COVID-19, rising unemployment, looming recession, social protests and various natural disasters all combine to make this a very uncertain time in our lives. Around the world, people are sitting in their homes, frightened, and it is the uncertainty of what the future will bring that is hardest to handle.
For most of us, our lives used to be much simpler. For five days a week we woke up, went to work and came home. We had two days when we shopped, met friends and relaxed pursuing our different hobbies. Life was predictable, certain, but now that is all gone.
In many cases we can’t even have face-to-face contact with each other.
If this isn’t bad enough, when you live with one or more chronic illnesses, it adds a whole extra level of anxiety and uncertainty. The conditions I live with are multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, asthma and chronic pain. Two of these are lung conditions that increases the risk of complications if I were to catch the virus.
The burden of illness can be immense. Lost income, lost self-worth and loss of control over your own body.
It can feel like you’re spiralling into a void, and is nothing short of cataclysmic.
Even getting out of bed can prove difficult when you have fatigue, when your lower limbs refuse to work normally, when you have unrelenting pain. Nowadays, this is compounded by the tsunami of negativity assaulting us every time we hear, see, or read the news.
Anxiety and depression leave us just wanting to pull the duvet back over our heads, wondering how to go on…
So how do I continue?
Mindful habits form part of my daily routine
I always start my day in the same comforting way, getting up carefully to make breakfast before I continue with two equally important tasks.
First, I take 15 minutes to stop and focus on the moment, clearing my mind of racing thoughts and just experiencing my breath going in and out. I see, hear, and feel my lungs filling and emptying, cleansing me and preparing me for the coming day.
It then take some time to write in my journal, channelling all the negatives in my thoughts through my arm and onto the buff page, my fountain pen scratching. As part of this exercise, I write about what I am grateful for in my life and my big aspirations. This is followed by planning my day so I can work towards my goals.
A few years ago, the concepts of journaling, meditation and wellness all seemed very airy-fairy to me. How would sitting still for 15 minutes help anyone? How could writing things down give anyone peace?
Over the last four years, however, I have learned how this can help me in times of crisis.
Achieving calm in a world of turmoil?
When I was young, my parents taught me to brush my teeth in order to keep them clean and healthy. We all accept that this a necessary ritual of preservation. If we only brushed our teeth once, it would not make much of a difference. It is by the continuous repetition that we have the benefit of strong and healthy mouths.
The same is true for my practice of taking 15 minutes a day to stop and concentrate on my breathing. Over the years it has helped me control my reaction to adverse events. My headaches often caused me to feel angry and frustrated at even the smallest mistake. Now, when these emotions surface, my reaction is tempered by my ability to stand back from the feelings.
This standing back allows me the space and time to look at what is really causing me to be angry or anxious. Realising my impulse is the wrong emotion, I can then calmly go back to the activity I was busy with. This has been a revelation to me and now, in these hard and uncertain times, I can objectively look at what is happening and decide what I can control and what is outside of my ability to control.
When politicians, economists and other commentators are sharing their thoughts, I am now able to listen objectively. I think more about where they have come from and how this affects their opinions. It softens the message and it helps me to realise I probably won't be able to change how they feel, and so I need not be stressed or anxious about it. This is a powerful realisation.
My journal gives me the chance to think freely. I write about what I see and what I can do about things – if anything. As time has passed, I write less about things and people I cannot control, and more about what I can do. Even just writing down the steps I need to take in order to achieve my goals helps.
When difficult thoughts or anxieties are going round and round your head, it can create havoc. So challenge yourself to put these thoughts down on paper. This will help clarify your thoughts and should help to filter out the unreasonable and unachievable thoughts that clutter your mind. Then you can go on to write about your next steps.
Focusing on what I have
Sitting at home, isolating from the world to protect myself from the virus I have tried to think what my fate will be. The future is so uncertain, and I realise there is little more I can do to protect myself. Anxiety about the road ahead is useless. What will happen, will happen. I can only focus on what I have here and now.
I can satisfy my basic needs: shelter, food and water are all covered. I have access to the Internet which lets me travel the world. My income is stable and I have beautiful beaches, lakes and mountains around me.
Even if it is a day I cannot walk because of my symptoms, I can still enjoy the view and soak myself into this landscape. Even if the day is wet and grey, the sound of the wind in the trees outside fills me with gratitude.
Now that you know what I do, and why I do it, it is worth also knowing my result: I believe this changed outlook gives me resilience in the face of all this negativity.
Over the last 51 years of my life, I have faced many obstacles, some harder than others. Yet I am still here, facing this one like so many others. It doesn’t fill me with anxiety and helplessness, because I have the tools which give me the mental flexibility to live and thrive in this time.
NPS-IE-NP-00119 October 2020