Meditation and self-care during COVID-19

Hillary McBride is a local therapist, researcher, speaker and writer.

When things feel uncertain, overwhelming or dangerous, it is normal for us to feel stress or fear.

Fear is a very good thing that has helped our body before. Think about any time you have darted out of the way of a moving car, or have heard a loud noise in the night. Fear helps us get mobilized to act on our environment, or do something to keep ourselves or those we love safe.

Stress, like fear, is also a good thing. It helps our body have all the energetic and hormonal responses we need to get through hard times. It helps us stay focused, alert and aware.

Stress becomes a problem when it hangs around for too long in our system, or we are in an environment that is causing us more stress than is helpful.

Likewise, fear is not bad, but when we do not know what to do with it, it can take over. When fear has taken over, it can be hard for us to think, rest, eat, connect, create, and just generally live in our lives. We can easily feel stuck, or make our worlds smaller in order to control how much danger we think we are coming in contact with.

In a situation like the one we are in now, where information is changing constantly, where we are concerned for those we love, where we feel uncertain about what will happen next, it is normal to feel a little different than normal. We might feel fear, powerlessness, grief, sadness, confusion, and might find ourselves managing those emotions in ways that are unusual to us.

  • It is normal to be surprised by our reaction to events like this, especially if something happening reminds us of something traumatic we have been through before.
  • It is normal to be trying to make sense of things through seeking information.
  • It is normal to try to find ways to take control of the situation, especially if it seems like things around us are out of control.

Regardless of what will happen next, having some ideas about what we can do right now can help us feel more empowered, connected to ourselves, and more at rest. Here are some things we can do to help our own mental health, even while engaging in social distancing:

  • Notice your emotions, and how your behaviour is shaped by your emotions. See your emotions as something that your body is telling you about who you are and what matters to you. For example, thinking about the elderly and the vulnerable in your community might remind you that you care about others. In that way, your emotion is a messenger about what matters most to you.
  • Find ways to experience (notice the physical sensations without making them go away) emotion, and move it through you (talking about it, writing about it, expressing it visually or using some sort of movement).
  • Engage in self-care activities. Self-care is anything that feels restorative and helps you connect to who you really are. It can be anything you do normally but that you do with the intention of being kind to yourself, and helping your body be at rest. This can be anything from doing a puzzle to writing a letter to a friend, doing some stretching or finding a new recipe to make, reading a book or tidying your home. It is always a great idea to have a list of self-care activities that work best for you.
  • Try to limit the amount of media you are consuming about whatever is making you particularly afraid. Often it can be good to get an update, but sometimes we don’t stop there, and we keep watching / listening to / reading media that ends up making us feel more anxious. Try to limit how much information you are seeking.
  • Engage in the spiritual disciplines that help you feel settled and like you are a part of a tradition. Whenever we are disconnected in our usual ways, we can get creative about how to look for connection in the ways we often forget about. This includes using our faith practices and remembering that we are part of a group of people who have used those practices for longer than this fear has been around.
  • Reach out to connect with those you care about. This could be through the phone, email, text messages, video chat or letter writing. Taking the time that you would normally spend on your commute, or out with friends, to pour into your relationships can not only help you express your emotions but also remind you of the parts of your life that are meaningful, rich, and not doused in fear or stress.
  • Try to keep track of where your thoughts go. When they go somewhere disturbing, fear-based, or anxiety provoking, try to take a deep breath, and refocus your thinking on something in front of you, or around you. Mindfulness practices are great at helping train our brain to stay here and not go into nightmare or hypothetical scenarios. Keeping your thoughts here is a skill you can learn, just like any other skill. It takes work but can really help us not get more scared or overwhelmed than we need to.
  • Get as many (consenting) hugs from the people you share space with as possible. Human touch is helpful for calming our nervous system. If you’re all alone, it’s almost as good to touch your own body– giving yourself a hug, rubbing your feet or your neck, or putting lotion on your hands works great.

If you have tried some of these things and it seems like you are struggling with your emotions, you are noticing panic attacks, the inability to sleep or eat, a sense of uncontrollable or overwhelming emotions, or behaviors which are problematic or self-harming, please find someone to talk to about that. You could access a physician using a tele-health service, a crisis line or find an online counseling service.

A reminder, you are not alone, and you will get through this, one step at a time.

This comment is re-posted by permission from Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries.

Sanctuary Ambassador Hillary McBride also wrote and recorded a grounding meditation designed for those who may be experiencing heightened anxiety or fear at this time. This meditation is meant to help calm the mind and the body.

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1 comment for “Meditation and self-care during COVID-19

  1. Teletherapy should *strongly* be considered. Don’t get me wrong – self care is important but it’s limiting over a long period of time (for most people – the discipline just isn’t there). This is why many universities are publishing updated pages on their CAPS program encouraging teletherapy usage for their students.

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