energy for exercising, being creative or sexual activity isn’t there. Even socialising can feel overwhelming. Your focus is, and has to be, on surviving and not thriving.
It’s unsurprising then that in January 2021, after many months of living with the pandemic, some of us, maybe most of us, are finding life tougher and experiencing some of these symptoms of sustained exposure to threat and stress. Its not that we were all living totally relaxed, blissfully stress free lives before the pandemic came along and ramped things up either! Stress is part of life.
The pandemic though is different to anything we’ve encountered before in our lifetimes and it needs strategies to handle and manage it to prevent both short and long term problems. Along with knowing how your mind and body responses to threats and stress here are some other ways I’ve come up to help you dry out.
Ways to Control Coronavirus Saturation Levels
There’s a saying, “What you resist will persist!” and its true. Telling yourself you want things to be different to how they are generates anger, resentment and is exhausting. You are in denial – and that’s not a river in Egypt! Acceptance is recognising the reality of a situation without attempting to change, protest or run away from it. It is a way of deciding that this is the way things are at this moment knowing the situation will change because our lives are a series of moments and they are always changing.
On Monday it was my birthday. Usually I enjoy ‘doing something’ with friends to celebrate. With hospitality venues closed that couldn’t happen and by knowing and accepting that meant I knew what I could do. Life was easier. Actually with limited options choices are usually easier anyway! Accepting there is a pandemic at this moment means life feels calmer, less tiring and slightly more under control. It will change.
2. Take Control
Control here isn’t about OCD, being controlling or wanting to control elements in your life you can’t. Feeling you have some control in your life is important for your overall well being.
Without any control we can feel we are impotent and at the mercy of others and stress levels rise. Taking control generates and fosters feelings of personal agency. We feel there is more certainty, self determination, empowerment, ownership and responsibility.
Along with acceptance, deciding on something, anything, YOU can commit to and pretty much guarantee happening, come rain or shine, will boost your feel good hormones, like dopamine, give you an increased sense of control and certainty and lift your self esteem.
Its not the action that matters. Its the fact YOU are controlling something YOU are deciding to do for YOU! Whatever you choose must be easily achievable, happen at a set time daily – first or last thing are ideal, and be within your control. Too much effort or lots of variables will derail it from happening. You may find you already do something though didn’t realise you were doing it. Use that.
Here are a few ideas clients and friends have used…let me know any you use or others you come up with.
|Be between the sheets by a specific time every evening. You won’t necessarily go to sleep then though you will be in bed.||Stand on one leg brushing your teeth. You can change your leg each time. (This is my favourite and the one I do!)|
|Turn out your bedroom light/lamp at the same time each night.||Turning the sofa cushions each morning.|
|Get up at the same time each day.||Set the alarm clock every night.|
|Never take a mobile phone into the bedroom.||Nightly facial routine.|
|Night time or morning breathing routine.||Morning meditation.|
|Have a morning cuppa. Alone.||Make my bed before I go downstairs.|
|Putting out my yoga mat at night.||Smile into a mirror. First thing.|
3. Get Strong
Together with feeling confident and in control when you move your body there is a strength in your mind that comes when you feel physically strong. Your body gets stronger when you load, or overload, your muscles and it helps your brain feel safer as well! You are healthier and you feel healthier!
With gyms closed its good to know that you don’t have to go to a gym to get stronger. There are easy ways to fit strength training into your daily routine at home or you can go online for classes many of which are free. You could even go online with a friend and do a home exercise together! Keep things sane though. An injury doesn’t do much for your mood!
Starter Strength Exercise
Slow squats as you wait for the kettle to boil. Use the kitchen worktop for balance initially. Go as low as you can keeping your heels on the floor and pain free. Keep breathing or singing. Start with 5 repetitions. Singing makes sure you breathe and also lifts your mood!
Think you’re too old? Our muscles get weaker as we age unless we do something about it. Staying strong as grow older is important and, health conditions allowing, most of us will be able to do strength training into our dotage!
4. Go Outside
As you sit in your lovely warm room, it may sound ridiculous that getting outside into the chill of winter is good for your health and wellbeing. It is. Your mind and body thrives when it experiences the natural world even if that means a quick walk round the block or popping out into the garden.
Walking outside shifts your mental state in only a few steps. Longer regular walks of 20 minutes or more reduces anxiety and improves your mood, energy, self esteem and your physical health and well being. You’ll return home feeling better even on grey wet days!
You can’t do a ‘shopping centre shuffle’ to get the benefits. You need to be breathing so you can still talk though not so slowly you can sing and when you can get into nature, like a park or woods, you’ll reap even more benefits.
Whether you walk, cycle, swim or run outdoors there are more benefits that just to your heart and lungs. Biophilia rules!
5. Gate Keep Language
Language has the power to impacts on how we think, feel and act. It influences how we approach our lives and the experiences we have. An unkind word can cut us deeply and a kind word can soothe.
When the language we use and hear suggests struggle, fight and adversity we feel those emotions. We even believe that that is the way we ought to feel and if we aren’t there is something wrong and we can end up feeling internally conflicted.
The language around this pandemic is emotive, often negative, and that tells us times are hard and life is about struggling, coping and surviving. That is part of life.
Life is a mixed bag. It has its ups and downs. Expecting it to be otherwise is foolish and unrealistic. Even in the midst of these current experiences there are benefits and gains. I certainly haven’t minded not travelling so much for my work!
The media, friends, family, work colleagues, check out staff in supermarkets…all bring words and influence into our lives. Checking the language you encounter is key for your mental and physical wellbeing. This isn’t about putting your head in the sand and hoping things will get better. It’s about being aware and taking actions to keep events and information in perspective.
A friend has a great expression for gate keeping your language and sums it up by saying “Know what you need to know and know what you don’t need to know”. Having this in mind has made a difference to the language that is in my life. Here are some actions you might use to gate keep the language in your life…
- Limit news watching or listening to once a day or once every few days.
- Have something else to talk about on an online call other than the pandemic so you can head there after initial coronavirus comparisons. Maybe its a book you’ve read, a film or TV show you’ve watched, a recipe you’ve discovered…
- Check your own language for fear spreading and being negative laden.
- Create a book, film, exercise, gardening, foreign language, cooking or another club with a friend or two and stay in touch online.
- Notice how you feel after a reading, listening or watching experience. If if feels great repeat it. If not avoid it for now.
Usually associated with weight loss or gain and often overlooked in our mental well being, your nutrition has a huge impact on your mood and overall mental, emotional and physical health. Your nutrition can zap your energy and mood or boost them.
Most of us are aware that a high sugar diet isn’t going to do us any favours mood wise. Here are 10 ways to boost your energy and mental well being nutrition…
- Caffeine is as stimulant and will give you a quick burst of energy though then may make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly. Drink in moderation or switch to decaffeinated versions. 2 cups max.
- Staying hydrated helps you concentrate, think clearly and helps your digestive function. Constipation never helps your mood! A rough guide is 1 to 2 litres a day of fluids. You guessed it, alcohol doesn’t count and will lower your mood.
- Planning meals ahead means you will choose foods you have planned for rather than quick sugary snacks. You’ll also feel more in control of your life!
- Protein contains chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings and stops you wanting to snack on sugary foods because you’ll feel full for longer. Turkey is a great mood booster and beans, pulses and fish are other great sources of protein. Beans and lentils are also rich sources of mood-boosting nutrients particularly B vitamins and protein rich nuts and seeds are high in tryptophan, zinc, and selenium which support brain function and lower your risk of depression.
- Eat regularly and choose slow energy releasing foods to keep your blood sugar level fairly constant. Make whole-wheat versions your friend! When you blood sugar levels drop you might feel tired, irritable and depressed.
- Eat more than 5 a day! Colourful vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Bananas are high in vitamin B6 which helps synthesise feel-good brain neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
- Brain health means eating fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 like salmon and mackerel. If you are vegetarian, like me, it may mean supplements.
- Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids which have been shown to increase blood flow to your brain, reduce inflammation and boost your brain health. The texture tase and smell of chlorate also can contrite to a good mood. Eat in moderation rather than thin you can chomp a whole bar everyday!
- Getting your porridge oats provides fibre that stabilises your blood sugar levels and boosts your mood.
- Berries are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, fibre and contain a variety of nutrients and vitamins. They help fight inflammation throughout the body including the brain and can boost your mood and may lower your risk of depression. Frozen berries have the benefits of fresh ones and much cheaper at this time of year.
Decide you mustn’t eat chocolate and, guess what? Your desire to eat chocolate becomes your focus and you end up eating chocolate! It’s the same when you tell yourself you want to eat chocolate. You’ll eat chocolate! Whether its avoiding or desiring what, or who, you focus on is where you direct your energy and effort.
Where is your focus now? Today? Is it focusing on fear and risk or what you can control and feel good about?
8. Get Learning
When we are learning something new, or doing a hobby we enjoy, our self confidence and self esteem is boosted and we have a sense of purpose. In turn, this helps us feel more in control and rewarded mentally.
There are lots of way you can get learning and some aren’t going to require a lot of time. Giving a new recipe a go, fixing a puncture on your bike, learning a language, writing a blog, taking up running, teach yourself to train your dog, learn to paint or write…There are lots of free online videos and resources to help you.
Sometimes it can feel as if my head is in a constant spin of information, decisions and thoughts and I’m overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of them. I know I’m not alone! One of the most useful ways I’ve relieved the pressure in my head and gained clarity is to write down what is going on in my head and life.
It can feel self conscious at first though gets easier quickly. Go with your own style rather than think there is a ‘right’ way. I sit down and set myself 3 sides of A4 paper to fill, pen on paper and write. Spelling, punctuation etc aren’t important. Something happens in the process. I change by the end of it. I never share my journaling, read it back or let it be read. It is mine and I’m able to write freely because I know it is secure.
These are the ways I have helped myself reduce my Coronavirus Saturation levels. I’m sure many of you will have your own. Let’s get sharing and building our resources to help ourselves and others.
Till the next time…
Enjoy the day you create.