The coronavirus pandemic has thrown countries and individuals into the throes of newfound challenges and stress. While the initial waves of the pandemic were focused on mitigating the spread of the viral contagion, there is increasing focus on the mental health implications of the pandemic experienced by individuals, families, and whole communities. Some individuals may experience heightened anxiety, anger, frustration, or ruminate about their own health and that of their loved ones. Others may find that these negative feelings manifest themselves in physical and behavioral ways ranging from gastro-related issues to more severe expressions such as substance use and abuse, self-harm behaviors, and suicidal behavior.
In this blog, we will focus on building a survival toolbox that addresses your needs both within yourself and externally. The ways that we have utilized for comfort in the pre-pandemic days may not be available to us now. However, we now have opportunities to build a toolbox and grow new tools for survival. Use the 3S-inside-out survival toolbox checklist included at the bottom of the blog to help you identify and monitor your areas of strength and need.
With the stay-home restrictions, you may experience your feelings more acutely in the absence of everyday distractions. One way to self-regulate is to identify the feelings you are experiencing and connect with them instead of pushing them away. For example, you could say to yourself ‘I feel sad.’ Invite yourself to experience the negative (examples include anger, pain, disappointment) and positive feelings (examples include content, peaceful, joyful) throughout the day and identify at least three emotions daily. You could verbally say these feelings to yourself or journal them, and while you may be curious as to why you are feeling a certain way, why’s not important in this process. Owning and accepting your feelings is an important part of self-regulation.
Another way to regulate yourself is to breathe. Although this is seemingly basic, breathing is a powerful tool for enhancing circulation in your body, supplying your body with oxygen to do its important work in your body, pairing with the blood in the system to provide energy and remove waste material. However, deep mindful breathing can also refresh your brain and mind. One breathing activity you may try is to take a deep breath in through your nose and take your time to exhale all of that breath through your nose. Allow yourself to breathe deeply during intervals throughout the day especially when you feel overwhelmed or experience an emotional roller coaster. Perhaps you could also try breathing into your feelings.
Humans are social creatures and are ever inclined to connect with others. One of the major implications of the pandemic is that it breeds a sense of isolation with the lack of face-to-face social interactions. Some individuals live with friends, roommates, their families, or significant others but there are others who live all by themselves. The felt sense of isolation may not only be experienced for those who live alone but may also apply to those who live with others and yet feel alone and disconnected.
Brene Brown (n.d) defines connection as the energy between individuals when they feel seen, heard, and valued; a non-judgmental space is created where they can both give and receive freely to each other and enjoy the nourishment from this relationship. When individuals experience this connection, there can be significant gains. For those who are living with others, there may be opportunities to foster connections by creating or building some rituals daily. Simple rituals may take the form of joining by preparing meals, enjoying take-out food together, or even having a dance chores party. As long as the rituals happen at about the same time daily and are enjoyable activities, one can benefit from these events. For those who are living alone, there may be opportunities to reach out to family and/or friends via Zoom or other virtual technologies to engage in a casual conversation or join interactive online games together. All is not lost if we do not have people we can connect with. With the onset of the pandemic, new support groups have been created and people are now meeting virtually to provide connection and support to each other during these times in the community. Additionally, you can reach out to a therapist to build your support network during these uncertain times.
Self-care is commonly associated with ideas that are grandiose in nature such as going for a spa treatment or a vacation. However, taking care of yourself in small ways is also a form of self-care and during this pandemic; these small ways of caring for yourself may be more significant than before. Some of the less common self-care ideas include movement and bursts of hope. Movement can range from gentle stretches to high-intensity workouts. How about incorporating movement in your day if you do not enjoy exercise? Gentle stretches can invite energy into your body and awaken your senses. Have you tried including bursts of hope in your day? Bursts of hope can take the form of finding an inspirational quote and jotting it down for the day or finding one good thing that has happened throughout the day. Reflecting on these bursts of joy can make for a heartfelt experience.
You have what it takes to build your inside-out survival toolbox. There are no limits to growing new tools. Try it out!
My 3S-Inside-Out Survival Toolbox Checklist
Place a check against each of the key and sub-key items and see what your survival toolbox looks like in terms of areas of strengths and needs!
□ Are you self-regulated?
– Are you taking at least 5 to 10 deep breaths daily?
– Are you in touch with your feelings? Identify at least 3 emotions a day.
– How are you expressing your feelings (journaling, talking to someone, etc.)?
□ Are you well-supported?
– Do you have family and friends to connect with in-person or virtually at least once a day?
– If not, are you a part of a community support group?
– If not, can you identify a community support group to join?
– What other supports can you think of?
□ Are you engaging in self-care?
– Are you taking care of yourself physically?
– Are you including bursts of hope daily?
– What are other ways of taking care of yourself?
Mental Health America. (2020) Owning your feelings.
Munzel, T., & Daiber, A. (April 28, 2020). Public mental health: A key factor in dealing with COVID-19. Open Access Government.
https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/public- mental-health-a-key-factor-in-dealing-with- covid19/86125/?fbclid=IwAR1djmDtygDtIsU4j1lkXvT0Z9LN7FIo1wiFtCE3U08Lrt2X AXMBRnMpct8
Onneby, H. (2019). A first aid kit for when life falls apart. Tiny Buddha.
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist for Individuals, Children, Adolescents, and Couples