View original article published in Psych Central–
Weddings, graduations, business meetings, travel, friends and family gatherings have been interrupted. Some activities we may have been looking forward to have been wiped out or postponed. Some people’s reaction can be anger, anxiety or stress. Others are mourning what could’ve been in sadness and frustration.
A friend whose yearly tradition has been to enjoy the national college basketball tournament during March (March Madness) with his sons and their families is lamenting his loss. For his family, March is usually a time to watch their favorite basketball players and teams compete, and most importantly, an opportunity to bond with one another as a family.
Many college students have mixed feelings about doing online classes. Professors may be more lax during these times. On the other hand, many of them have gone home, away from friends and activities that keep them connected and feeling joy in the middle of their usual stress.
Many parents are adjusting to working from home, “home-schooling” their children and keeping them busy enough. Stress levels have heightened for them. Those whose jobs’ have been suspended or eliminated are concerned about their financial instability going forward. More relevant, many are experiencing the uncertainty of their loved ones’ physical well-being or even the potential loss of a life.
No matter how subtle or devastating your loss is, you need validation, and you are not alone. As you deal with your losses, remember that fighting, running away, or numbing yourself from your feelings can affect your emotional, mental and physical health. It can feel overwhelming and confusing to deal with so many fused emotions. So, here are three skills to help you cope with these unsettling times:
- Give yourself permission to feel and experience the pain. It’s normal to grieve for a loss, and one way is to embrace the difficult emotion. Imagine you are holding this emotion as if it were a wounded creature (e.g., butterfly, bird, puppy, or kitten) or a unique and delicate flower gently on your hands.1 Take two to three minutes to hold your difficult emotion in that way instead of resisting, escaping, suppressing, or ignoring it.
- Social distancing may be exacerbating your mental and emotional challenges. Though there may not be someone there to support you in the moment, studies have shown that you can literally console yourself and produce oxytocin (love hormone) when no one is around.2 Put your hand or two hands to your heart, hug yourself, or pat your arm, or leg as you give yourself words of comfort like you would to a loved one in moments of pain. This will allow the release of oxytocin to help you in that moment of difficulty.
- The overwhelming emotions you are experiencing may be making it difficult to fall asleep as your thoughts continue to race from one situation to another. Once you are in bed, close your eyes. Make a conscious effort to notice the lines, shapes and shadows behind the lids of your eyes.3 Have you ever consciously noticed what’s behind your eyelids? Maybe it’s pitch black. Whatever you see, observe all its details quietly and without evaluating or thinking about what you see. When your attention drifts, gently return to noticing behind your eyelids. The goal of this exercise is not necessarily to help you fall asleep, but to focus on what you see behind your eyelids. Continue noticing and gently refocusing as needed. You may even fall asleep because you are no longer carrying on a conversation with your mind. Try it and see what happens!
For sure, we will all get through this unique challenge. Don’t let despair beat you down. Establish a daily routine, ensure you implement different activities throughout the day that you enjoy. Stay connected with your loved ones through available means. Stay present and seize the opportunity to start new hobbies and activities that you now have time for!
“The sun never quits shining. Sometimes, clouds just get in the way.”
- Steven C. Hayes, A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters, New York: Avery, 2019.
- Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, NY: William Morrow, 2011.
- Jan Pilotti, “Mindfulness for Sleep,” Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, https://contextualscience.org/mindfulness_for_sleep