When you feel stressed or anxious, have you been mindful of your breathing? Notice if you’re holding your breath, taking shallow breaths, or breathing too quickly.
Take control of your breathing by trying a short breathing exercise:
Lay, sit, or stand comfortably, with good posture to allow yourself to breathe easily.
If you’re laying or sitting, maybe you want to close your eyes to increase focus.
You may place your hands gently on your stomach to physically feel it move in and out as you breathe.
Take note of physical sensations and then focus on your breathe.
If you find yourself becoming distracted by anything, acknowledge the distraction (distractions occur naturally and are reminders to return to what we were working on), allow it to roll through your awareness, and then simply return your attention to your breathing.
Breathe in for 3 seconds: 1-2-3
Breathe out for 3 seconds: 1-2-3
Repeat 3 times
Notice any differences in how you physically or mentally feel.
Calmly return your focus to the environment around you.
You may want to play around with the time spent in the exercise, do what works for you.
*Tip for severe anxiety and panic: if you find yourself holding your breath for longer than the brief pause during this exercise, skip the pause all together and just focus on steady in-and-out breathes.*
These 12 tips are specific to living through a pandemic (COVID-19) where there are multiple tragic events and crisis occurring at once on a worldwide scale.
A brief overview of the destruction that COVID-19 has caused
• People are ill and dying from a virus.
• People are socially isolated from family and friends.
• People are restricted in where they can go and what they can do.
• People have lost jobs and are financially unstable.
– Connected to all of this is the person’s identity because people identify themselves through going out and participating.
• Political issues, finger pointing and name calling are a big part of this pandemic.
• People wear face masks to reduce spread of the virus, but the mask also hides smiles.
• Anxiety, depression and suicide is on the rise.
• People are silently hurting.
The benefits of these tips are (but not limited to)
• Increased happiness
• Connection to others
• Raising awareness
• Fostering positivity
• Finding value and meaning in life
• Learning coping strategies
• Finding help
Keep in mind that this article isn’t telling you to ignore, dismiss, or minimize what’s going on around us. It is important to sit with the difficult emotions and thoughts, to process, and personally grow from what’s occurring in our lives. We can’t run, there needs to be a resolution to do something about it, but there needs to be a balance and healthy approach.
Let’s cover the tips on getting through
1) Limit your time on social media and watching the news. Be informed and have proper understanding about what’s going on around the world, but don’t allow the information to overwhelm and carry you away. The information on social media and the news shouldn’t occupy a good portion of your day.
2) Mute or unfollow people on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if they are posting unhelpful information on the pandemic or are posting frequently on the pandemic. Always check the resource of what they post to make sure it is true and accurate. There is a lot of information being shared that is inaccurate or highly one-sided. Be your own researcher, fact-checker, and it is beneficial to try to see from both sides of an issue. Widening perspective allows us to have a more open mind and gives us a little more breathing room.
3) Use social media and technology to your advantage. Since we have to limit being around others or can’t be around people at all, use social media to connect and to lift up others. Post something kind or funny. Post a beautiful picture. Have an engaging conversation, but leave out the pandemic and political issues surrounding it. You can lift someone’s spirit and your own!
We use video platforms on almost a daily basis now, continue to use it to connect. Talk to a good friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Use video platforms to check-in with a person’s mental health, you don’t know who is suffering in silence.
Are you feeling unsure about how to check-in? This link will lead you to check-in questions:
Do you have a favorite hobby or interest? Join and follow social media groups and pages to motivate and fuel your interests.
4) Virtual tours, adventures and visits. If you are looking for something new and interesting to do without leaving your house, take a virtual trip to a National Park, zoo, museum, etc. Think of somewhere that you’ve never been and would like to go. Read about it, look at pictures, watch videos, and take a virtual tour. This is fun activity to do with kids and it’s educational.
If you’re religious or spiritual, consider attending a virtual service or practice.
5) Teach someone about your hobby or trade. Write, blog, create social media content, and make a video to do so. Engage with people, answer their questions, and provide them with credible resources so they can learn more.
5) Increase your self-care. Do more of what you enjoy and try new things, even if you don’t feel like it. Take care of your body and mind. Try to keep to a normal schedule, this includes proper exercise, diet, and staying hydrated. If you’re overwhelmed with work, schedule in self-care. Slow down, read a book, take a bath, watch a movie, call someone you care about.
6) Make a vision board to stay focused on your long-term goals. Read how here:
8) Practice mindfulness, breathing and or meditation. Find someone who provides these services online if you need help getting started. Create a YouTube playlist of relaxing music and sounds that you can practice to. Don’t give up if these exercises don’t immediately benefit you in an impactful way, it takes time to learn them. It’s a process.
9) Use online presence to raise awareness or funds for a cause that you’re passionate about. Help people learn more, support people who need it the most, connect to others who care about the same thing as you. Feel good!
10) Use positive affirmations and practice them regularly. Read more and find examples here:
11) Have a safety plan and an emergency plan. For the safety plan:
• Write down what triggers maladaptive behaviors.
• Write coping strategies for each trigger that you can participate in right away.
• Write down three positive affirmations or favorite quotes.
• List three people whom you can trust to call and talk to and receive support from (Do ahead of time: make sure that they know they are on your safety plan list and tell them how they can best support you if you contact them.) (Ideas on how they can help: this can range from a phone call to recall favorite memories or to meet up for coffee.).
• If your situation turns into an emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or your local mental health crisis lifeline. Add these emergency phone numbers to your safety plan.
12) Speak with a professional counselor. They can teach you several coping strategies and powerful tools like cognitive reframing. They are someone who will be present with you, be non-judgmental, listen, and provide feedback. They will support you and give you space for you to process your strongest emotions and thoughts.
Check out these other benefits to seeing a counselor:
IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.
During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.
I: Imagery M: Meaning P: Prayer R: Relaxation O: One thing (or moment) at a time V: Vacation E: Encouragement
Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.
Ideas for imagery
Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.
• Forest path • Walk on the beach • Favorite place • Safe place • Sunflower field • Stroll by a stream • Waterfall • Garden of butterflies • Sunset • Star gazing • Mountain summit hike • Sitting by a campfire
Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]
List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.
Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?
Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.
Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.
Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.
Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?
Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.
Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.
One thing (or moment) at a time
Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.
Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.
Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.
Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.
You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.
During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.
Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.
• This crisis will pass. • I can do this! • I have everything that I need to get through this.
Download affirmations to help get through a crisis here
The ACCEPTS acronym has skills that helps keep you busy and distracted when you would typically be preoccupied by a crisis. It is easy to dwell on what is going wrong, by focusing on the ACCEPTS behaviors, you can get yourself through hard times.
Activities keep you busy and your mind off of problems and behaviors. The behaviors that you are focused on are healthy and helpful.
To start practicing this skill, write a list of activities you enjoy when life feels better. If you’re unsure or need ideas, go online and search for activity lists.
Add the pleasant activities into your schedule and mindfully do them.
Choose an activity and enjoy it now!
Contribute to others. It is a way to take your mind off of your own problems, to feel connected and useful, and to create positive feelings.
Do a favor; acts of kindness; write a thank you note; bake brownies to share; volunteer locally.
Create a list of ways to contribute to others and begin right away.
Afterwards, journal about the experience, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings.
Draw healthy comparisons between yourself and others. There are people living without necessities, who have gone through tragedies, or who have tremendous obstacles to overcome. Remembering that other people are also suffering, often in worse ways, allows for you to gain perspective of what you’re going through. This perspective also increases your feelings of gratefulness.
Emotions arise from the things we do. You can change your emotion by changing your behavior.
When you’re depressed, do behaviors that lift your spirits. When you’re anxious, do ones that are relaxing. When angry, do ones that are calming.
Check-in with your emotions in the moment, and if you find that you want change, then choose to participate in a healthy behavior to change your emotion.
Pushing away means that you decide to revisit the problem at another time. Imagine putting the problem in a box, locking the box, and placing it on a shelf for later.
You cannot think about two things at once, so choose to direct your attention to the most helpful thought.
Some ideas to try, crossword puzzles, read an interesting book, have an intriguing conversation, watch an action movie.
Do something to occupy your thoughts away from depressive thoughts, worries, and problems.
Practice in the moment.
Direct yourself with healthy sensations.
Things to try, dance to loud music, eat a sour lemon slice, take a hot or cold bath, smell a strong scent, like peppermint.
These things wake up your senses in an invigorating way. Notice any changes in your experience.
Another idea, create a sensations toolkit, using your favorite ways to wake up your sensations. Use your tools.
When people “cope” with stress and crisis, they find out ways (behaviors) that relieve stress, however, some of these ways come with heavy consequences. Examples of ineffective behaviors are drug and alcohol use, self-injury, gambling, spending money, and overeating.
We can learn distress tolerance skills to effectively manage the stress and crisis. These skills are more helpful than dealing with the consequences of the ineffective behaviors that make life worse.
Try it out
Make two lists, one is your ineffective coping behaviors, and the second is your healthy coping behaviors. If you’re struggling coming up with the healthy ones, keep thinking, because everyone has at least a few.
The goal is to work on eliminating the ineffective coping behaviors on the first list while developing the behaviors on the second.
This process is “doing more of what works”, replacing the ineffective with the healthy and effective.
Guidelines to improve distress tolerance skills
1. Practice the skills daily, even when you’re not feeling distressed. The skills tend to be enjoyable, so practicing shouldn’t feel like work.
2. Diversify the skills, try new ones, and practice every skill more than once because you don’t know which ones will “click” for you.
3. Organize a distress tolerance plan for when you’re in crisis and choose to follow the plan. It will keep you focused. Write down your organized plan on an index card. This would be your coping behaviors and any people who can provide support. Keep this card with you.
This index card plan works well for children while they’re away from home. Example: at school.
This is general information on distress tolerance and the skills to learn to better cope with stress and crisis, the next step is to learn the skills themselves, practice applying them, watch for improvements, and make necessary adjustments.
Mindfulness is choosing to be aware of the present moment, on purpose, and in a non-judgmental way. When being mindful, our attention and focus is on whatever we choose to observe or do.In this moment, choose to focus your mind wherever you’d like it to be.
Maybe you focus on your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as you experience the environment around you.
Hold your attention there, focusing on being in the moment.
States of mind
We have three states of mind:
• Emotion Mind • Reason Mind • Wise Mind
Wise Mind is the balance between emotion and reason. We acknowledge and validate our feelings and use reason to problem-solve, think about consequences, and choose effective behaviors.
In Wise Mind, we act in ways that reflect our goals, values, and who we want to be.
Ask yourself, in any moment, “What is my Wise Mind telling me?” Then act.
Getting into Wise Mind, Step One
• Observe and describe what and how you behave, think, feel, and your surroundings in a non-judgmental way. Stay focused one-mindfully.
To observe means just noticing how things are, without adding or taking away.
To describe means to put words to your observations.
• What you do is participate and how you do that is effectively.
• Take what you observed (step one) and choose what you want to participate in. Participate in it fully, immerse yourself in the experience.
• How to choose what to participate in: base it off of what will work or be effective.
Once you are participating effectively, you’re in Wise Mind. Notice what this feels like.
Let Go of Judgments
We all have judgments. Whenever you notice yourself judging, let the judgment pass through and drift off, don’t allow it to stick around. Judgments should come and go like clouds and ocean waves.
Practicing Mindfulness in the Moment
Be present in the “small moments.”
Take 10 minutes and clean part of your home, fully immersing yourself in the process.
When you find yourself distracted, this could be a judgmental thought, refocus on what you’re doing. Full focus and attention, non-judgmentally.
A thought on meditation. Meditation can be considered anything if you are present, being non-judgmental, and have an open heart.
Meditate on your life experiences, starting with the moment you are currently in. Stay present for some time, connecting to the moment, then, when you’re ready, shift your focus to another moment.
Let potentially stressful situations, criticisms, or anything else that might “stick” to you, causing needless suffering, roll off your mind. Allow these experiences to slide through your awareness.
Distractions, distractions, distractions
Distractions don’t go away, they are a part of this world. Do not get frustrated with distractions, they are reminders to go back to what you’re working on. They’re natural.
When you become distracted, bring yourself back to the present moment. Do this over, and over, and over again, if you need to.
Taking hold of your mind
Direct your mind where you want it. There are many thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to direct your attention towards. Choose one of those, opening up your mind to it and closing your attention off from the other options.
If your mind drifts towards a closed off option, gently re-close it and return to the option of choice.
Instead of thinking this way, we should think in terms of seeing the shades of gray, between black-and-white thinking. Practice being flexible and find middle-ground options in your behavior. Trying to see the opposing side.
▪︎ When in conflict, find something to agree about in the other person’s perspective. ▪︎ Instead of procrastinating on a task, break the ice with one or two small steps. ▪︎ Make a list of at least five positive qualities you (or someone else you are down on) have.
If you’re stuck in the above thought patterns, try the opposite.
Look at the other side of things. We often default to the negative side of situations or ourselves. We can be critical and harsh. Look at the opposite side of the dialect.
▪︎ Is there a silver lining or hidden opportunity in the problem that you are facing? ▪︎ What strengths, skills, resiliencies, and resources do you have? Play to your strengths.
A favorite quote of mine by Arthur Ashe, which is relatable, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
▪︎ What skills can you improve to better manage a crisis? Aim to be more skillful, trying a new skill can be helpful, too!
See other perspectives
There is no position in existence that accounts for every perspective. Think about other people’s perspectives and ideas that are the opposite of yours. Look for the pebble of truth in those perspectives and ideas. Where is the middle ground between the opposite perspectives?
Make gradual changes
Changes are often more gradual than dramatic, life changes slowly overtime. Reflect on a problem. If the problem were less severe or resolved, what are some behaviors that others would notice you doing?
To begin making gradual changes, practice those behaviors.
• If you’re feeling depressed, add daily exercise. • When struggling with social anxiety, initiate a conversation with someone. • When isolated, reach out to friends and family to talk.
This dialectical technique supports positive change. Think about your history and the times when helpful and healthy behaviors were prominent. Do more of those helpful and healthy behaviors now. Do more of what works!
• Keeping a planner or journal. • Make self-care a priority. • Engage more actively in your social support.
Embrace the things that are not problems
We’re easily preoccupied with our problems. You could write a “Gratefulness List,” or you could write a fun list including hilarious and dramatic problems that you don’t have.
“Not a problem” list examples
• I am not kidnapped and being examined by aliens. • I don’t have smallpox. • I am not lost in the desert.
It’s easy to feel powerful emotions, such as anger and disgust towards people, especially if we don’t like them because of mean, rude, and unskillful behavior.
The next time you’re in this situation, it can help to practice compassion by imagining what circumstances lead that person to be unkind and unskillful.
What unhappiness exists for such people?
Try practicing compassion the next time you feel hurt, upset, and wronged by somebody.
Our thoughts and feelings are often too rigid, causing us misery. Learning to be flexible and to “go with the flow,” will bend and not break those thoughts and feelings.
Consider other perspectives and practice being more flexible in situations, flowing with reality rather than imposing your will against it.
10 questions to check in on someone’s mental well-being
1. How are you feeling, really? (Mental and physical) 2. What’s taking up your headspace right now? 3. What was your last full meal and have you been drinking enough water? 4. Have you been sleeping? 5. What have you been doing for exercise? 6. What did you do today that made you feel good? 7. What’s something you can do today that would be good for you? 8. What’s something that you’re looking forward to in the next couple of days? 9. What’s something we can do together this week, even if we’re apart? 10. What are you grateful for right now?