Updated: May 21, 2020
This article was first published on my LinkedIn profile.
We are in the midst of a 21 day lock down in India to combat the #covid19 virus through Social Distancing. Most of us did not anticipate the turn of events would affect our lives so drastically. It is safe to say that most of us have not experienced so much uncertainty on a collective level in this lifetime. There is turmoil at many levels. For many, being locked up at home and consuming news is only adding to the stress, in addition to getting used to a new work rhythm.
As a life coach, I keep getting asked by my clients on how to manage one’s emotions during these stressful times. I find this to be an important step for managing yourself, so that you can manage your family and work demands. Your actions have a ripple effect.
I was catching up with a friend over the phone. I suggested he must be happy to be at home with his kids after months of travel. His answer took me by surprise. He said “It was fun for the first 3 days. But after that it has been a rather low productivity work day. At the end of the day I am more exhausted. I have to work until late in the night and the next morning starts with a blur. I have never had this kind of feeling waking up in the morning.” He went on to talk about how he is overwhelmed by a lot of things, thanks to what he hears and reads.
It got me thinking as to what could be done to manage stress at a time when everyone is affected by the crisis. For someone who is used to an active lifestyle, being at home could be quite a challenge. Our usual stress busters such as going for a run, hitting the bar or meeting friends for coffee are not options right now. We need some simple practices that we can incorporate into our busy schedules.
For over a decade, I have been exploring Yoga and other spiritual practices. It is here that I found that we are so ill equipped when it comes to managing our mind. If we were taught the most important tools to develop a healthier mind, our education would have been complete. Do you remember being taught about the mind any time during your school days?
In this post, I will share some pragmatic tools to manage your emotions, not just during this crisis, but for all times.
1.Setting the tone for the day:
Let us first look at what this means. It means we wake up early after a restful sleep. Before we get out of bed, we take a few minutes to observe the silence in our mind and connect with our body. We think of the big and the small tasks we have planned for the day. We also imagine how we want the outcome to be and feel how we would like to end the day. It is best to avoid reading the news or checking our social media feed for the first one to two hours upon waking up.
Why is this important? When we do this, we are in control of the day, well mostly. I can hear parents dismissing it already. As a parent, I can assure you that this works. We may not be able to plan the nitty-gritty. But the broad plan will work when we take time to set the tone for the day. We don’t get carried away by the events happening to us, but rather we orchestrate the day for ourselves. Also, when we are in a positive frame of mind, we are more accommodating of others’ behaviour. Our behaviour has a ripple effect on our families and everyone else we interact during the day.
Everyone is aware of the benefits of exercise. In the present scenario, many forms of exercise are out of reach. However, it is possible to do Yoga, Pilates, Zumba or Aerobics from the comfort of your house. Many of the household chores like sweeping, dusting, mopping add movement to your body too. Choose your favourite form and incorporate at least 15 to 30 minutes of movement in a day.
Movement is the best way to drain the lymphatic fluids and expel the toxins from the body. In addition to this, it helps increase the metabolic rate and burns the calories. Also, it releases brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin which elevate your mood and neurotransmitters like endorphins which help relieve pain and stress.
Breath is a key tool that connects the mind and body. We take it for granted as it is an involuntary function. Yet, it is the key to managing emotions. How can we use breath to manage emotions? It is as simple as observing our breath from time to time. In the midst of your work, pause and take a few deep breaths. Inhale for a count of three, hold for a count of six and exhale for a count of nine. Repeat this thrice.
Any time we experience emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety, our breath gets disturbed and usually gets faster and shallow. Slowing down our breathing rate affects the heart rate and blood pressure. By working with breath, we are controlling the physiological functions and thus the mental functions.
4. You are what you eat:
The lock down has affected our eating habits drastically. Eating out, indulging in excess and overeating are not options at the moment. It feels like we have gone back by a few decades in terms of food. It is a good time to reconsider our food habits. Eating freshly cooked food, at regular times and in limited quantities is a key part of Yogic practices. If possible, cut down on the number of cups of tea and coffee during the day. Hydrate yourself with water and fresh juices instead. Have your dinner at least three hours before you go to sleep. Include as many fruits and vegetables as you can during this time.
Staying at home, we do not need as much calories as we would have earlier. All the excess food that we put into our body makes us sluggish and reduces mental clarity. If we are able to control our cravings for eating junk food at this time, we can form a new habit. Nothing can come close to fresh home cooked meals. Such foods have higher nutrition levels and can be very satiating. Remember that every morsel of food that you take in becomes a part of you within a few hours.
5. Social animals:
This is a great time for us to come together as a family. It can be hard for those who are away from their families though. But we do have that time to connect even over the distance. Calling up an old friend or an aunt who lives all alone, preparing food for the security staff in your building, being totally present for your children are some of the ways to socialise while maintaining Social Distancing. Let us give in whatever way we can - time, money, food, appreciation, love.
Many of us do not find time to genuinely connect with people who matter the most, during our busy work week. Being social animals, we thrive on these very meaningful relationships in our life. When we spend quality time with family and friends, our body releases hormones like oxytocin (also called love hormone) and brain chemicals such as serotonin (a happy chemical). It is a simple need and yet one of the most neglected in our modern society.
6. Revisit your happy space:
What did you love doing as a child? That is your happy space. Hobbies are activities that we indulge in to let our creative juices flow. There is no dearth of choices when it comes to hobbies - art, writing, reading, photography, cooking, dancing, singing, music and so much more. There are plenty of online classes and communities for every hobby under the sun. If you do not have a hobby, which I highly doubt, or cannot do it now (like play cricket), then try something new that you always wanted to do.
Indulging in hobbies exercises your right brain, the creative center. There is scope to play, create, imagine and suspend some part of your overworked logical brain. It is a space of non judgment, which is very important to just relax. We subject ourselves to so many judgments during our day. No wonder we crave to become a child once again, a time when we were happy being ourselves and not having to live up to expectations and take on responsibilities. You can recreate that happy space by revisiting your hobbies.
7. Gratitude journal:
This is a very simple and easy tool to bring up uplifting emotions just before going to sleep. Write down at least three things you are feeling very grateful for at the moment. For this, you can relive your day and see what brought a smile to your face. It could be appreciation you received for your work, a hug from your spouse, the awesome dinner you had or the sounds of nature. Or you can take a look at your life and see what are the things that you are most grateful for. It is the feeling of gratitude that is important. It is not an exercise to make a laundry list.
Love, gratitude, joy are three of the most positive emotions. They have a direct effect on your immunity and also your emotional well being. As we make this a habit, we start looking for things that will go down in our journal at the end of the day. This is a way of priming the brain to look for the good in your life. This brings down cortisol and adrenaline levels which are responsible for the stress due to the fight or flight reactions. Doing this as the last activity during the night, helps us sleep better as well.
As you can see, many of these tools can be used on a regular basis, as a way of life. Being aware of these tools is the first step. Start with all of them or some of them. Small changes lead to big victories - such as happiness and contentment in life.
If you have found value from this article, do like, comment and share this article. I would love to hear from you. I coach people to connect with their Greater Self, by combining pragmatic approach and spiritual wisdom. In case you have more questions that you would like me to address, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.