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Staying well in challenging times

Rebecca Hadrill
Project Co-ordinator


It has been a few weeks now since the coronavirus changed our world.

In the space of a few days, Covid-19 has impacted how we live, our work practices and how we relate to one another. It has shaken the fabric of our society and forced nations into confinement as a necessity for their safety.

This sudden interruption to our fast-paced living has meant that businesses, workplaces, and people of all ages have had to stop, rethink their priorities, refocus and change behaviours.

Immediately, we have seen demonstrations of kindness, compassion and commitment, particularly from those working tirelessly on the frontline. We have seen technology become more important than ever to aid organisations in developing new ways of working. We have seen communities and countries come together at pace to develop new social initiatives to support those in need and to help combat the current challenges we face.

In times like these, our nervous systems can switch into heightened states of stress such as fight, flight or freeze responses. For some, these unchartered waters can be overwhelming.

Clinical research on trauma shows that for our physical bodies to process 'overwhelming states', we need social connection, community, and yes, touch, to help us feel grounded and safe.

So how does one stay well and connected while maintaining ‘social isolation and social distancing’, which is key to overcoming the virus?

Connect to yourself

We all know the importance of managing our mental health and stress levels, and now more than ever it is a good time to develop wellness habits.

We know that when people experience high levels of stress, cortisol is released into the body. The biochemical balance shifts in response to our emotions. The subsequent production of adrenaline and cortisol is there to help us fight and escape in the immediate term, but long term, this chronic stress can damage our bodies.

We have to take this opportunity to wake up, reconnect with our bodies, and switch off our alarm systems. This can be done through simple movement such as yoga, tai chi, breathing, meditation, walking in nature, and through TRE (Trauma, Tension Release) exercises.

These practices, among others, can activate our parasympathetic nervous system and help create an inner sense of peace and calm.

While we have an explosion of free online classes, courses, concerts, and operas to keep us occupied and entertained, time, and some peace, should actually be our friend. It offers us an opportunity to slow down, pause and reboot. It is an opportunity to come back to stillness and feel the value of occupying our personal space, feeling real and feeling present.

Slowing our pace down is better for our nervous systems

We can use this opportunity and the time to get back to our natural rhythm, grounded in what the leading expert on trauma, Bessel Van der Kolk, refers to as a presence, where 'you can feel your butt in your chair, see the light coming through the window, feel the tension in your calves, and hear the wind stirring in the tree outside’.

We can slow our pace by avoiding multitasking, and instead cultivate practices that produce a feeling of contentment and joy - things that many people are already embracing after a long absence - like painting, baking, gardening, playing simple games; things that increase positive emotions and as a result, increase our serotonin levels.

Social Connectedness

We humans are social creatures wired for belonging, love, attachment, and closeness. Research shows that social connection is a primal need, which generates well-being and a longer, happier life.

Even though this pandemic is keeping us apart, we are finding new ways of coming together. We have seen great acts of solidarity - Italians singing on their balconies, neighbours exercising together on the street, and over 50,000 Irish people answering the call to action. These examples demonstrate our resilience and adaptability as humans as well as the need for connection in order to thrive.

Thankfully, with the help of technology we can still stay in touch with friends and loved ones. We can now video call, send voice messages, watch our favourite movie with friends in a Netflix Party, make funny videos, sing songs, play an instrument, dance in our kitchen, share special moments with our online community and connect instantly in a creative way.

It is important to remember, however, that not everyone is online, especially our older and most vulnerable. There are those who live alone and who may experience increased levels of loneliness and anxiety due to the current social restrictions. Simple acts of kindness such as putting out the bin for your elderly neighbour, phoning someone who lives alone to check if they are ok, and sending a postcard or letter to a friend are all simple acts that can make a difference.

How can I serve, or give today?

It's a new question we can ask ourselves each and every day, to reframe how we live. If we each give in a small way, we can not only feel good in ourselves, but the positive impact for someone else’s life could be profound. This pandemic can offer us the perfect time to embrace a new and better way of thinking, being, reflecting, and acknowledging the things we are grateful for.

Mental Health Ireland offer a 5-a-day guide for wellbeing, which is a really useful resource. Let’s use this time wisely, not just to look inward, but to also look beyond ourselves for opportunities to give.

Stay connected, and stay well.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash