Mindfulness During Chaos

Mindfulness During Chaos: Tips for Emotional Health & Anxiety

Anxiety is unsettling. Once we begin to feel it, we look for a way out and try to control our situation at hand. This may be useful when we feel anxious about a particular task or event coming up. We make long term plans for our upcoming years, in many facets of our life including our career, health, families, finances, and so on. Doing everything we can to control situations adds a sense of certainty to the worries and stress we encounter, making our lives more predictable. 

These are valuable for ultimately living a full and flourishing life. However, often we are faced with unpredictability. We are faced with situations we cannot completely control. Such as the current event of COVID-19, we can become unsure about how to move forward, protect the health of ourselves and our families, minimise financial hardship. Then, our anxiety and fears creep back up towards us. 

 

This is only a natural, valid response to challenging times, especially when one of the most uneasy factors is that this new disoriented reality of social distancing and isolation, is indefinite. One thing we can do is continue doing what is essential and practical for minimising risk for our physical health -- while embracing slower living, uncertainty and maintaining hope.

 

See below Strategies for coping with COVID, Anxiety, and enjoying the extra time.

 

Take Care of Your Physical Needs:

We all have universal human needs, including healthy food, exercise, exposure to sunlight and nature, rest, and social needs. Naturally, as these needs are satisfied, we too feel satisfied. The joy we experience when these needs are met have a big impact on our overall mental and physical health and wellbeing. 

 

Ensure you are eating a balanced diet, stretch for a few minutes so that you aren’t sitting too long. 

 

Stay connected with others, ring or message family, friends, and even your neighbours and people you know who live alone. It’s a good idea to check up on people, ensure they are taking care of themselves also, and talking about what you are grateful for. 

 

If you are not able to go outside in a backyard or go for a short walk, open the curtains and windows. If it isn’t too cold, get some fresh air in your room, and sit by the window for some sun. 

Maintain Healthy Routines: 

We all have our daily routines. For example, waking at a consistent time, getting ready for the day, completing a range of tasks and other routines before we go to sleep at night.  While it is natural for these essential, consistent rhythms to be turned upside down due to major events, it is important to keep up some routines, or make some new ones. Regular routines highly impact our emotional health and self esteem. They not only keep us organised, but they are essentially the foundation for our sense of accomplishment and achievement at the end of the day. 

 

Our routines also involve interacting, where others can also benefit from our company. For example, regular family mealtimes are so beneficial during this period of social isolation. Other social interactions can be replaced with phone and video calls at convenient times during the night or day. Exercise at the gym or in group classes can be done conveniently in your living room, or you could go for a short walk in the local park. Taking a routine completely away will have an inevitable impact on your emotions, sense of belonging and connectedness. Think about which routines are important to you, and how you can maintain them in a safe and clever way.

Stay Active and Organise Time Well: 

A great way to reduce anxiety and stress is by getting organised. Wake up in the morning and remind yourself you still have many important things to do. You will find there is much to accomplish at home, by keeping good habits, completing tasks you would normally do for your day to day living, for work, study, but also new hobbies and activities. 

 

You can organise how you are going to get your essentials, make smart plans and actually do what you can to reduce risks -- while still maintaining your everyday routines safely. Write a to do list of good, daily habits to keep up, things to buy for yourself or your family, organise, or complete -- including any work or study tasks. 

 

Also stay in touch with your extended family, talk about your plans with them and get ideas from others! See how they are coping and doing the same. 

 

Download the ‘Habit’ app to keep track of good habits and new activities to maintain on a regular basis. Some ideas include: spending 15 minutes a day learning a new language, or doing at home exercises. Depending on your physical abilities, you can create goals about how frequently you should exercise, at a time most convenient for you.

Balance Screen Time: 

Ensure to stay informed with right information from the media, but also take the opportunity to disconnect. It is absolutely important to stay up to date and make extra time for connecting with our extended family and friends via social media, but too much time watching and reading mainstream news (which is often exaggerated) can inflate your anxiety and create excess, and unnecessary fears surrounding transmission when you are already doing all you possibly can to keep yourself safe. Disconnecting from the news, social media, radio, even some people, and technology itself, can help you focus on what is most important to you, and doing activities at home that you find more fulfilling.

Practice Self-Care, New Habits and Hobbies. 

Ensure you have time for self compassion, and even be more creative with how you spend your free time. Self compassion involves treating yourself, the way you would take care of a loved one who is going through hardship. While a lot of schedules have slowed down due to COVID-19, as a parent, you may feel now as though you have no time for yourself because you are taking care of your child 24/7. 

 

Therefore, instead of spending your free time glued to a screen, maintain good habits and simple activities that YOU enjoy. For example, like meditation, music, reaching out to your loved ones, new, simple hobbies, exercise, and maintaining healthy habits and routines such as tidying a room or cleaning a neglected area of your home. 

 

You will be surprised that your kids would love to engage in some of these activities too. As a family, you could try taking a ‘screen-free evening’ once or twice a week, to pursue a passion. Or you could learn about a specific aspect of the world, history, or learn more about a particular topic without distractions from social media. 

 

You can keep in touch with your family, such as your parents/grandparents, write about them, and record their proudest moments and stories to go alongside precious photo albums and memorabilia for the next generation.  Get creative by making something from scratch, playing an instrument, reading a book, journaling, or writing about your personal experiences.

 

Embrace Slow Parenting

Looking back at your usual day, only after kids would rush to sports and extracurriculars after school, and then spend the rest of the evening on homework, would you be able to spend time with them. Just as you would look after yourself in the previous tips, ensure your children get the same. Kids need routines and expectations, just as they would at school. Creating a reasonable schedule for them, similar to one at school, will not only support them in their learning, but will also allow you to keep on track with work and other commitments. Breaks in between their school work can be valuable time spent together with them. 

 

For example, although giving your children unrestricted access to screens is tempting for a peace of mind, be sure to keep the hours under control. Instead, make the time for collaborative activities such as cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even doing simple activities like craft, baking, jump rope, or visiting landmarks virtually, can bring family together. Although it will be challenging to ensure kids keep to their ‘school’ schedule and do their chores around the house, this period can be valuable and enriching. 

Click here for further tips for keeping your kids on track!

 

Make Small Changes

While keeping yourself occupied at home, you can increase your tolerance to uncertainty, gradually. Recent research has shown little changes can address intolerance to uncertainty, increase the ability to be resilient and keep perspective. This behavioural approach can be an important first step towards reducing risk for anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders. 

Ways to increase your ability to respond flexibly include: 

  • Walking along a different route
  • Wearing clothing you don’t normally wear
  • At home, sitting in a place you don’t normally sit
  • Try a new exercise routine at home
  • Read a different newspaper, or articles on a topic or opinions you don’t usually read about
  • Listen to music your wouldn’t normally listen to
  • Contact a family member or friend you haven’t spoken to in a while

 

Respond, Rather Than React: Psychological & Practical Strategies

 

There is a huge difference between responding, versus reacting to people and situations at hand. Reacting is instant, drawing from unconscious prejudices, biases, with a lack of consideration and thought process. A response is quite the opposite. A response requires focus and attention, integrating information consciously, making decisions and acting with mindfulness and awareness; which often involves realising and weighing up the long term effects of our behaviour. Although responding and reacting may appear the same, they definitely do not feel the same. 

 

In stressful situations, we often react rather than respond, as we are often drawing upon our defense mechanisms, and these mechanisms are linked to unconscious cognitive processes and brain functions. During the current COVID-19 situation, with more stresses and anxieties, some of us can be more on edge and more unsettled than we usually are. However, it is especially these times in which responding is better for our own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of others around us. With everyone in the family at home in a confined space for longer than we’re used to, reacting to conflict only makes everyone feel more tension and have less patience. 

 

For parents now looking after their children 24/7, homeschooling, as well as working at home, there is more pressure, more responsibility, more to do. Sometimes, it can seem like there is less productivity and less time. During these uncertain times in a confined space, this is not usual. However, responding to conflicts instead will ensure there is harmony in the home, and the more time spent within it is as valuable it can be. Ultimately, it will benefit the physical, psychological and the emotional health and wellbeing of your family.

Here are some practical strategies for reducing potential conflict in your home:

 

  1. Keep things fair and organised. One of the most common conflicts in the home is about housework and responsibility. Share the load, make a roster or checklist to organise who is doing what chores. Get your children involved and set up a token economy system, rewarding them with small tokens as they complete their chores during the day and week. Setting up a token economy system, where small rewards are given to them after each chore, and then a big reward is given at the end of the day or week, will encourage your children to follow instruction more often. Although it is difficult, stand firm and fair, ONLY giving that particular reward when your little ones listen and complete their tasks!

 

  1. Remember to take care of yourself. This includes healthy food, exercise, exposure to sunlight and nature, rest, and social needs. Naturally, as these needs are satisfied, we too feel satisfied. The joy we experience when these needs are met dramatically improves our mood, and has a big impact on our overall mental and physical health and wellbeing. 

 

Ensure you are eating a balanced diet, stretch for a few minutes so that you aren’t sitting too long. 

 

If you are not able to go outside in a backyard or go for a short walk, open the curtains and windows. If it isn’t too cold, get some fresh air in the room, and sit by the window for some sun. 

 

Stay connected with others, ring or message family, friends, and even your neighbours and people you know who live alone. It’s a good idea to check up on people, ensure they are taking care of themselves also, and talking about what you are grateful for. 

 

  1. Dedicate time to yourself. When you feel on edge and impatient, set aside at least 15 minutes, and take some time to be physically by yourself. This will also help you psychologically detach from the conflict, and help you think more clearly. 

 

  1. Communicate assertively and respectfully. Be sure to communicate your feelings and needs as clear as you can, but always be mindful of the other person. Find the perfect middle ground where you are ensuring your needs are met, whilst not being unfair or communicating aggressively. 

 

  1. Don’t be too serious, keep things joyful and fun. Make the most of this period by spending quality time with your family or people you live with. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) necessarily have to be hours on end. Don’t underestimate the power of a good joke, funny meme or video. Look out for activities and hobbies you can do together, like exercising at home or going for a walk, cooking meals, watching a film, taking study breaks together, playing puzzles, games, and so on. 

 

Psychological Detachment methods:

  • Keep perspective: Why you are self isolating and distancing: to protect yourself, your family and society.

 

  • Psychological Detachment from work, particularly difficult considering work is now at home. 

 

  • Maintain Hope: Viktor E Frankl: Those who survived the holocaust had strategies for maintaining hope when it was all over -- all had something to live for. Frankl kept himself alive by thinking of his wife and seeing her again after the war. 
Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.

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