Coping With Current Events: How to Stay Calm and Connected

Written by Jessica Irven, MS, LRT/CTRS, CCLS, CTP-C on March 13, 2020

Depression + Anxiety
Self-Care / Self-Compassion
Trauma / PTSD

For survivors of trauma, the current global health conditions may be especially challenging. As COVID-19 (coronavirus) brings necessary changes to our day-to-day lives, we may experience increased anxiety, fear, and even physical responses. Recommendations and information are constantly changing and evolving.

In any situation like this, it’s normal for all feelings to be especially strong, including fear and anxiety.

In any stressful event, our bodies respond in ways that are first intended to protect us. Our body chemistry temporarily changes. Our heart rates increase, we breathe faster and take in less oxygen, our eyes dilate to take in our surroundings, and our brains focus on the stressful thing. All of that is normal.

But what happens if stress or anxiety goes on too long?

The body adapts, keeping high levels of stress hormones flowing. We remain in patterns that make it difficult to relax, focus, and calm down. The longer stress goes on, such as after surviving a traumatic accident or event, the harder it is to know it’s impacting your body and your thought process.

After experiencing trauma or prolonged stress, you are more likely to react with even more stress—anxiety, depression, invasive or recurring thoughts, difficulty sleeping—to other triggers, such as the current virus situation.

This response is normal, but there are steps you can take to keep calm and stay connected.

Connecting with your body can calm trauma, anxiety, and uneasy feelings.

Reconnecting with your body and redirect your physical responses to trauma and anxiety will help you increase your calm at any time.

  • Deep breathing to help regulate your oxygen

  • Guided imagery to help your brain focus on calming statements and to cue your body to slow down

  • Create a mantra-like statement related to calming yourself despite current events. Examples: “I’m doing what I can to stay healthy and safe.” “I have a strong immune system and great medical team.” “Help is just a phone call away.” “Science and health advice is here to help everyone stay safe and cared for.” Repeat this with deep breaths when your anxiety increases.

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise.

  • If possible, get outside and (safely) enjoy nature and the weather.

  • Create calming spaces. Decrease clutter—even in a single space where you can intentionally relax. Add calming images, scents (such as essential oils), and pleasant music.

  • Write in a journal—for expression, to organize your thoughts, to plan your next steps.

  • Seeing things written out can help you think about it differently.

  • Start or continue a hobby, such as taking time to bake from scratch or organizing a collection.

Control what you can, and take one thing at a time. Even trying to implement positive changes all at once can be overwhelming!

Connecting with others provides support and community.

In many areas, “social distancing” (avoiding crowded situations including school, worship, recreation) is already occurring. These steps may be taken in more communities over the coming days and weeks. During times of increased isolation, we need our community even more.

  • Use safe, moderated, virtual support opportunities when possible. At Phoenix Society, we’re continuing our standard weekly Peer Support Chat on Facebook. We’re also increasing our offerings to the community: our Virtual Support Groups will now be offered weekly, at various times of the day for participants in different time zones.

  • Reach out to friends and family with video chat, calls, texts, and other apps.

  • Guard against unnecessary anxiety and triggers. Be aware of possible fear-spreading through social media.

  • Fact check what you are reading. The U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) are reliable sources to find out the latest in your area and around the world.

  • Take steps to limit your information sources. Temporarily unfollow sites, sources, and accounts whose updates are ramping up your anxiety. Get your news updates from 1 or 2 reliable sources.

  • Connect, connect, connect. You are not alone, and feeling uncertain or even upset is normal. Hearing others’ experiences can help each of us understand this, and navigate our coping while helping to care for our community.

After all, we’re in this together.

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