Relax. You've Got This.
Thanks to Covid-19, our lives have been disrupted in major ways over the past few weeks. Many of us are now home bound. It seems like everything important has been temporarily canceled. All kids are now home schooled. Some people are out of work, some are working from home, while others are being forced to work under risky conditions. Some people are stuck at home with people who are unkind and some are struggling to make ends meet.
We don’t know what to expect next, and it’s scary. On top of it all, we can’t hang out with our friends or families in the ways we are accustomed. If you and your family aren’t feeling it yet, you probably will. All of this uncertainty, change and isolation can equate to major nervous system dysregulation, including increased anxiety, frustration, fear, sadness, major disappointment and feelings of helplessness. Kids might begin to misbehave as they miss their friends, become bored, and grieve important activities they missed because of the cancellations.
There’s a scientific law to consider right now. What goes up, must come down. This is as true for our activated nervous systems, as it is for a ball we throw into the sky. You may be wondering what I’m talking about. I hope I’ve peaked your interest. The fact of the matter is, when our life energy is hyper aroused by excitement, anxiety, fear, passion, elation, anger or disgust our nervous systems typically seek a resolution or deactivation. This settling ideally comes to calm us, create balance and relieve tension. When we’re living in an extended, heightened state of arousal, we can even become overwhelmed and shut down, feeling depressed, dis-empowered and hopeless.
Let me help you clear your mind and calm your nervous system. This process is called down regulation. It will help you and your family through whatever challenging times you are facing. These ideas are especially helpful for those who are emotionally sensitive, those who have strong sensory reactions, and those who have intensely busy minds. These ideas are for all of you.
1. Orient to pleasant sensations in your surroundings. By this I mean, let your eyes wander. Allow them to land on something pleasing, like a beautiful picture, the tree outside or a favorite toy. Allow your other senses to be engaged as well. Listen for pleasant or curious sounds, pleasant smells, or use tactile comfort items like a weighted blanket or pillow, a cherished stuffed toy, or touching a texture you enjoy. As you orient to something pleasant in your surroundings, notice it for at least 30 seconds, and check in with your body. Allow yourself to sense the calming taking place. You can help your children to do the same. If you are your child tend to avoid intense sensations or seek out others for comfort try a sensory diet to explore new ways you can find comfort through your sensory experience.
2. Turn off the news. Of course it’s important to know what’s going on, but don’t spend your entire day being bombarded with stressful information. Give yourself a break, and a chance to turn your mind toward something else. What can you control in your life? You can choose how to spend your time, to some extent. You can choose where you focus your attention and energy.
3. Look for the helpers. Allow this to give you hope and an anchor of safety. Many companies and individual people are doing tremendous work to help those in need. For example, some bio labs have started producing test kits to make testing more accessible. Tesla and General Motors are making masks and ventilators for hospitals. Prusa is printing face shields for vulnerable people. Form is setting up distributed 3D print farms for hospitals, and Razor is making monitoring equipment and masks. All of this is at their own cost and of their own volition. The good will continue to grow. It always does.
4. Allow yourself, and encourage your children to do something creative every day. This helps to calm our minds and bodies. Creativity can take many forms ranging from drawing, coloring, writing, music and dance to problem solving, engineering and building. Check in with your emotions and body sensations as you do these activities. Noticing the calming will help you to stay calm for longer periods of time.
5. Move your muscles, and help your children to move theirs. Movement helps our bodies burn off stress. Cardio, weight baring exercises and stretching all do different things. Moving around reduces energy. Carrying something a little heavy, doing squats, big jumps, push-ups or other weighted activities can reduce sensations of anxiety and actually calm your mind. Stretching can be soothing and self nurturing. Check online community resources. Some gyms such as Planet Fitness and Core Yoga are streaming cardio and yoga classes for free.
6. Go outside whenever possible. Fresh air and nature are great for us. If you can’t go outside, look outside and at beautiful pictures of nature, and animals.
7. Reach out to those you care about via telephone, video chat, text, letters or online servers. It’s a great way to stay connected and feel less isolated.
8. Name your emotions and help your children to do the same. Sometimes naming it helps us to tame the intensity of the feeling.
9. Continue to nourish your body and mind. Eat healthy food if possible. Drink plenty of water. Read something you love. Work on a project you care about. Listen to music. Learn something new. Khan Academy, Udemy and YouTube offer great online opportunities for learning which are free or at a low cost. Audible has added many free books so more people can listen to books. Also many public libraries offer ebooks and audio books.
10. Maintain a schedule. This is especially important for children and teens. It structures their time, and creates a sense of security because they know what to expect next. Maintaining a schedule also helps all of us to feel productive, useful and hopeful as it helps us to better accomplish things we want to do instead of losing track of time, or spending it worrying. Here is an excellent sample schedule, made by one of my son's 7th grade teachers.
If you, or someone you love needs some extra support during this stressful time, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone in your area for additional help. Many community resources are available for those in need, and many therapists are offering online and telephone sessions that can be very helpful, even for children and teens. You’ve got this, and if you don’t right now, you will with a little help from those who care about you.
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body