Six months into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 has not only had a huge impact on our physical health. The fear of contracting the highly contagious novel coronavirus, together with strict protocols such as social distancing, quarantine measures, and studying and working from home, has taken a toll on us mentally, too. (Read: 5 Ways to Cope With Burnout While Working From Home)
According to a report from the National Center for Mental Health, calls made to its hotline increased in the first four months after the government imposed what is now known as the world’s longest lockdown. From 13-15 calls per day pre-pandemic, the hotline received 32-37 calls daily. Suicide-related calls, which averaged 53 a month, reached an all-time high of 115 in July.
“The pandemic has definitely created much stress and anxiety for us. When we feel unsafe, when our health and sense of security are threatened, when we encounter prolonged periods of uncertainty about our future and experience a lack of control over our wellbeing because of the risk of being infected by Covid-19, we can feel powerless. This sense of helplessness can contribute to our experience of stress and anxiety,” says Dr. Inge V. del Rosario, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, and coordinator of the Psychotherapy and Accompaniment Service of Emmaus Center for Psycho-Spiritual Formation.
“I am especially concerned about those who live alone,” she adds. “They feel isolated, disconnected from others, and lonely, with some not having reliable, caring social support systems or no longer having the energy or the motivation to reach out to friends and family.”
But achieving peace—even in the midst a pandemic—is possible. In celebration of International Day of Peace (otherwise known as World Peace Day) on September 21, Dr. Inge suggests five ways to stay centered and serene.
I have found that focusing on and noticing our breath can help relieve stress. One simple breathing practice is known as the 4-6 breathing exercise. Simply inhale through your nostrils with a breath that fills your abdomen to a count of 4. Then, exhale slowly through pursed lips to a count of 6. Pause and then repeat. Do so for a few minutes until you notice yourself feeling more relaxed. (Read: 5 Reasons Why Meditation Should Be Part of Your Daily Routine)
Another practice is to inhale and exhale while meditating on a prayer or Scripture passage. For example, to the prayer “Come, Holy Spirit,” as I inhale, I quietly say to myself, “Come” and as I exhale, I say, “Holy Spirit.” Again, I repeat as needed. Or, “Peace, I leave you” (inhale) … “My peace I give you” (exhale)
#2. Awaken Your Senses.
When we awaken and need to clear our head, we can ground ourselves with what is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding practice. We look around the room and identify:
- 5 – things we see (my lamp, a book, a chair, my cell phone, my slippers)
- 4 – things we hear (cars passing by, the whirring of the electric fan, the buzz of the fluorescent light, my heart beat)
- 3 – things we can touch (the soft bedsheet, my rumpled nightdress; my mussed up hair)
- 2 – things we can smell (breakfast cooking, coffee brewing)
- 1 – thing we can taste (my toothpaste after brushing my teeth)
#3. Be Compassionate With Yourself.
Many of us are hard on ourselves, harder than we are on others, even from pre-pandemic days. The pandemic has pushed us to turn into ourselves as we try to survive and manage the demands of life.
But what if this is a time that invites us to be gentler with ourselves? If we oversleep one morning, can we be gentle towards ourselves instead of criticizing ourselves? If we make mistakes, can we forgive ourselves?
If we feel anxious and afraid, what if we normalize our feelings by saying to ourselves, “That I feel fearful and scared during this pandemic makes sense. I honor my feelings and extend compassion and care towards myself.” Taking several long, slow, and deep breaths can also help calm us down.
#4. Boost Your Creativity.
While we might entertain ourselves hours on end by watching YouTube or Netflix videos, we can also encourage a sense of fruitfulness, generativity, and creativity. (Read: 5 Calming Prayers to Ease Your Anxiety)
We can do gardening, dance and move to music, cook and bake new recipes, read new books, sculpt with modeling clay, rearrange our shelves or room, do art (even we are not artists!) by drawing, filling in adult coloring books, painting by numbers. We will notice that, after we have created something new or different, we will feel energized and livelier.
#5. Nurture Relationships
If we are feeling isolated or if we know someone who is living alone, we can help by reaching out, even if this seems difficult to do. Most of us have grown accustomed to sending copy-and-paste messages or GIFs. I would really encourage you to try to connect personally with someone each day. (Read: 5 Ways to Strengthen Relationships While Social Distancing)
Send a personal, heartfelt message. Make a phone call and have even a brief conversation. Use free Zoom or Viber video calls to see friends and family online once a week. If you have creatively potted a new plant or baked a new dish, why not send it over to a friend or family member who lives alone?