Building Your Emotional Immune System During COVID-19
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
With the outbreak of COVID-19 the global community is facing challenging times, and each of us is facing many different struggles. Some struggles were there all along, but now become extremely intensified. Other struggles are completely new, forcing us to face uncharted territory.
Uncertainty lends itself to feelings of loss of control, anxiety, and countless of other undesirable emotions. Many of us tend to choose to avoid unpleasant emotions instead of coping with them— which usually works, at least for a short while. At this time, with every single aspect of our lives being impacted by the global pandemic, avoiding our emotions becomes challenging, if not impossible. We are left overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, loneliness, loss, helplessness, despair, confinement, and concerns about our loved ones and our health and finances. During this time of pandemic, it seems that change is the only certain constant, leading to a sense of relentless uncertainty; and uncertainty is very uncomfortable, distressing and even debilitating at times.
Building our emotional and physical immune systems— developing internal coping resources, flexibility of mind, resilience, and perseverance is important now more than ever. It helps us not only to survive the mental struggles we are currently facing but also helps us thrive emotionally, now and in the future. Your physical immunity will strengthen as well, which is much needed during these times (For more info on that: https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune).
I would like to share with you, and the children in your lives, three strategies for distress tolerance and emotional regulation. All based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) which was developed by Marsha M. Linehan*.
In the past few years, mindfulness has become a buzz word. But what is it really? How does it help?
Currently, the world feels unsafe, everything is uncertain and grounding seems challenging— our minds wonder to regrets about things we did or did not do in the past or concerns about the future, leading to more unpleasant emotions.
Mindfulness is the state of being aware of all that is happening in the present moment, and only in the present moment. Your regrets are in the past and your concerns are in the future. Mindfulness invites you to be fully present and attentive to your current experience; without judging, rejecting or clinging to the present moment. Mindfulness allows you to slow down, take a breath, and find the space to choose your response to the situation, instead of spiraling into an emotional roller-coaster.
In this video I share the steps to practice mindfulness and guide you through a body scan exercise:
The next video is for the beloved children in your lives, but also for adults! It was created by Tamara (6.5), who will mesmerizingly guide you through several breathing exercises:
Self-Soothe with All Your Senses
At times like this, when news and information are changing moment to moment, so do our emotional reactions. Using our five senses can be very grounding and soothing. In moments when you feel so overwhelmed that you just cannot take it anymore, or even if you simply feel the need for a pleasant break— try to soothe yourself with all your senses. Guide your children in using these skills as well and help them build their own "5 senses calming toolkit."
Sight. Look at something pretty. Appreciate nature’s beauty or look at pictures of architectural wonders. Light a candle and watch the flame, or stare at the running water from your kitchen sink. Put on your favorite screen saver, whatever you choose. Look at something that will help you to soothe yourself, and tolerate the unpleasant emotions you are feeling.
Hearing. Listen to music that makes you feel happy and calm. Prepare a play list of your favorite songs or sounds (e.g., nature sounds, religious chanting etc.) that make you feel good, and have this ready as your go-to playlist when you are upset. Make sure to be mindful when you are listening to the playlist, do not let it become background noise to your worries or regrets.
Smell. Take all the smells in! When cooking, cleaning or opening a window— pay attention to the smells. Literally, stop and smell any flowers around you. Smell a scented candle or lavender oil, or any other smell that feels soothing to you.
Taste. Get yourself a special treat and eat it slowly, paying attention to all your senses while eating. Focus on your enjoyment while eating. What flavors make you feel good? Don’t think about your diet in that moment, fully participate in the experience of the pleasure in eating your special treat.
Touch. Remember that shirt you like, the one that feels good on your body? Or your kids' slime that you actually really enjoy playing with? Grab it, touch it, enjoy the sensation. Pet your beloved animal, cover yourself in a soft blanket or take a bubble bath. Do what ever makes you feel pleasant.
Labeling Your Emotions and Doing the Opposite
We tend to think of emotions as positive or negative, assigning judgment to how we feel. However, emotions are neither good nor bad and all of them are actually very valuable. Emotions play an important role in our lives. They help us make decisions and motivate us to act. For example, at times like this— our anxiety motivates and energizes us to protect ourselves and take extra precautions. But emotions are complex and it can be very hard to understand the emotions we are feeling or to regulate them. For children, this task is especially challenging and they can benefit greatly from an adult reflection and labeling of their emotions for them.
In the next video, I give you some tools to recognize, label and regulate your emotional reaction:
These are challenging times, and we all need to find our own way to cope. I invite you to try these strategies, and do what works for you!
If you feel the need for additional support during these unprecedented times, do not hesitate to reach out:
NAMI Helpline— Call 212-684-3264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Disaster Distress Helpline— Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
* Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
** Plutchik, R. (1980). A general psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. InTheories of emotion(pp. 3-33). Academic press. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg