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Four things to do when change and uncertainty get you down

Our world has changed drastically these past few weeks. The disruption caused by the pandemic has been intense for most of us, and testing in ways we have not experienced before. My family and I have been in lockdown since mid-March, so we are currently in our twelfth week of social distancing. We are very lucky in that we have managed to stay safe and healthy, which is tragically not the case for thousands of people around the world.

The pandemic has faced us all with similar challenges: loss of work, income, social interaction, planning, and so on. We have been in isolation, only able to interact with our friends and family through digital means (and thank heavens for those!). Some of us have been shut away from the world completely on our own, while others have shared all of their time with their immediate family, learning to study and work from home together where possible. Usual ways to let off steam have not been available and our time outdoors has been severely restricted. Heartbreakingly, many of us have experienced the loss of a close relative or friend to the virus. We have experienced a global sense of trauma at the suffering of our fellow human beings. Lockdown has also taken longer than we may have initially expected and unfortunately, there is still a lot of uncertainty ahead of us as scientists work to find a safe way forward.

As I speak to people every day about how they are coping, it seems to be a shared experience that some days feel almost normal, and some days are tough. In some ways we have adapted to life under a pandemic but we are still finding it hard to cope with the loss of our usual lives and the lack of longer term planning. This is OK. We are human. We need structure and security, both of which are currently in short supply. We are having to make decisions about a future we do not yet fully see or understand.

So what to do on the days we feel unsettled? Here are a few ideas to help you feel more grounded and safe.

1. Sit with the difficult feeling

We can be naturally driven to be quick to react to negative emotions – to process, to act, to move on. To do whatever it takes to stop feeling it. This is a survival mechanism to help us alleviate uncomfortable emotions and move along. Acting fast in this way has its place in life and can be useful at times. Other times, there is no quick fix. We can benefit from noticing and observing our emotions, almost as if they are happening to someone else, without being carried away by them. There is a difference between dwelling on an emotion and allowing ourselves to fully experience it. Spending time repeatedly picking over something negative for the sake of it is not conducive to resolving it. But making time and space to explore our emotions can help us reveal their roots. On inspection, we may find that the feeling we have comes from elsewhere – fear, for example, may have roots in sadness. Understanding our feelings on a deeper level can help us give clarity and show us a more wholesome and constructive way to help ourselves.

2. Turn down the noise

There is only so much in the world we can control or change. Staying up to date with the news is important but keeping up with what goes on in the world at times like this can also be hugely draining and confusing. Dealing with the new additional duties and worries of lockdown life adds to the mental clutter. Taking a break for a few hours, a day, a few days, or however long you need to turn down the noise is not only fine, it is necessary. So turn off the news, stop scrolling social media and find a quiet corner to give yourself space to just be for a while. Reconnect with things and people that bring you peace and joy. Above all, reconnect with yourself. Which brings us to the next point.

3. Bring yourself into alignment

Our connection to the world depends on our connection to ourselves. When the world is uncertain and overwhelming, it is especially important to create some space to find a way back to ourselves. This can take many different forms but something meditative and peaceful is key. If you can sit quietly in meditation for a while, that is great. Yoga is my number one way to reconnect. If you love painting, or running, or listening to music or cooking - just doing something pleasurable that helps you to focus your attention positively - this can help, too. In this kind of quieter state of mind, it is easier to find answers. Reminding yourself who you are, what you want and how you can be loving and caring towards others has a beautiful calming and grounding effect. Just ask the questions you need answers to and see what comes up.

4. Stay soft and remember that better days will come

It is so easy to feel frustrated and pile extra pressure on top of what we are already dealing with. I’m sure we’ve all done this at times. Ultimately, heaping negativity on top of other difficult emotions is obviously not helpful, or good for us. If you catch yourself escalating negative emotions, try and bring awareness to what’s happening. Ask yourself if your tone would be the same if you were giving advice to a friend. Treat yourself with the kindness and respect you would show to others. We are human and each of us is doing their best in a difficult situation. There is power in admitting that some things are simply beyond our control. Just do what you can, right now in this moment, and stay soft and easy in the mind as much as possible. It is OK to sometimes experience the lows – and important to remember that better days are coming.

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