At this unprecedented time, we are all finding ourselves in a challenging space. We are experiencing a collective trauma, and our bodies and minds are responding as such.
What does this look like? The clinical term for this is extreme emotional lability, which means rapid mood swings or a seesaw of emotions between two very different states of arousal. Have you had nights where one second you’re crying at a video on Instagram and then the next second you’re wanting to strangle your kids? Emotional lability!
The different states of arousal you might experience now are similar to a response to trauma — hyperarousal and hypoarousal. Hyperarousal is marked by feelings of anger, anxiety, being out of control or overwhelmed. Your body is in “fight or flight” mode, much like you are being chased by a bear, while hypoarousal is characterized by feeling spacey, zoned out, numb, frozen or shut down.
Neither of these states of being make for a healthy state of mind. Both because your “window of tolerance” is small or nonexistent and it doesn’t take much to throw you off balance. If this sounds familiar, don’t panic, this is a predictable response to trauma, and what we’re all going through right now is indeed traumatic.
So what can you do? While you can’t find a vaccine for COVID-19, know exactly when your workplace will reopen or whether or not your children will be able to go to summer camp, there are certain things you can do to feel better. Focusing on what you can change and control, rather than just what’s scary and out of your control, can really help.
We recommend to our clients that they focus on what we call the 4 Pillars of Wellness: Stillness, Connection, Movement and Nourishment.
If you are lucky enough to be working from home, and lucky enough for that home to have other loved ones in it with you, finding quiet time for yourself can be hard. Even if you are alone, it’s easy to jump from screen to screen and not take time to breathe and center. Finding stillness — time for sleep, reflection, meditation, gratitude, relaxation, even a deep breath — is vital to well being. Small moments can make a large impact on how we feel, and can support your ability to calm down, regulate your nervous system and re-center. Taking a deep breath and a moment of gratitude is a perfect place to begin, and can be part of a consistent ritual practice. Try taking a deep breath every morning when you wake up and think of something you are grateful for before picking up your phone. Make a habit of doing this. It takes less than 30 seconds and shifts your internal landscape for the day ahead. If this feels helpful, you can also set a timer on your phone every 90 minutes as a reminder to pause, breathe and connect with gratitude. One breath, one thought.
We all know how important sleep is to well-being. That said, don’t wrestle with it. If you can’t sleep well during this period, surrender to being a bit tired and make space for where you are, and take it easy. Beating yourself up for not sleeping won’t help anyone!
It is really easy to get caught in a loop of bad news on top of worse news right now. And, when nerves are frayed, tempers can flare. If you take time to connect with your own feelings, via yoga or journaling, you will likely be less reactionary and more intentional with those around you. Showing up authentically in relationships, being a good listener and communicating feelings provides fulfillment and wards off loneliness. If you are feeling lonely or disconnected, find a way to help someone. Reach out to an elderly neighbor, volunteer to deliver meals to those in need or reach out to a friend who might be having a hard time. Simple acts of kindness, either digitally or IRL, will make you feel better too, every time as it takes us from “me” to “we.”
It is easy to move less now that so many of the activities we’re used to engaging in are off-limits. But your body and your brain work better when you move! Optimally, you’ll find a way to do a mix of low intensity, high intensity, strengthening, aerobic and mind-body practices. But, simply committing to easy things like a daily walk can make a big difference. Start trying to use the minutes while your morning coffee brews to do some stretching and deep breathing. Even small movement breaks throughout the day can help your anxiety levels from rising. Stand up and stretch your neck, shoulders and back throughout the day, to reset and release the cumulative tension and avoid pain.
Obviously you want to eat as nutritiously as possible, but try to expand how you think of nourishment. Music, art and connection to community and loved ones also feed your soul at this time, which is almost as important as feeding your body. If you can safely get outside, take the necessary precautions and go for a walk someplace green. While it’s tempting to turn to comfort food and drinks, keeping your consumption of sugar and alcohol to a moderate level will better support your mood. Even better, find ways to share meals with others beyond who you are isolating with, because connection can be healing. Try to schedule virtual dinner parties and coffees with others on a weekly basis. And shut the news off once in a while and listen to some music! Take advantage of all the digital museum offerings available now and “visit” The Louvre! Soothing yourself with music that feels supportive, and making space for art and nature can be stress-reducing and deeply healing.
Susan L. Krauss, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with children, adults and families for 20+ years and the founder and clinical director of Boost! and Boost!U. She is licensed in Connecticut and New York. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University, with a major in Child Development and Family Studies, and a Master’s in Social Work from New York University. She has worked in various settings counseling children from elementary through high school, as well as conducting parenting support groups and developing/facilitating many types of therapeutic groups for children with various needs, and working with parents and adults supporting them through stage-of-life transitions such as going to college, the loss of a loved one, divorce and empty nest syndrome. She is particularly interested in supporting college students and has recently launched Boost! University as a way to offer virtual counseling to students across the country. She lives in Weston, Connecticut with her husband, two sons and two dogs.
A wellness practitioner for over 25 years, Julie Wald is the Founder, CEO and Chief Wellness Officer at Namaste Wellness and a mother of three. Julie is also author of the bestselling wellness book titled “Inner Wealth: How Wellness Heals, Nurtures and Optimizes Ultra-Successful People”. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University and began her career in 1995 as a clinical social worker treating adults, children and adolescents in mental health and healthcare settings. In the process of building her impressive mental health practice, Julie also pursued her personal wellness objectives, and in doing so, became a certified yoga instructor, meditation teacher, Thai bodyworker and Reiki master. The mastery of these disciplines, combined with her clinical training and experience in healthcare, have proven to be invaluable assets to her professional path.