By Menaka Seetharaman
(Menaka is a practicing psychotherapist trained in Dreams & Body symptom work and is a certified yoga teacher who considers herself a student for life, of life. Once upon a time, she was an HR professional who now consults occasionally).
Did you know that the average person has between 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day? That’s more than 2500 thoughts per hour – about 40 thoughts a minute. And of those thoughts, about 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. It takes about 15-17 positive thoughts to negate 1 negative thought.
Thanks to this unseen, fast-moving, Covid-19 virus, we are probably setting new records on how many thoughts [and negative in particular] we have every day. This virus has stealthily made its way into our lives – and even in its absence, it is present.
Social distancing is a concept that our great-grandparents may have heard of during polio and influenza epidemics back in the early 1900s. Some of us, our parents, older generation cousins may have heard of/experienced it during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
And in our constantly connected way of living today – this concept of distancing is as alien as aliens.
Yet, we are living it. And it is bringing waves of emotions and thoughts – fear, worry, anxiety, irritation, anger, doubt, distrust, isolation. It’s controlling our lives – more than our parents ever did. And you can’t argue with it. And you can’t go out and fight with it. If the virus doesn’t get you, the isolation probably will.
So we feel stuck with our thoughts. Worried and stressed about the future? Bored or confused with the ‘no-routine’ routine. Trapped or lonely with no physical contact or social interaction.
Know this – you are not alone.
So how do we get through this?
Viktor E Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. He was also a survivor of the Holocaust. He said: “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
So, what does this mean for you today? You can choose your attitude; choose to accept the fact that you can’t change the situation but you can change how you live in the situation.
Here are 10 tips to help you keep your head while others around you may be losing theirs:
- Focus: on the things you can control… and let go of the things you can’t. You can control:
- How much you expose yourself to social media, sensational news, etc. Information overload can trigger cortisol (which is your body’s main stress hormone) – it can make you more anxious than you already are.
- Device usage – life without a mobile phone/computer may feel like a limb has been cut off but it can make any anxiety you already have worse. Switch off from it for a few hours throughout the day.
- Your mindset – focusing on the positive stuff, the things we often take for granted; be it family, good health, friends, or the food on the table. The world at large is swimming through this rough tide – some have it better – others, worse – ask yourself: what can I be grateful for?
We can’t control how long this will last nor can we predict what the ‘new normal’ is going to look like. People’s jobs/job offers may be at stake; uncertainty about school/college/exams, and even relationships – when will we see our friends, boy/girlfriends. We need to take one day at a time and always remember, we are all in this together.
- It’s ok to be anxious and worry. Just try not to do it all the time. Remember how many of our 50,000 thoughts are negative and repetitive? So, set time to worry – make a list of your worries – write them down. Once a day and ideally at the same time. (If you are extremely anxious, living alone, feeling depressed and want to reach out to someone beyond your support circles, do reach out to a therapist or counsellor – there are many free/paid services to get help via phone and video – self-care is extremely important in these times)
- Write a “What am I thankful for” list. When we take a moment to acknowledge what we are grateful for, it affects our health, emotions, mood, and relationships. Crisis situations teach us many lessons and give us an opportunity to evaluate what is important and needed. So, start the list (2-3 things each day) and add to it every day.
*If you notice, I said write – not type. Because I want to emphasise the power of putting pen to paper – writing with your hand positively impacts learning, memory retention, and focus – try it!*
- Create a routine – if you haven’t had one before, maybe now is the time. It is hard to be motivated; this is normal, hence start with the simple stuff: sleep in – but don’t lounge in your pajamas all day – take a shower – get dressed. Help with household chores – from dishes to dusting, do something – participating in activities make you think, concentrate, and learn – all things good for your brain health.
- Breath and Exercise – vital for your body and mind. Our “fight-or-flight” response is a survival mechanism and in stressful situations, we forget to breathe well and the entire body remains tense. Every cell in our body needs oxygen to function well and you can enable this process by bringing your attention to your breathing. Use a mindfulness/meditation app, listen to calming music, guided breathing exercises on YouTube. Remember – breath is life.
Exercise – it can be running in your apartment [a friend just completed a marathon in his apartment in Mumbai!], yoga, lifting books as weights – you can go online for classes or get creative here. Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins which lift your mood, help you sleep better, builds your immunity and makes you feel like you have achieved something.
- Learn something new or go back to an old hobby, just for the fun of it. Maybe you used to read, paint, cook, write or even come up with radical business ideas – there are many online free courses being offered now – maybe it is time to explore that inner MasterChef or JK Rowling in you.
- Talk and nurture your relationships. Talk to the people around you – you may learn something new about your brother, mother, or grandfather. Call people whom you haven’t spoken to – make an effort especially with those who live alone. Discuss happy events, your new routine, exchange cooking tips, and more.
- Use your device time in a positive way. You can go through hours of mindless surfing and fatigue will creep in without warning. Instead, use it to connect and chat about good memories, play an online board game, join an online book club. Karaoke or Antakshari, anyone? Even clean your cupboard together – virtually. And do talk about how you/they are feeling – it will release some of your worries – knowing that you are not alone.
- Eat well and drink plenty of fluids. You have washed your hands clean but what about the insides of your body? 70% of your immune system resides in your gut (gut includes your stomach, liver, intestines, pancreas, gall bladder). Healthy food and proper hydration [water, juice, buttermilk] are important to fight off infections. Heavy/oily food, alcohol may feel good – momentarily. But it will leave you feeling weighed down and heavy – in more ways than one.
- Declutter. Spend this time at home productively – declutter your phone, your living space, cupboard, bookshelves. Clutter in the physical space impacts our mental space; it drains our brain of energy and stresses us. Reach for that Marie Kondo book or watch a video on how to simplify and organise your space.
If there is one thing you can attempt today – and every day that you are social distancing – is JOMO (Joy of Missing Out) – feel content with staying in as a way of taking care of yourself. Enjoy what you are doing – in the here and now. Take care.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of MyyIndia and MyyIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.