How to deal with feelings of overwhelm around Coronavirus
You can listen to the audio of this blog post as I've recorded it as a podcast episode.
There are a lot of feelings and thoughts about Coronavirus and all the uncertainty and the lack of feeling in control can feel overwhelming. From conversations I've been having I know that while some folk are feeling okay about it all there are a lot of you who are not. So in this post I’m focusing on how we can deal with the overwhelm we’re feeling right now.
I’m not going to get into what you should or shouldn’t do in terms of dealing with the virus itself because I’m not a doctor and the advice coming from the NHS is the most accurate and up to date so I believe that’s the best place to go for information. And if you have a medical condition or concern I absolutely encourage you to seek support from your GP or medical practitioner.
What I will do here is share my thoughts on how we can approach and deal with the overwhelm this uncertainty and lack of control is creating, the practical steps we can take to combat the feeling of isolation (even if we’re having to physically isolate) and what we can do to find calm, peace and yes, joy, as we navigate this time. Although I’m writing this with Coronavirus in mind much of what I share is applicable when it’s something else that is making you feel overwhelmed.
First of all, if you’re feeling stressed by it all you’re not the only one. Guaranteed. There are many people, for many reasons, who are feeling worried and stressed and overwhelmed by everything surrounding Coronavirus.
A big factor in overwhelm is the uncertainty. Every day the situation is developing, in the UK and around the world, so it feels like the sands are constantly shifting beneath our feet. We think that if we just knew what was happening we’d be okay. But life isn’t certain. It never has been and it never will. We can make plans and predictions, have expectations and make assumptions but we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen. All we know is what’s happened in the past and what’s happening in this moment right now. That’s all we’ve ever known.
So while this virus is new to us uncertainty is not. You’ve lived with uncertainty your whole life. You’ve had surprises and shocks and unexpected twists and turns and I’m pretty sure you’ve had the rug pulled right out from under you a few times. It’s been difficult, upsetting and you haven’t wanted it, and yet you’ve coped, you’ve got through it, you’ve dealt with the uncertainty. And you can do it again.
It’s weirdly and cruelly ironic that so many of us humans love to and need to feel in control when by its nature so much of life is utterly out of our control. The stress we feel around uncertainty, around not knowing, is because we don’t feel like we’re fully in control of what’s happening. We haven’t got a grip on it. We want to know what’s going to happen, we want to know that we and everyone and everything is going to be okay. But we don’t and that causes us stress and upset and fear. Because we can’t know what will happen in the future, we can influence it but we can’t control it. We can try to influence other people but we can’t control them either. We can’t control what they say or what they do or what they post online.
What is within our control
But what we do have a say over, what is within our power, is what we say, what we do, how we respond.
We can choose to be glued to 24hour news and constantly refresh news websites while our stress levels rise. Or we can choose to stop feeding our fears and instead check the news once or twice a day to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed. Getting stuck in the endless news cycle with the same information being repeated over and over doesn’t change the situation and it doesn’t help you feel calmer. It just keeps you stuck in the worry, makes you feel more helpless and increases your overwhelm.
We can choose to keep scrolling social media, focusing on the speculative and panic-driven posts that fuel the feelings of uncertainty and danger. Or we can pay attention to how we feel when we’re online and log off for however long is needed when we notice it’s adding to rather than alleviating our concerns. Social media can be an incredible force for good but if it’s making you feel more anxious and overwhelmed it’s time to step away from the screen for a while.
Our communities matter more than ever
When we’re in a time of crisis community matters more than ever. There are lots of ways that we can come together as a community and support each other and community isn’t just about meeting in person. It may be that it’s not possible for you to spend time, physically, with friends and family but that doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate with them. For those of us who are introverts, myself included, we can feel quite comfortable spending time on our own. I know that extroverts who gain energy from being around people this can be much more of a struggle. However, we live in the most technological period of our lives so let’s make use of it!
As well as the phone, text and email there are lots of ways you can speak face to face on a screen, for free, using apps like FaceTime or Skype. Video conferencing applications like Zoom are commonly used for business purposes, I use Zoom to coach clients, for my live sessions in The Calm Mind Club and to do online workshops, but anyone can use the free version to talk face to face on screen with a group of people. So if you can’t get together in person with your book club, your best mates or your parents perhaps you could use something like Zoom to gather together online?
You can support your neighbours by putting a note through their door suggesting they call you if they need any help. That could look like having a chat on the phone if they’re in need of company or picking up some shopping and leaving it for them outside their door.
Community can be found online too in groups and conversations to share ideas and encouragement. Spending time with people online who help you to feel heard, understood, supported and connected can be really powerful. I have valuable and wonderful friendships with people I’ve never met in person that began in the comments of an Instagram post. The vast majority of my work is online, coaching one to one clients, my Calm Mind Club membership, running courses and workshops, the Pressing Pause podcast, my website and blog, my Facebook and Instagram posts and Stories, and emails. There are wonderfully meaningful, supportive and heartfelt connections to be made and community to be found online.
You can support your local and independent businesses, who are struggling to keep going as measures are brought in to deal with the spread of Coronavirus, by shopping with them in person, if that’s possible, and by ordering from them over the phone or online. As someone who used to run a stationery business on my own, and now I run my coaching business alone, I know first hand how valued and precious every customer and every client is.
Taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a nicety
While you’re concerned for the welfare of your family, friends, work colleagues, everyone around you, what’s also really important is your own health and wellbeing. Now, looking after yourself doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you stock pile hand sanitiser or stop communicating with the outside world. This is not the time for an “I’m alright, Jack” attitude (there never is) and that’s the last thing I’d ever encourage. If you don’t take care of yourself, as at any time of life but especially now, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.
Part of why you’re feeling overwhelmed is because you’re worried about your family, friends and neighbours and how they’ll cope if they’re ill. If you stay in a near constant state of stress, if you don’t look after your own health, you won’t be in a fit condition to help them. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you don’t care about anyone else. To the contrary it will enable you to look after those you care about. And besides that, your health matters too! Your wellbeing matters as well as the welfare of those around you.
So, as well as taking the usual steps to look after your health like eating well, getting quality sleep and moving your body, think about what helps you when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. There’s oodles of research that shows the benefit of spending time in nature so get out into the garden or the park whenever you can. You may not be able to stand and chat with people but you can stretch your legs, breathe in fresh air and look around you. Notice the plants and flowers growing, the different colours, textures and scents. Pay attention to the sounds you can hear as you walk, the feel of the wind or sun or rain on your skin. Be present in that moment and recognise that right now you’re okay. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, you don’t like the situation we’re in but right now, in this moment, here at this time, you’re okay. Running through your senses, focusing on the present moment is an exercise you can come back to any time anywhere and as often as you like to ground and reassure you.
What helps you to feel calm?
Think about what else helps you, or perhaps you want to try some new ideas, especially if you’re spending more time at home. Practise yoga, try meditation, have a go at a creative or craft activity, work your way through the pile of books on your bedside table, tackle some new recipes, whatever helps you to tap into the reserve of calm and peace you have within you. Simply taking a few slow, deep breaths in and all the way out (the exhale is as important as the inhale) activates your parasympathetic nervous system which tells your brain and body that everything’s okay and helps you feel calmer.
At times of crisis we can think that staying focused on the challenge is the right and responsible thing to do, that to give any thought, time or energy to anything else means that we’re not taking it seriously enough, or that we don’t care as much, or that somehow we’ll put ourselves more at risk. But if you’re up to date with information, you’re following the guidance to keep yourself and those around you as safe as is possible in the circumstances, then you’re doing everything you can. Staying in the stress, the upset and the fear doesn’t change the situation and it doesn’t help you or anyone else.
Coronavirus is dominating our world at the moment, understandably, but it is not the only thing happening in our lives. It’s one, important, serious issue but it doesn’t need to fill our every waking moment. We’re coming back to what we’re in control of again. By taking a step back to widen our scope of vision, to take in our lives as a whole, we can see how much we have to make us smile, to be thankful for, to celebrate and to feel joyful about.
The camaraderie is swelling my heart as I see strangers exchanging smiles in supermarket aisles and as I read the wealth of support in social media posts and the newsletters pinging into my inbox. I’ve been volunteering at my local food bank for a few years and every time our nation, our world, hits a bump of some kind the community responds with an increase in donations. There may be fear and panic-buying but there is so much generosity and kindness too.
Savour the small stuff
Anyone who has been around me for a little while knows what an advocate I am for practising gratitude because of the powerful benefit to our mental wellbeing. It’s not about religion or being a Pollyanna or about ignoring the difficult stuff in life and it’s not woo-woo. There is solid research that shows what a significant and lasting impact writing just three things down each day that you’re thankful for has on you. It gives your brain the chance to focus on what’s good in your world, what makes you laugh, who gives you that warm fuzzy feeling, which combats the natural negativity bias we all have.
So as you go about your day, as well as thinking about all the serious stuff you’re also looking out for what’s good, whether it’s your favourite song playing on the radio, the rain stopping just as you go out for a lunchtime walk or your dog greeting you with a wet nose and a wagging tail when you come home. Writing specific, seemingly small, gratitudes like this every day has been shown to boost your resilience, lower blood pressure and increase feelings of peace, generosity and joy.
You’re allowed to feel happy
And here’s the thing, you’re allowed to feel happy. You’re allowed to feel scared and worried and angry and unsure AND you’re allowed to feel content, to feel joy, to feel excitement, to laugh, to dance, to sing, to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. You keeping your emotions in check, not allowing yourself to feel happy doesn’t stop Coronavirus from spreading. It doesn’t stop people from getting ill, it doesn’t make people wash their hands more thoroughly, it doesn’t mean you’re uncaring and it doesn’t help anyone. Do you want your family and friends to squash down any positive feelings, to only feel worried and fearful? No. So why restrict yourself?
There is so much joy in the world, every day, so let’s notice it, cherish it and celebrate it. If something makes you feel good, if you reach a goal, do a hard thing, simply have fun, share it, let’s celebrate it! It’s these moments of joy that are invaluable and that we need to help us deal with the difficult stuff. I love that while Italy has really struggled with Coronavirus and there’s been a nationwide lockdown residents across the country played music and sang to each other from open windows to support and encourage each other.
Coronavirus is playing a big role in our lives right now but this is not a one-woman show. Your life has a rich and varied cast of players with many stories to tell so don’t let them get sidelined by one dominant voice.
What I’m doing
From my point of view, I’m keeping up my daily walks with my dog and husband, my regular meditation, yoga and gratitude practices and I’m washing my hands more than I’ve ever washed them before. I’m planning what vegetables I’m going to try growing in the garden this year, I’m finally getting round to printing and framing family photos and I’m belly laughing at some excellent comedy shows on TV. I’m getting lost in my ever growing book pile, I’m singing along to my favourite songs and (as long as I’m healthy, obviously) I’m taking shifts at the food bank. I’m looking for the snippets of gold in my day and I’m savouring every one I can.
As a life coach I already work online at home so it’s business as usual! I’m working with my one to one clients, with my Calm Mind Club members, I’m sharing thoughts, ideas and support here, on the podcast, on social media and in my emails. And I’m here for you if you need me.
This has been a whistle-stop tour through dealing with the overwhelm you’re feeling around Coronavirus and if you’ve found what I’ve shared here useful please share this post with anyone else you think could benefit from it. It’s also available as a podcast episode here to listen to if you prefer or if it’s more accessible for you to listen.
We’re all in this together
This blog post, along with all my other posts and the Pressing Pause podcast, is a resource I’ve made free to you to help you to bring down the overwhelm so you can feel more calm, in control and, ultimately, happier. So please, share this post far and wide so whoever might find it helpful can access it.
We’re all in this together and we will get through it together so no-one needs to struggle on alone. Keeping your thoughts and feeling bottled up increases your feelings of overwhelm so talk to someone and share what’s going on with you.
If the strain on your mental health is feeling like more than you can cope with please seek support from your GP or from Mind, their phone number is 0300 123 3393.