As the darkness of uncertainty looms at the threshold of our doorways in this time of pandemic, we are brought to a sobering awareness of our own vulnerability. Because so much about the behavior of this virus is beyond our comprehension, it is easy to feel helpless whenever we turn on the news and see death tolls rise and savings shrink.
Research shows that helplessness is closely linked to depression–and of course depression leads often to inertia (if nothing I do matters, why bother doing anything at all?). From there we have the offshoots of junk-food stress eating (and gaining unhealthy added weight which can compromise our immune system); inability to sleep soundly (anyone try falling asleep after a full day in front of the TV news?); and skyrocketing levels of stress that can trigger all kinds of additional health problems.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Take control of that which you CAN control with respect to your well-being.
Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay on SELF-RELIANCE wrote: “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light that flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. His message was clear: We must trust in the authentic wisdom that lies within us ,and avoid robotically “imitating” the herds (anyone notice toilet paper hoarding?).Emerson’s treatise encouraged us to believe in our ability to thrive—something that often flies out the window during times of stress and panic.
Learning to believe in yourself again, instead of sitting frozen in place waiting for “the other shoe to drop”, can turn your life around. Consistent life-affirming actions are key. If you are alive and well today, then you have a true gift. How do you really want to live it? Even with the limitations of staying at home, there are ways to short-circuit the switch of constant anxiety and breathe a sigh of gratitude for blessings you have.
Here are some ideas for taking actions that help banish the darkness of feeling helpless.
1.FOLLOW THE EXPERTS’ GUIDELINES WITHOUT LETTING UP. That means don’t get lax about staying home except for absolute necessity, keep at least a 6-foot social distance from others whenever you go out, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently throughout the day, cough or sneeze into your elbow, disinfect packages and mail before bringing them into your home, wash your produce carefully, and disinfecting all surfaces frequently touched. BE RELENTLESS in maintaining these practices until we are told otherwise. Learn more about the things you CAN do to protect yourself and others right here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME. To paraphrase one of Leonardo’s notebook entries: When standing in a river don’t worry about the part of that hasn’t reached you, nor the waters that have already passed behind. If you wake up and can walk, breathe, eat, make phone calls, etc.—consider this day a gift and focus only on what you can do with it now. How will you make today the very best it can be?
3.BE INFORMED AND BE STRINGENT ABOUT GOOD NUTRITION. Research shows that making nutrient rich choices give your immune system the best chance. Studies have shown the benefits of leafy greens (check with your physician if you are on certain blood-thinning medications), mushrooms, onions, garlic, blueberries and other berries, citrus fruits, bananas, and unprocessed starches like rice or sweet potatoes (e.g. as in Dr. MacDougall’s “Starch Solution”) . Also beneficial are spices like turmeric, cardamom, oregano, fresh parsley, etc. Consider drinking lots of water and green tea. I don’t judge or preach to anyone about what diet to follow, but there is a lot of evidence that giving up animal products (including dairy and eggs), sugar, salt, added oils/fats and other processed foods weaken the immune system. Also limit or eliminate alcohol and caffeine. Check out the work of some of the following leaders in the field (you can watch their lectures on YouTube, read their books or check out their research. You might even take a look at the film “Forks Over Knives”):
-Dr. John MacDougall
-Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
-Dr. Dean Ornish
-Dr. Neal Barnard
-Dr. Michael Gregor
-Dr. Joel Fuhrman
And while some may not like what I am about to say, I will say it anyway: COOK. Home cooking is fun, healthy, and life-affirming. There is no excuse not to, and now more than ever, it is part of my self-reliance guidelines for well-being.
4 .GET DAILY MODERATE EXERCISE. Even 20 -30 minutes of in-house dancing, yoga, walking/marching in place, light weight routines, barre, calisthenics—whatever you choose, just keep to a consistent schedule. Now there are so many free workout routines on YouTube that there is no excuse. Some of my favorite include:
– Charlene Prickett workouts (I love retro)
-Paul Eugene (he’s a new favorite),
-Jillian Michaels (low impact HIIT).
-The NYT 7-Minute workout (if you don’t have much time)
– If you can safely go out for a walk while distancing, that is good too.
5.Get Vitamin D. Natural D from sunlight has been shown to have protective benefits. Very brief periods when the sun is not too strong will help to avoid getting a burn. Sunlight also lifts our spirits. If you can’t go out into the sun for one reason or another, consider supplementing after consulting with your health care provider, who may want to check your levels first.
6.Get Good Sleep. Here are some tips that might work for you, if you are having trouble getting to sleep because of worries:
-Listen to an audio book
-drink chamomile or sleepy time tea before bed
-Make sure you are getting some magnesium
-Check with your health provider about taking a melatonin supplement or cream
-Turn off the cell phone, laptop and TV
-Use a soothing sound device (waterfall, chimes, wind, etc.)
7.Drink Plenty of Water. Water cleanses the body of toxins. I like to fill up a big drinking jug with filtered water, squeeze in the juice of one lemon, and drink it throughout the day. When I am at the bottom, I know I got my water requirement for the day.
8.Turn on (or make) some Music. Be it classical, oldies, opera, pop, Latin—whatever lifts your spirits and makes you smile. Dance to the rhythm. They don’t call music the “universal language” for no reason. If you play (or used to play) an instrument—get to it! Write your own songs. Learn to sing. Fill your life with the salve that has soothed souls for centuries.
9.READ. You can get almost any book in electronic form, so you don’t have to have hard copies delivered. You can also find libraries that are now lending eBooks for free, and of course, books that were written once upon a time, are all in the public domain and can be read online for free. Just google them. One site to check out is https://www.gutenberg.org
10.Turn off the news. My rule of thumb is this: watch only enough news headlines to keep you informed, beyond that switch the channel. Watch shows that uplift not horrify you (no bloody thrillers, etc.). Some of my favorites include Seinfeld re-runs, 90-Day Fiancé’, PBS cooking specials, NYC Open House, and the Golden Girls reruns.
11.Use video chats. It may not be like getting together face to face, but with Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and Zoom, you can have tons of fun talking to your family and friends—no matter where in the world they are. It is a way of socializing in this new era of social distancing. Some people are even “dating” online instead of having that first coffee date in a public venue.
12.Adopt a pet if you don’t have one. There is nothing in the world like the love you receive from a pet. No one can tell me they don’t appreciate having a home, and in return give you unconditional love. There is also a positive psychological benefit from having a bond with your pets. I’d be lost without mine!
13.Open Your Windows . Let some fresh air in each day, even if it’s cold out and you only open the windows for a few minutes.
14.Rid your home and car of dust and clutter. Get rid of excess things you don’t need (clothes, makeup, Knick knacks, decorations, etc. Keep your surroundings uncluttered and clean. Dust, wash floors, disinfect surfaces (including doorknobs, TV remotes, cell phones, etc.), and make sure you leave shoes at the door instead of tracking in dirt and bacteria into your home. I even like to spray the soles of my shoes with disinfectant when I come home.
15.ExpressYour Creativity—We all have a Muse inside of us. Now is the time to write your book, pen your poetry, paint, sew/knit, learn a language, build a scrapbook.
16.Maintain Your Financial Fitness—Everyone is feeling the pinch in this area where markets plummeted, jobs are lost ,businesses have closed. See if you can think of ways to funnel your talents and skills into offering online services or products. Now is the time to cut excess spending. Do a search to see what grants, loans, unemployment benefits, etc., you might qualify for. Just doing something, even if a small step, could be just the kickstart you need to feel more confident going forward.
17.Use Relaxation Techniques: It is no secret among psychologists and other health professionals that stress deteriorates the immune system and is at the root of many illnesses. It makes us more vulnerable to a host of maladies, that even include the common cold. During this pandemic, it is time to employ stress -reduction techniques, daily and EVERY Day. There are a number of ways to do this and not all techniques will resonate with you. Find the ones that do and make daily stress-reduction time NON-NEGOTIABLE. Here is how.
–Check out YouTube for short meditations you can follow along with. You don’t have to sit and chant for hours at a time. Even starting out with 5 minutes of focused breath work is a healthy start.
–Patterned breathing: I like a pattern of slow inhale (through the nose) for a count of 4; hold for a count of 4, slow exhale through pursed lips for a count of 6. I do about 3-4 rounds and feel a deep sense of peace and relaxation wash over me. You can try whatever pattern works for you. Or you can simply sit and stillness and observe your breath as it naturally enters and leaves the nose.
–Visualization. Take a few breaths, imagining all your worries just wash away, then sit still and visualize the most wonderful setting in the world. You are smack in the center of that beautiful place. It could be a warm sandy beach, a cool green forest, your grandmother’s fragrant kitchen, or sunny orange grove. Whatever resonates with you. Use all of your senses to observe the details of that place, as you immerse deeper and deeper into that scene. What are the smells, sights, sounds, and feel of this place? Stay here for a while until you feel at peace and ready to resume your day.
–Progressive muscle relaxation: After getting into a comfortable position and taking a few deep slow breaths, put your focus on the muscles of your scalp. Take a slow breath and as you exhale relax all the muscles of your scalp, feeling the tension melt away. Then focus on the muscles of your face. Go down to your neck and shoulders and do the same, etc., all the way down to your feet and toes. Soon your body will be totally relaxed and refreshed.
- Be sharp and don’t get scammed. Don’t fall for the scam phone calls telling you something dreadful about the IRS coming to arrest you, or your car warranty running out. Don’t fall for anyone pretending to be a family member who needs you to wire them money, so they don’t get arrested. Don’t open attachments that come in your IM or email from sources you don’t know. Check your credit card statements. If you see even the smallest charge that you don’t recognize, call your bank immediately and let the fraud department handle it. In desperate times we have to be extra vigilant.
- Have faith/Have Hope. If you are a believer, beyond consistent self-reliant behaviors, you must let go of the rest and let God steer the ship. If you do not identify with the concept of god or faith in any particular religion—read what inspires you. Perhaps it is philosophy, ancient wisdom, motivational TED Talks, or even YouTube influencers that inspire you. It’s all good as long as you strive for something that elevates your spirit and motivates you to keep going.
- Count Your Blessings. And dwell on them. Even if it means taking pen to paper and making a list of all the people, things, and experiences in your life that you still have the privilege of enjoying.
- Don’t hesitate to get counseling if you can’t get out of a slump. Check out providers who do telehealth counseling and see what your insurance covers or who might accept fees on a sliding scale.
If you enjoyed this article and think it might benefit someone else, feel free to share and share away. And do leave your comments below, about what strategies you are using to get through during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. I would love to read your thoughts.
Until next time Dear Friends, please stay well, stay safe, and stay in touch
Copyright: Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2020