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COVID-19: A sanity toolkit for uncertain times

With COVID-19 impacting so hugely on us globally and most of us practicing social distancing, the main psychological challenge that many of us face is anxiety. This might include worries about what will happen next in our own worlds and in the world at large, worries about our health or the health of loved ones, and financial anxiety. To help with this, I have put together a "sanity toolkit" with tips for managing anxiety, enhancing a sense of wellbeing and tapping into a mindset of creativity and resourcefulness. An added bonus is that these tools can boost your immune system too. Feelings like fear, anxiety and worry stimulate the stress hormone cortisol with immune-compromising effect. Whereas positive feelings, like joy, contentment and accomplishment are proven to support immune health by stimulating feel-good bio-chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. Fortunately there are practical ways that we can stimulate our feel-good biochemistry to help both our immunity and sanity through these unusual times. 12 activities to help you stay sane while boosting immunity too 1. Reduce anxiety triggers by for example limiting how much news and social media you consume if it heightens your stress levels. Perhaps update yourself with news just once or twice a day. The same applies to limiting the amount of time you check on investments if this applies to you, especially with financial markets in such flux at this time.

2. Come to your senses. Bringing your attention into the present moment can naturally reduce anxiety and stimulate feel-good bio-chemicals like serotonin. Whether you are working hard or having to take life slowly, you might use these unusual times as an opportunity to listen more deeply, look out at the world through fresh eyes and more fully appreciate the simple joys of being alive.

3. Find ways to be productive. If you are confined to home, think of all the things you might have put off until you had more time, like spring cleaning or organising some parts of your home. Any way that you can remain productive can keep your dopamine levels topped up for motivation and upliftment.

4. Structure your day. Especially if you are working from home and children are home from school, plan a schedule for the day and week, such as starting with some exercise, prayer or whatever you like, followed by constructive time to get ‘work’ done, whatever that looks like for you and scheduling break and meal times too. This can give a sense of order and control that can keep anxiety at bay and add to a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.

5. Set yourself up at home. If you are working from home take time to set up your home office and make sure to ask for all the support you need from your employer to work most effectively.

6. Spend time in nature or in fresh air at least once a day. This could be time in your garden if you have one, or on your balcony, or going for a walk around the neighbourhood or out in nature if you can. Or it could simply be opening your windows to let in fresh air and deliberately taking a few deep breaths perhaps with a few simple stretches to encourage your lungs to absorb more oxygen. This is a natural way to encourage our feeling calmer and clearer.

7. Stay in touch with your people by phone, whatsapp or other methods. This can boost oxytocin levels, a feel-good hormone feeding our sense of connection with others and stimulating our calming, parasympathetic nervous system in support of health. This is especially important if you are living on your own and for those living others, this is a great time to deepen your relationships through lots of quality time.

8. Stay active. Find your way to exercise at home in your favourite way, such as following online Yoga, Pilates or gym routines. You can also get out once a day for a walk or a run if possible. This can boost many happy bio-chemicals, including serotonin, dopamine and euphoric, stress-relieving endorphins when exercise is challenging enough. But be careful not to push yourself too hard as this can spike stress hormone levels and deplete immunity.

9. Keep your mind stimulated with novelty such as playing board games, sudoku, worksheets for students if that applies or choosing an area of interest to research, read and watch films for enjoyment and for self-education. Novelty is a great way to stimulate feel-good and motivating dopamine.

10. Explore new ways to use free time such as learning or practicing new skills of your choosing - learn a new language, play music, make art, cook delicious meals or whatever takes your fancy. If you are curious about appreciating stillness more deeply, you can explore meditation as a wonderful resource for growing inner peace. Meditation is a proven way to raise serotonin levels towards feeling calmer and clearer. There are many different methods and online resources available to guide you, from simple practices like observing natural breathing to following a guided visualization or learning a formal meditation practice.

11. Engage your creativity. Have fun with this using whatever methods you know and like best, such as writing, journalling your daily experience, drawing, music, or dancing simply for the pleasure of it for a natural boost to mentally stimulating dopamine.

12. Apply your creativity to work. This might be brainstorming and speaking with others about new ideas for adapting your work to current circumstances. Creativity can stimulate out-of-the-box thinking for new ideas and finding positives in any situation.

I find it inspiring to think that this global response to COVID-19 might have the potential to shift all of our consciousness towards greater social unity and peace. This time can remind us of our capacity as humans to work together towards the greater good that we might go on to apply to other issues, such as climate change as one example that springs to mind.

Personally this time might also be an opportunity to find more mindfulness in daily living, take better care of your health and wellbeing, and challenge your mind to think out-of-the-box in applying your unique skills and talents in creative ways to contribute to our world.

If you wish to stimulate your mind with some mindfulness based reading filled with practical techniques to build emotional strength and manage stress, you can find my book, The Mindful Body online and in bookstores. Also watch this space for a new book on cultivating happiness from the inside-out to be released later in 2020 through Rockpool Publishing.

 

Cape Town, South Africa

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