‘This, too, shall pass.’ – How to stay emotionally strong and positive alongside COVID 19

Many of you will have heard this wise old saying. And it is certainly something that is helpful to keep in mind at the moment. Although we know it instinctively, we sometimes forget that change is the only thing we can really be sure of. It is also important to remember that we are enormously resilient and adaptable creatures. We will find a way through this current crisis. Though there will inevitably be a tragic human cost, many of us may emerge stronger and wiser for having survived this unique experience.

Some of us may no doubt feel bombarded by advice on well-being, and so I have tried to summarise suggestions which ring true for me and which I have passed on to my clients. I hope that these will help you too to keep strong, emotionally balanced and, above all, positive whilst living alongside the challenges presented by the COVID-19 virus.

8 key steps to personal well-being

1.  Learn to calm yourself when feeling anxious

When we are stressed, we produce much more of the stress hormone cortisol. This can compromise our immune system, making it less efficient at fighting off infection—the last thing we need right now. Make sure you understand what you personally find soothing – it may be that you have given little thought to this thus far. Perhaps it is listening to music, calling a friend who exudes positive energy, exercising, becoming engrossed in a hobby, or getting creative in the kitchen. Try out the suggestions listed below and add these to your list if you find them helpful.

2. Accept any negative or anxious feelings, instead of frantically trying to fight or ignore them

It is entirely normal to feel a degree of worry right now, but it is important to step back and observe these feelings, perhaps noticing where in the body you experience them (perhaps a tightness in the chest or butterflies in the stomach). Then just let these feelings be there alongside you (maybe imagine them as a certain colour or shape, or rate them on a scale from 1-10 if you like). It is helpful to then remind yourself of what you can do to lessen these sensations, such as practising 7/11 breathing (see below), or phoning a friend. You will notice that in this way you will learn to establish some control over them, instead of letting your imagination take over.

3. Learn 7/11 breathing

Deep breathing, where the out-breath is longer than the in-breath, activates a natural bodily response that decreases your blood pressure and slows your heart rate, lowering emotional arousal in the process. It is incredibly easy to do, and enormously powerful.

  1. Breathe in for a count of 7, making sure that when you are breathing in, you are doing deep ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ (your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach out as you take in a breath) rather than shallower higher lung breathing.
  2. Then breathe out for a count of 11.
  3. If this feels uncomfortable, reduce the count to breathing in for 3 and out to 5, or whatever suits you best, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. Continue in this way for 5-10 minutes or longer if you have time – and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body.

4.  Find opportunities to be in the moment

Learn Mindfulness or other meditation techniques, or have a go at practising yoga. There are a wealth of apps available to support these practices, such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer. Many of these resources are free, at least for a trial period. YouTube contains a broad selection of yoga classes for all levels of fitness and skill.

Try to build periods of reflection into your day, such as by observing the signs of spring emerging all around us. Connecting with nature has well-researched health benefits, and there is no better time of year to observe the changes taking place. Get out in your garden, if you are lucky enough to have one, or put out a bird feeder on a window ledge or balcony. Even on city streets, it is possible to observe signs of new life, and to tune in to birdsong on waking each morning.

5. Stay connected

We are all social animals and have a deep need for human connection and interaction. Remember that staying apart physically does not prevent us from staying connected socially. This is a wonderful opportunity to touch base with old friends and family, and to reach out to people you know who live alone. We can now truly reap the benefits of our digital age by joining together on shared conversations and apps such as Houseparty.

This will provide opportunities for laughter, which can strengthen our immune response and distract us from negative thoughts. Maximise this natural antidote to stress by stocking up on good comedy on your phone or TV planner and taking advantage of all the funny video clips that are circulating.

6. Do something to help others

Acts of giving and compassion are powerful means of increasing our sense of well-being and enhancing our immune response. Even if we can’t be in physical contact with our friends, family, and neighbours right now, we are helping ourselves as well as them by checking in on them and doing small services, such as baking a cake, dropping off shopping or collecting prescriptions. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer if you are able to spare a few hours each week.

7. Build structure into your day

If you are missing the normal routine of a busy work or family life, build your own schedule to give yourself structure.  Include study times and helping with household chores for the kids, and remember to include exercise and leisure activities you all enjoy. Observe normal times for bed and getting up as far as possible.

8. Choose wisely as to how you access news and information

Only visit websites which offer reliable sources of information.  Avoid media outlets and second-hand sources of information which sensationalise, and take great care to protect your children from sources which are likely to increase worry and compromise the immune system.

10  reasons to remain positive

And now, 10 real reasons to be positive:

  1. Reconnecting with old friends and family
  2. Uncovering our capacity for care and compassion for those outside our immediate circle
  3. Learning to appreciate the freedoms we take for granted
  4. Learning true self care by taking time out from our frantic routines
  5. Having the opportunity to develop new hobbies and interests, either alone or shared activities with your children or partner.
  6. Having time to read and learn, either purely for pleasure or to develop knowledge and understanding.
  7. Understanding and appreciating our inner resources and strength
  8. Having time to do all those tedious chores you have been meaning to do for years
  9. Appreciating our wonderful NHS and emergency services
  10. Catching up on sleep!

And finally…

And, lastly, some inspirational words from the American author, Jean Houston:

‘We can hunker down in fear, or look for the opportunity to care, each in our own way. Our kindness is a light. The more we extend it, the brighter it becomes and the more darkness we illuminate. We can give without any expectations until goodness flows from our depths, presents new possibilities, and expands our sense of purpose.

So my dear friend, I invite you to create a new virus of caring, of a nobility of our humanity that becomes even more contagious than the one dancing in the headlines.

This is our time. We can choose to surrender to fear or we can show the world what it means to be thoughtful, to be generous, and to be proactive in helping friends or strangers alike. Perhaps this is an initiation of sorts in which we are invited to step into a new experience of our interdependence and empathy’.

Our therapists

Anna Tingle is a Human Givens therapist, providing psychological services at the Putney Clinic.

Fiona Worthington is a clinical psychotherapist, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural coach at the Putney Clinic.

Online consultations can be arranged with either of our therapists.