When the call for social distancing and social isolation came in I noticed one thing — My life didn’t change all that much. Haha, that made me laugh.
Oh. I thought. Is that what I do naturally? It must be. At this time in my life, I have been very insular, I’m going through a huge change with therapy for resolving childhood trauma and I have self-isolated myself to really pull in and understand what I’m going through. It wasn’t a choice for me in fact, life just kind of happened that way. Every time I tried to go out into the world and experience something as per usual it would be too stressful or something would happen that had me reeling back into my home environment.
This is a similar time for humanity in many ways: many of us are spending more time at home than we’re used to, there’s more fear in the collective, more concern for the general wellbeing of ourselves and everyone we know and love, some that we don’t know but love anyway, and let’s face it life is busy for most people because we keep ourselves busy; we live in a busy world. So I understand how uneasy feelings can arise when we slow down. Since I am a year ahead of this particular curve I thought I’d write down some of the advice that I used in social distancing in my own experience to slow down, and to bring more joy to my life in that environment.
Be Aware Of What Makes You Happy
Strange thing to say, you might think, but it’s true. We all go out into the world to find our distractions and joys in activities, within those activities are the underlying actions and values that bring us joy. It’s really important in this time of crisis; great fear, and varying degrees of social isolation, that we know what it is that underlies the joy that we gain from those activities.
Let’s take tennis as an example. Is it the reaction times that you love, The motor skill of hitting the ball, the way it feels when you’re proactive and exercising? Or is it the human contact, the camaraderie and the constructive competitive nature of the sport? Do you go for the afterglow of a game and a debrief in the cafe afterward? Is that a time where you receive and give intimate moments in your life; is it time you need to express what’s happening for you and find out what’s happening with others.
All this, and much, much, more is wrapped up in the sport of tennis. What activities do you do and why do you do them?
It’s time to get curious, and I’ll tell you why.
Find A Way To Translate That To Your Current Space
So once you can understand why you do what you do to be joyous, then you can minimize that down to your own space, where you might be self-distancing. If it’s the connection and empathy that you crave from sport, then you might take that and make sure you have conversations with people in your environment (following WHO guidelines) or you might make sure that you pick up the phone and call someone you care about. We can receive connection markers from multiple sources. Yes, touch is usually important but in the absence of touch as a sense, we have 4 others, listening to someone you love and care for in this time is essential for your health but also, and equally importantly, it’s great for theirs too.
It’s really important to find the smaller moments of joy in your home environment that you might go elsewhere to look for. It’s absolutely possible. For example, I study Karate twice a week at the moment. I’ve obviously had to stop going to the club however I make sure that I still study twice a week as I would study at the club, in my back garden. The floor is not ideal, and it can get cold in the evening. I still get an immense amount of joy from the practice, I still maintain my mental, physical, and spiritual fitness, I’m still progressing on that knowledge path that matters to me; the ritual remains.
Most of the time when we’re stressed or scared our breathing becomes different. Shallow, hoarse, quick, slow, staggered. Get curious on what your breath feels like, and how it changes when you feel a certain way.
There’s a curious thing that happens when we bring our awareness to the breath, it starts to lengthen and regulate back to calm and rest.
Breathwork is also really amazing for regulating the nervous and immune systems. That’s a little deeper than the first step but it’s natural and it’s entirely possible for every one of us.
If you want to explore breathwork then a good place to start would be either:
Anatomy of breathing
Box Breath (breath in for 4 seconds — through your nose, hold for 2, breath out for 4 — through your mouth, hold for 2)
Calm or Headspace App (competitors and there are other options out there)
If you’re already engaged in breathwork then try these:
Wim Hof Method
Vedanta — The Power of Vital Force by Rajshree Patel is a good start.
You don’t have to change much here, just scale down your exercise so you can do it at home. The vital thing is to increase your heart rate, get a sweat on, find joy.
When I was growing up mental health was a taboo, less than a taboo, it was never talked about. No one really knew what it was. Nowadays people communicate around mental health beautifully, and through exploring trauma I have developed a strong tool kit around mental health practices. Having said that I know the older generations can still struggle to understand this, and to communicate around this subject. Since they’re the most vulnerable at this time, it’s likely that they’ll be under the most emotional stress. We need to look after them as much as ourselves — I’ll get to that later in the article. So in this time of great collective fear and anxiety, it’s important to look after your own mental health.
Let me just say this: No amount of proactive focus for your own mental health is too much.
No thought or feeling that you have is good or bad, don’t get me wrong actions can be desirable (including good) or undesirable (including bad) but the thoughts and feelings behind those actions are naturally arising and exist for a reason. It’s the body system trying to tell you something that you feel or need to process. We choose to act upon our thoughts and feelings because of our beliefs. That’s our choice, and the phrase “Actions speak louder than words” sums this up.
That is very important to understand and integrate into your toolkit. It just is. Observing a feeling objectively requires this tool. Don’t worry if you can’t do this straight away — again the feeling that you’re having might be “I’m bad at this” or “I can’t do this”. They’re just feelings and thoughts.
Honor the feeling or thought, observe it then ask yourself:
Does this thought or feeling help me?
Why am I feeling this or thinking this?
If I should act upon this feeling or thought, what would the effects in my environment to myself and others?
If I should act on this, how should I act on this thought or feeling?
You’ll get quicker and quicker at this and more well versed. I’d recommend you to start a personal and private journal with this, again, don’t judge what you write, writing doesn’t mean it’s locked in stone and you are the person that feels that way. Feelings always want to move, especially negative ones. You can always tear up the pages or burn them (safely) if you don’t agree with them afterward.
Journaling is a supercharger way to progress in your mental health, it promotes objectivity, self-reflection, goal setting, creativity, integration of all aspects of yourself, and many more.
It’s great for stress relief as well, there’s so many times I have finished a journal session and sighed with relief.
In essence, though journaling is essential for emotional maturity, and emotional maturity will just bring that next level to all your intimate relationships, and that includes the number one relationship you have: the one with yourself!
There are many methods out there, but I’d recommend just getting curious about what you feel. Set some time aside at the same time each day, although the morning when you first wake up is perfect because you’re conscious mind hasn’t fully kicked in at that point, but if you have kids and you get a little chance to journal five or ten minutes whilst they’re playing with the lego, or they’re asleep, then it can really help.
I promise you it’s better for your mental health than switching on the TV.
I know it’s sometimes a choice between eating, tidying up, or journaling, however, long term health goals are proven to improve time management, and children respond well to some of the skills you can learn.
A couple of journaling techniques that I use:
The Future Self Journal — Dr. Nicole Perera — The Holistic Psychologist
The Artist’s Way — Julia Cameron (morning pages)
The five why’s — ask yourself why five times. That’s it! Careful with this one, it gets deep fast.
Psychotherapy style questioning, reworking of concepts and feelings. Also not recommended if you’re not working alongside a professional.
These are just suggestions and I come at this from a more creative angle, there is a tonne of information around business journaling to.
I’d say the number one takeaway from this is getting curious.
Now, one technique I have really enjoyed and found life-changing is finding balance in every situation. This requires a slight shift in mindset from the linear progress-driven mindset of the west into the harmony-driven mindset of the east. However, if you manage to shift there for this exercise then you really do get the benefit. Everything has equal and opposite within it. Yingyang. Once you start to get curious about why and how you feel things, you realize there is always a positive aspect of the negative thing you experienced, and you will also realize that there is always negative aspects that you overlooked in the positive experiences.
These extra gems of information could help you understand yourself, or your loving, intimate, relationships better.
It’s a very strange and concerning time but there are lots of opportunities here to build community and better intimate relationships.
Oops. I went there. I know it’s not a topic that most of us enjoy, I’m a bit of a geek there, but only because I’ve experienced so much conflict in life. I wanted to really understand the ins and outs of it and understand how to build growth in connection and self through conflict.
I’m not advocating conflict, I’m saying that it’s naturally arising.
Most people in intimate relationships have things that they disagree on, now, it can be as simple as saying I agree to disagree and allowing someone space to do what they naturally want to do, as long as it is not stepping over your boundaries, or hurting you spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically.
Boundaries are things we put in place to allow someone to deeply know who we are, it’s proven that boundaries are essential to healthy emotional intimacy. Without boundaries, you have enmeshment which creates codependency. People can live in codependency just fine but it will create friction and it’s not empowering.
During a time of crisis like this, where we might be spending more time with each other in close environments, it’s essential to communicate around these boundaries. It’s not going to be viable to repress or bottle up what you feel, because it’s likely that we’ll be spending a few months in this position.
So what are the steps:
Find out what it is you really feel
- When you’re angry, take a deep breath, and leave the situation. Journal, exercise, or do whatever it is that allows you to process that emotion. It’s never good to act upon anger — trust me, I know, because I’ve had anger management issues forever from the trauma, it’s always good to act from a place of calm.
- Anger comes from a sense of violation, and most typically it is driven by a perception of a violation of expectation or identity (thanks Joe Bernstein Coaching for this part around anger.)
- Going back to the journaling techniques above, get curious.
- What is it that has been violated and is it actually a violation?
- If it is not a violation and just a perception of a violation: Can I let it go? Can I be compassionate and understanding?
- If it is a violation: Do I need to set new boundaries in the relationship? Has anything changed? Do I need to reconnect with my values and myself? Am I attaching an old emotional value? Do I need to reestablish a relationship with myself around this expectation or identity?
- When you understand how you feel, what fear might have driven it, and you’re calm enough to talk about it, ask your partner or family member
Collective, Cooperative, Mindset
Lovingkindness is a term used in Buddhism to be a state of natural bliss. You don’t have to be a Buddhist, we all experience a state that we might feel when we take our morning coffee in the sun, or for me when I’m hiking a nature trail and I stop to breathe in the smell of the trees, plants and listen to the songs of the birds.
I can still hear bird songs from my bedroom window by the way, and this brings me closer to the state of lovingkindness that I try to bring to every interaction in all of my life, especially mostly at this time. A big sigh of relief; the smile that comes so naturally when we feel heard or seen, or that all-encompassing love we might feel when we help some who was in need.
We can bring this mindset to anyone who might be vulnerable or in need at this time.
Community mindsets are on the rise at this time and I’ve seen many beautiful examples of forums and community groups set up to keep vigil over the community’s collective mindsets and needs, which includes people dedicating huge amounts of time and energy to contribute to these for no financial reward; the rewards here might be more emotional and spiritual.
When we get fearful, our bodies and mindsets change. So any way that you can understand and work through your fear and return to a calm and present state will be beneficial to you at this time.
Stay safe, stay curious, stay aware, and try to understand your fear so that you can return to a calm and collected existence, and be present.
Lots of love.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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