How are doing ? No really, how are you doing? You may be bewildered about how to cope with the highs and lows of Covid. But one thing is sure as we head into lockdown again: none of us are feeling like ourselves. I have had so many therapy clients say that to me. And I recognise it myself.
Look around you. Some of us are quieter, others louder. Some are eating more; others are out running in the icy conditions. Some are being kinder, whilst others seem to be uncharacteristically mean. You might be ranting about how the government is making mistakes because of covid restrictions. I might be meditating myself up my own backside.
Ultimately, whatever our way of coping – even if that is unallayed optimism – it won’t work all that well to help us cope with the highs and lows of Covid. We learn coping mechanisms early on in life. These strategies serve us well – they defend us from ‘life threatening’ situations. When we are young, that simply means parental disapproval. So we become the good girl or boy, or the clown, or we get busy. And it works; until it doesn’t. In fact, often our uncharacteristic ways of coping, are our last line of defence, and they only end up causing us more problems. We become so used to keeping our anxieties at bay by staying busy, that when covid strips away all our avenues of choice, we are forced to face painful reality.
Even stoicism doesn’t help with the highs and lows of Covid
Stoicism is the haven of many. But even that can create more problems. When its rationalism and objectivity become a defence mechanism, it can end up just being another way to avoid painful emotions.
A little help
Children often turn to a transitional object when things get difficult. Did you ever have a comfort blanket or a favourite toy from which you were inseparable? Only to be told by your parents that one day you put it down never to pick up again.
My transitional object, at two years of age, was a china dog. I remember it vividly. I feel my deep abiding love for the inanimate animal. This Christmas my dad saw the exact same dog in a local charity shop and bought it for me. I was so excited. Yet when I opened it, though I was delighted with its beautiful design, I did not get the comfort that my two-year-old clearly did.
Comfort in Covid
What can help us cope with the highs and lows of Covid? Give us real comfort and solace in these unprecedented times? We are living with a threat. This elevates our fear, fight, flight response – activates our sympathetic nervous system and causes our parasympathetic response to go offline.
However, this threat is different. It is chronic, persistent, and invisible. It strips us of control and activates a trauma response. Covid-19 is at risk of doing as much damage to our mental health as it is to our physical health. But we can become more resilient.
True resilience is not Pollyanna optimism, or denial. Rather it is developing an ability to face the reality of the situation. As the Covid crisis (and its long tail of mental health problems, job losses, economic upset) is likely to get worse before it gets better. And undertaking activities and practices to help us cope; then we might be able to crawl back, rather than bounce back, to comforting normality.
Some ideas to help you cope
We are all different and what works for one of us, won’t suit another. You will know the best ways to cope in difficult times but here are some ideas that have worked for me or others.
- Walking (in nature) – we all know walking is good for us. But physical exercise that involves rhythmic movement and connection with the earth helps the body process trauma and helps with anxiety and depression. If we are able to be in nature whilst we walk, we start to benefit from tuning in to a healing frequency that sooths us on a deep level. Healing vibrations carried by the colour green reach into us and can even positively affect our DNA. And plants and trees have a type of consciousness that can touch us, if we let it. A daily walk is an important part of managing the highs and lows of covid.
- Yoga – whilst in the west we have deformed yoga into yet more body beautiful fitness regime, real yoga is something very different. It may not even include physical postures (asana) but mantra, chanting, service/work, breathing practices, and meditation. Stepping onto the true path of yoga can bring us closer to our real self and build enduring resilience. It can keep us balanced and uplifted, even as we enter our third lockdown.
- Satsang – this is something that we do in any kind of spiritual discipline. It is where we seek out the company of people where we can seek out, talk about and understand the truth. A group of like-minded folks committed to understanding the deeper meanings of life and question reality. Whilst being supported by belonging to a connected tribe.
- Cleansing practices – the coronavirus crisis is bringing up a lot of negative energy in the world and in each of us. It can manifest in radical changes in peoples’ behaviours, which can mean we get upset or hurt. Practices to clear out such negative energy can be useful. This might include yogic practices such as the kriyas or burning sage (smudging) or palo santo sticks. Chanting powerful mantras – such as OM or om mani padme hum – are far more effective for clearing the mind than affirmations. I have been doing a weekly havan during the last 9 months or so. This type of fire ceremony uses thermal energy and sound to purifiy and harmonise the air and ourselves. There are more, but perhaps these are just some to help protect your energy during this crisis.
- Helping others – if each of us could commit to helping at least one other during these times it would have a tremendous impact, not just on the wider community, but also on ourselves.
- Enjoying a hobby – perhaps you already have something you love doing but haven’t had the time or inclination to do it. Or maybe you have picked up a new interest during this year of covid? Hobbies are a fantastic way to engage with something we love and keep our mind focused. They keep our brains and our selves healthy and can even end up benefiting others anyway.
- New channels for connection – keeping connection is probably the most important way, for most of us, to get through the highs and lows of covid. But we may have to be creative in looking into new channels to communicate or stay in connection with others. Zoom is the obvious one. But remember skype, and WhatsApp is fantastic for messaging, phone and video calls. Social media is healthy and positive if used in the right ways.
- Animals – whilst I am not advocating adopting a dog during lockdown, there are many ways that we can get animal companionship or inspiration. You could help a friend or family member with their dog (or cat) – respecting bubbles of course. You could look into the wide variety of furry and non-furry animals that can be terrifically interesting to keep. Looking after something else, and having physical contact (even if they don’t have fur) can enrich your life.
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