I’m writing to you from a quarantine hotel in Brisbane to ask a fundamental question:
“Is there a reason for this season?”
When I watch the news, all I hear about is borders being closed, schools and businesses locked down, people marching in the streets and many feeling anxious, scared, and uncertain. These seem like unforgiving days, and the longest season of ambiguity many young people have faced.
We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat. Some people love online learning. Others loathe it. Every situation is as unique as the person experiencing it. But there are certain similarities, regardless of context and some guiding principles which can cause us to emerge strong and in a thriving state of mind.
Being alone in a hotel room for 14 days has given me the opportunity to think long and hard about lockdown! Here are some of my thoughts for getting through it and even growing during this time.
Flip the question
If we are going to frame our thoughts with the right mindset during this latest and seemingly endless lockdown, the question we need to consider is not the typical “Why me?” but rather the enlightenment of “What am now seeing that I did not see before?”
This is a question of empowerment.
When we refuse to be oppressed by our circumstances but rather educated by their arrival, we can discover the reason for the season. The real power in this is that instead of spending our energies trying to escape this moment, we can extract the hidden meaning.
Positive wellbeing is more visible in times of trouble than in triumph. We have the tools and now is the time to use what we have learned to help us flourish in the present.
Check your attitude
In moments of confusion and constant uncertainty, it is vitally important we have the right mental and emotional approach. We are not in charge of what happens to us in life, but we are in charge of how we respond to it. Many people despise crisis, we try to resist it, to ignore it and avoid it. Yet without invitation, it often shows up at our door.
Storms are inevitable for all of us. When they arrive, we need to develop the capacity and willingness to brace for them. Our thoughts and feelings affect and influence our lives. Perceptions are powerful. This battle, if looked at from a positive perspective, is helping us to become mentally fit. After enduring this challenge, think of the things you will be prepared to face later in your life.
Within psychology, the term coping is defined as what people do to diminish stress and discomfort. Athletes understand that when the pressure to perform is great, the function of their muscles is to perform, and the function of their mind is to cope. And the only way to become good at coping with discomforts is to experience them.
Below are twenty helpful strategies for coping with stress during lockdown and at other difficult times in your life.
- Positive Self-Talk
- Have a Laugh
- Physical Activity
- Connecting with Others
- Seek Professional Help
- Brainstorm Solutions
- Colouring In
- Clean or Organise your Environment
- Serve Someone in Need
- Make a Gratitude List
- Deep/Slow Breathing
- Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
- Go Outside
- Listen to Music
- Ask for a Hug
- Eat a Healthy Meal
The greatest way to enlarge your heart and soul is to love others. Recently, my seven-year-old son was awoken by the sound of an ambulance siren outside his room. He ran down to alert me it was visiting our elderly neighbour’s house on the other side of our street. He wanted to go outside and see what the commotion was about. Our neighbours’ husband was being taken to the hospital for some tests. Nothing serious but nonetheless distressing. The next day whilst shopping my son asked if he could buy some flowers to take to our neighbour since her husband was in hospital.
I then watched from across the street my son taking flowers to our neighbour and engaging in conversation at her front step for 15 minutes. Our neighbour had tears in her eyes as she received this innocent and authentic gift of love. His act not only impacted her and her family but mine as well. Love magnifies with deliberate application not only the receiver but the giver as well. Loving relationships strengthen and fortify us against future adversity. During lockdown, do all you can to spread love to those closest to you.
Create more than you consume
During a lockdown it can be easy to consume copious amounts of digital content. From social media to YouTube, to binging on Netflix or levelling up on Fortnite, the temptation to turn to a screen is intense. This is particularly the case in the absence of sport and other extracurricular activities.
The key rule of thumb I use and share with my own children is to create more than you consume. Getting the balance wrong can be debilitating for our health and wellbeing. For example, imagine if you could only breathe in but not breathe out? Try it for 10 seconds and experience what it feels like. Or how would you feel when you have eaten a big meal but aren’t able to go to the toilet for a few days? Excess consumption is unhealthy. Yet we scroll continuously for hours on end consuming unfiltered content and wonder why moments later our emotions are noxious.
Create something; a video, a drawing or even an idea to discuss with your family. Even if you never share it, the mere act of creation causes a cascade of positive emotions.
Don’t languish in lockdown laziness
Lockdown can easily get us in a slump. Languishing in lockdown can present itself as irritability, sadness and finding it difficult to focus or make decisions.
One way to get out of this funk is to create a sense of optimism about your future. A positive expected outcome gives us the impetus to act with energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, saying “I don’t feel like getting up early in the morning” is not a motivational problem… it’s an emotional problem.
Aligning our emotions with a positive mindset releases energy. But this takes a choice. There is a difference between a season and a cycle. Seasons change with time; cycles change when you change.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, “Purpose provides activation energy for living”. Finding the areas in your life where you possess both ability and appetite is a gateway towards inspiration.
Despite what people might think, exercising doesn’t make you tired. It literally creates energy in your body. There you are, lying in bed, watching YouTube thinking, “I should be exercising. If only I weren’t too tired to get off my bed” In fact, fatigue is among the most common complaints doctors hear.
But you might be surprised to learn that experts say one of the best antidotes to beating fatigue and boosting energy is to exercise more, not less. As I mentioned I am currently in quarantine and I am exercising twice a day, the main reason for this is to combat languishing.
If you want energy, you are going to have to exert some energy. I have to work out to have the energy to do what I want to do. Some people think they need to conserve energy to have more. Wrong! If you try to conserve energy you won’t have any.
Read a book
During any lockdown period, make it a priority to read a printed book, one you can touch, feel, and smell. It will give your senses the much-needed excursion they need. Also, the weight of a real book imparts a sense of grandeur and self-respect.
Reading for as little as six minutes a day makes your brain stronger and reduces stress by 68%, according to a recent study. It also forces you to pay attention and improves your memory. The mental stimulation you get from reading alone will help you think more clearly and further your analytical skills. Find a genre you love, from action and adventure to fantasy or romance, biographies, self-help, or poetry.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr Seuss
Dream like you have never dreamt before
Use this time during lockdown to dream. Crisis brings with it clarity. It forces us to focus on what’s important. When the stakes are high and there is a lot which can be lost if we make the wrong choices, it forces us to pay attention.
Adversity is place where two roads diverge. One road leads to bringing out your best… the other road brings out your worst. Ultimately, you get to decide which road you take. If you take the road which brings out your best, it can become the fuel for your greatest breakthrough. This is why adversity is regarded as a defining moment for many celebrities, athletes and other high achievers.
Take a moment every day in lockdown to dream about your future, picture the person you want to become and think of the goals you want to accomplish. Don’t waste this time! It is an opportunity to reinvent yourself.
Become emotionally literate
We should not fear what we feel. Emotions are signals and they matter because they affect our cognitions, our choices, our connections with other people, our physical and psychological capacity and our creativity. Experiencing strong emotions during this time is normal and natural.
Strong emotions are neither good nor bad. In fact, they can help us focus on what is important. However, they can also derail us from achieving our goals. What matters most is the way we handle these emotions. This affects our wellbeing, our performance and our relationships and interactions. Managing your emotions also determines whether you will quit, run or fight.
The first step in managing your emotions is recognising what they are. Too often when asked how we feel we resort to basic untestable language; “I’m fine, good, busy or okay”.
By increasing our emotional literacy, we become far more apt at discovering solutions. For example, there is a difference between being stressed and being overwhelmed. One solution for stress is developing a mindful practice. Overcoming overwhelm might mean we need to delegate more.
The below mood meter is one way to help us to become fluent in how we feel. Use it to get the crux of how you are feeling and help you to clarify the path forward. (See below.)
Finally, remember; this too shall pass. It will become a distant memory and there will be days in the future where we think we have never been more stressed out, forgetting about the time when we weren’t even allowed to see our friends or leave our houses!
I wish you the best for this quiet time in our lives and I hope you are able to leverage it to dream big, redefine yourself and create a bright future.