As the world finds itself navigating unchartered territory, it's easy to focus on the collective fear and uncertainty. However, as we discover ourselves grounded at home and separated into our individual and family silos, there are many things we can proactively do in an attempt to stay calm and clear-minded.
"During challenging times, it is important to stay grounded in the reality that we all share together," says Jeremiah Zemler, licensed mental health counselor associate, mental health professional and nationally certified counselor. "We all create our own reality that is the lens from which we see the shared world. This lens is shaded from our lived experience and our current thoughts and emotions."
He explains that this subjective individualized experience can be filled with anxiety when faced with the unknowns constantly encountered during moments of crisis.
"I believe that anxiety at its heart is fear of the future. Our anxious thoughts propel ourselves into a scary future and ignore what is happening in the present moment. When we give into fear, we are no longer here. Luckily, there are many ways to handle fear in a functional and effective way."
Spend some time meditating — Photo courtesy of E+ / Jasmina007
Check the facts
Zemler shares that one of his favorite ways of managing fear is through a mindfulness skill called "Check the Facts." He explains, "Our anxious thoughts and feelings are always valid; they exist to protect us. Though they are not always accurate."
It's easy to find ourselves worrying about something that is not grounded in objective truth, essentially wasting energy on something not actually happening as we are perceiving it.
It's very important to stay informed right now, using credible sources. That said, it's also crucial to limit time spent absorbing headlines and tuning into the current flurry of activity on social media channels.
Focus on what you can control and take action
Zemler always asks his neurotypical clients, when they find themselves in tough situations, "What CAN you do?" He says this burning question empowers us to be agents of change, offering direction when we may otherwise feel paralyzed by fear.
For example, if you are "stuck" at home, what can you do? You can work on a home project you've been putting off. Worried about grandpa? If healthy, you can offer to deliver his groceries. Feeling helpless? You can take direct action against the virus through social distancing. Worried about the impact on local businesses? You can order takeout.
Zemler says, "You never have to just wait and sit in fear or anxiety. Pull yourself to the present through checking the facts and taking action. Drive the change you want in your life."
And, Zemler reminds us, "Sometimes taking action means sitting at home."
Food & Travel: 10 ways to support your local restaurants
Accept what is
"I CAN accept that while right now is very scary, it is not the end," he comments. "And things will change, as they always do."
What are other things we can do? "Be informed and purposeful in your thoughts and actions. Be kind to yourself. Accept reality as it exists. Radical acceptance is the name of a skill that calls for you to accept reality as it exists in the moment."
He reminds us that acceptance does not mean approving or being passive, "but simply accepting that right now there is something happening in our world that no matter how much we don’t want it to be, it is. By fighting/not accepting reality, we invite more suffering."
In a time of stress, he emphasizes the importance of focusing on taking value-driven action instead of fear-driven action. This means that actions are driven by your values rather than avoidance of suffering.
"Value-driven action is an inoculation against avoidance and fear, as at its very heart, it must be informed and purposeful," Zemler comments, "You must know your values and connect with them before taking action."
Try yoga to calm your mind — Photo courtesy of E+ / hobo_018
The list of helpful tools at our disposal is rapidly growing, and it's advisable to carve out time for mindfulness practices every day – whether that means meditating, journaling, exercising, getting fresh air, picking up a new hobby or skill, diving into a passion project or simply resting in a way that lets you feel most at ease. (After all, we know that tending to our mental well-being also benefits our physical health and helps keep our immunity levels at their peak.)
This list compiled by Mental Health America includes tools like Calm, and Headspace is offering a free collection of meditations, sleep and movement exercises.
It's incredibly important to stay connected during this time, especially if you live alone, and technology offerings like Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Viber and WhatsApp make it easy to maintain (virtual) face-to-face meetups. Countless fitness instructors and yoga teachers have begun teaching virtual classes, too.
Tips: Visit the most popular national parks without leaving home
Find some zen with music and podcasts designed for times of overwhelm, and tune into musicians and artists worldwide who are streaming their talents online. NPR has written a roundup of live virtual concerts, and Playbill shares 15 concerts and musicals you can watch from home.
More ideas can be found in this list of 100 things to do, compiled by the USA Today team. For parents, here are ideas on how to keep your children academically engaged while at home.
Also, remember that it helps to shift anxiety when you're able to do something kind for someone else. Check out local, national and global ways to make donations and to pitch in. To get started, check out this post by Classy.org, or visit Together Rising.
Hang in there. We're all in this together; at the very least, there is comfort in that.