Stay calm and keep going
Tips for maintaining your mental fitness in new Coronavirus environment
It’s all gone a bit crazy, from a few confirmed cases to a global pandemic and lockdown. We decided as a family to take the opportunity from the enforced lockdown to explore the Rock Creek Trail in our new neighbourhood. The beautiful parks and nature trails are one of the reasons we decided to move to the DC/Maryland area. And our first family walk didn’t disappoint, with a cascading stream flowing alongside the scenic walkway, trees, birds, flowers, deer, squirrels. It was nature in full force smack bang in the middle of the city and it stretched for miles and miles. We ended up doing 7.4 miles (this was by accident and my wife was not happy at all with this distance). The scenery on the walk was breathtaking and we couldn’t believe we now live walking distance from such beautiful and unspoiled nature, something I have always dreamed of all my adult life.
My wife raised the question during the walk of how I would survive with the enforced lockdown. We had already received news during the walk that our yoga studio and my squash club had been forced to shut down. She ribbed me about how I suffer from cabin fever when I’m cooped up and don’t get fresh air. Apparently, I turn into Jack Nicholson from the film, ‘The Shining.’ I did actually have a moment of panic of not being able to play squash. Before I received the message stating the closure of my squash club, my brain had been contemplating how to convince my wife it would be safe for me to still visit the club to practice solo hitting. Talk about desperation. Thankfully, the decision was ultimately taken out of my hands.
I also received a message from a client during the walk, venting their frustration at the situation. They had a big life changing trip planned to train with elite level athletes and be exposed to new training techniques. On top of this, they now didn’t know how the rest of their season would play out.
This made me decide to write this piece to talk about tips on how to maintain your mental fitness during this period. The crisis has brought mass disruptions, unfamiliarity, unpredictability, uncertainty, ambiguity, discomfort and loss of control. All these factors combine to form the perfect cocktail of stress and anxiety, which can overwhelm you if not addressed in a creative way. Here are some of my tips on how to creatively maintain your mental fitness during chaos:
First thing to do is to practice setting out your intentions for the day each morning, and review the thoughts running through your mind. On a piece of paper, draw a circle and colour it red and write down items which are not in your control and not useful for maintaining your mental fitness. For example, in my case these include my yoga studio closing, my speaking engagements being postponed, a client engagement being cancelled, my squash studio being closed.
Then, draw a second circle in blue and write down all the things in your control that are useful for improving your mental fitness and that you can take action on. For example, watching live streaming of yoga classes from our studio, going out for long nature walks, watching squash videos to improve my game, preparing for my speaking engagements, and researching new product ideas. Monitoring the self-talk and images that the mind is playing to you is important during this period. Practice being kind to yourself and being your own cheerleader by motivating yourself each day to create joy where you can and push yourself when you don’t feel like it.
This enforced opportunity to slow down and turn off the auto pilot switch should be seen as a gift to cultivate that much needed ‘me time’. Mindfulness is the best way to do this. It doesn’t have to be by just sitting down meditating. It can be done while taking long lazy walks, especially now with time constraints being removed, enjoying a long shower, and treating yourself to breakfast everyday instead of shoving toast down your throat as you run out the door. The main focus is to take time to reflect and build your awareness of the thoughts and emotions you are feeling, and try to create space between your thoughts and emotions so that you consciously choose how you would like to engage with your thoughts and emotions.
Revisiting your Vision:
We never really get the time to switch off and reflect because we are often constantly on the go, trying to clear that to-do list. And God forbid if the list ever gets emptied, we quickly feel the need to fill it back up otherwise the guilt of a lack of productivity starts gnawing away at us.
Well, this enforced shutdown is an opportunity to revisit our vision and dreams. Are they still the right vision and dreams? Are the plans and goals we’ve set actually going to lead us to our desired outcome? Based on what has happened, what is the new normal? And do our vision and dreams align with this?
The loss of schedule and routine can be disorientating, but if we view this as an opportunity to re-learn how to go with the flow and tune into our inner self, we can reconnect and re-discover our purpose.
Limit the amount of news:
After the 9/11 crash, I started to notice the impact news was having on my mindset and mood. I realised that there is such a thing as ‘too much’: news, discussion etc. There are only so many stories of danger and chaos that you can take before you become paralysed with fear and unwilling to leave your house even for essentials. In a crisis like this, you definitely don’t want to start catastrophizing. You need to be kept informed but only you can decide what is a healthy level of news for learning the facts and staying abreast of changes taking place. After reaching this level, you should switch off. Personally, I find that having the news on repeat, painting the same doomsday scenario, is definitely not good for your soul and just raises your stress and anxiety levels. So try to determine when the right time is to disengage. Also, try to catch yourself when you are simply worrying vs strategising on what actions to take. Worrying gets you nowhere and instead depletes your emotional tank.
This is a double edged sword. The use of social media and technology can have a positive impact, as well as a negative one. As I mentioned earlier, too much news is not good, especially too much bad news. With facebook, youtube, twitter, instagram, linkedin and other 24/7 newsfeeds, there is only so much we can take. However, these same platforms and apps such as facebook live, google hangouts, whatsapp and zoom helps you stay connected virtually. And this can help combat the feeling of isolation and cabin fever. I have found that my WhatsApp groups have definitely helped lighten the mood and infuse laughter into an otherwise scary situation, which definitely helps keep your spirits up.
Mental and Emotional Wellness:
It is often default for most people to relegate self-care to the bottom of their to-do list. Other important things essential for survival always take precedence. And with the increased uncertainty and ambiguity of this pandemic, it is very easy to slip into survival mode and self-care becomes non-existent. It is vital to understand that if you don’t take care of yourself, there will be no self to steer the ship and enable survival in these choppy waters. I like to refer back to my emotional tank analogy: if the tank is not getting topped up with the things that rejuvenate you, make you feel joyful, make you feel comfortable, the tank will soon become empty. All the other things in life demanding your time and energy will end up not being met because you are running on empty. You have to plan for joy by actively booking time first for self care in your calendar and on your to-do list. In fact, this is an opportunity to re-discover the inner child and find new ways of finding joy for yourself and with your family members. Re-discover your beginner's mind.
I hope you find these tips useful, I will definitely be putting them into practice myself. Before I leave you, there is something I read recently which I want to share. The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters: danger and opportunity. We should acknowledge the danger and take steps to be safe and manage risk. However, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity part of the events unfolding. By seeing this time period as a challenge and adopting a growth mindset to learn from the experience, we can grow from these events. During this period, don’t lose perspective, adjust your goals to the new normal and take the opportunity to build your resilience muscle and improve your self-care.
I love to hear how others are maintaining their mental fitness during this period. Please, share your tips and comments below. Take care, everyone, and stay safe.