If you are feeling "stuck" through the pandemic, know that you aren't alone*. Try some strategies below to care for your heart and mind during these challenging times.
Feel your feelings, but let them go! Right now, it is normal to feel grief, anxiety, uncertainty, and any other uncomfortable or negative feelings we have. While we need to allow ourselves the space to feel these feelings, we also need to give ourselves the space (and patience) to let them go. Anxiety, for instance, can sometimes be productive and motivating; it might push us to wash our hands more or distance ourselves from others because we know that it is important for our health and safety. However, unproductive anxiety - overthinking or rumination - can create spiraling and uncontrollable worry as well as catastrophic thinking, fear, and negativity. This unhealthy pattern can also lead to other physical or emotional changes such as withdrawing from people, having trouble sleeping, change in appetite or energy levels, or irritability and anger.
If unproductive anxiety is happening to you, reflect on the source of your anxiety or worry. If it is the news or constant media updates, try to disconnect from it and only allow yourself one or two daily updates. (Information overload during a pandemic can be especially stressful!) Detaching yourself from the source might ease the feelings of fear or anxiety, or could help you let go of them faster. Try a visualization exercise to help with letting go of unproductive anxiety or worry. First, validate yourself for feeling any emotion you have in this current moment. Next, close your eyes and imagine a snow globe being shaken. See all of the snow moving around, all the agitation created by shaking it around. Watch as the snow globe is put down. Patiently concentrate on the snow floating back down, settling into the ground. As the snow settles, feel yourself settling down.
Take a (self-compassion) break! Let's face it: our sense of "normal" looks and feels different since the pandemic. Disruption to our daily lives has created widespread struggle of varying degrees, for all of us. When feelings are overwhelming or you feel the stress climbing, take a pause to be intentionally kind to yourself. We call this self-compassion. Self-compassion is just as it sounds - compassion to yourself - and is one of the stepping stones to emotional intelligence. It involves 1) nonjudgmental acknowledgement of personal struggle, 2) loving acceptance that suffering is a part of human existence, and 3) a productive and patient response to the pain you are feeling. Self-compassion is a mindfulness exercise that focuses your attention inward, allowing you the space and time to feel your struggle in a productive and empathetic way.
Begin your self-compassion journey by finding a quiet, comfortable spot in your home and listening to some of Dr. Kristin Neff's guided meditations. You can also start a self-compassion journal or use a prompt to guide your writing. Know that mindfulness is a practice. One day you may be focused and engaged, and the next you might be distracted or agitated. Even the most experienced sometimes struggle with staying engaged in mindfulness, so be patient and kind to yourself throughout your journey!
Reflect and reframe! One healthy yet challenging habit to learn is reflecting on our negative emotions or experiences and reframing to positive thinking. Using reflection to promote emotional awareness and positivity is a resiliency skill, meaning it can buffer the potential negative effects of life's challenges or obstacles. Positive reframing ultimately does not change the experience, but it does reduce the emotional burden and adjusts our mindset to healthier, productive thinking.
Although beneficial for our health, the process of reflecting and reframing our experiences - especially in the midst of chaos - is no easy task. When you are experiencing a negative feeling or stress, first examine your environment with fresh eyes. By taking this necessary first step, you are not glossing over the negative feelings. Then, look for what you can change using a solution-focused approach: ask yourself "how can I change this?" or "what is within my control?" Realize that there are many things that we do have the ability to change; however, there are some that are out of our control. Lastly, look for benefits. You may ask yourself "what am I learning from this challenge?" or "how will I grow?" With a growth mindset, you are shifting negative thinking to focus on the potential, learning, and building success. In the end, reframing should be a process, not an outcome. If you struggle with negative thinking and want to introduce yourself to reframing, start with a simple prompt to set yourself up for positive thinking. Instead of saying "Today, I have to..." - which can lead to complaining and rumination - try "Today, I GET to..." See and feel what unfolds when you redirect yourself to positivity and gratitude.
Keep a routine and schedule self-care! During the pandemic, you are probably seeing and experiencing a giant adjustment to your normal routine or might be finding it difficult to follow a daily schedule at all. When our regular routine shifts due to the changes in our environment, it causes big strain on our mental health and functioning. Finding a routine that works for your current lifestyle (and sticking to it) can provide a multitude of benefits including enhancing your mental and emotional well-being. Routines can make stress manageable despite the non-controllable environment, promote healthy habits and accountability, and provide normalcy. Routines are especially helpful for individuals with anxiety or anxiety disorders as they can provide structure and a healthy sense of control and responsibility. When creating a new routine, make sure to allocate time for self-care. Create intentional time and space for you to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually - even if you only have 5 minutes. Looking for self-care ideas? View the self-care toolkit for our favorite ways to care for our mind, body, and soul.
Establish personal boundaries! Boundaries become a critical component of self-care and mental well-being during uncertain times. Personal boundaries are healthy and necessary limits and rules we set for ourselves in all aspects of life, especially within relationships. The purpose of setting healthy boundaries is for protection and caring for our physical, emotional, and mental safety. We can set boundaries for emotions and feelings, needs, responsibilities from others, and what is and isn't allowed in our personal space.
Knowing what you can AND can't handle with work, family, and friends and following through with those limits shows respect for yourself and others, and is more sustainable for your mental and emotional health in the long run. Setting and enforcing personal limits are acts of self-preservation, helping us to conserve our time and energy for the things that matter most. As you begin to acknowledge and establish healthy limits, listen to your feelings as they will inform you if a boundary has been crossed. Fatigue and exhaustion are signals to slow down while resentment usually appears when you have given too much or are giving out of obligation/guilt rather than good intention. Through awareness and trial and error, you may find yourself saying "no" more frequently in an effort to protect your priorities. When enforcing your healthy boundaries with others, 1) be clear and straightforward (know what is okay versus not okay), 2) recognize that generosity and compassion cannot exist without boundaries, and 3) assume the best about people. Watch Brené Brown's video below or read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
*If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help! Check out our resource page, or talk to your doctor.