How to Shift Your Mindset in Times of Crisis
As the spread and far-reaching impacts of Covid-19 dominate the world news, we have all been witnessing and experiencing the parallel spread of worry, anxiety, and instability. While we little control over what is happening in the world, it is important to remember we have complete control over how we respond to it. The one thing we can do no matter the circumstances is take charge and change our mindset.
FOCUS ON OTHERS
Often, an over-focus on a stressor like the coronavirus can result in the narrowing of your perspective. Your lens gets smaller as you think about the immediate term, yourself and your closest relationships. It has been shown that helping others and volunteering contribute to happiness. While we can’t physically be around others there are many ways we can attend to the needs of others. Explore new ways to connect and volunteer virtually or research ways you can help your community while still staying safe. In times of uncertainty, pulling together to help is crucial to our overall health and well-being. The more you contribute in this fashion, the less you’ll need to worry about your own situation. You’ll become a source of confidence and begin to shift your mindset.
FEEL THE FEAR, BUT DON’T ACT FROM FEAR
Fear is a powerful emotion, it tells us something is amiss. Yet it is also a lower functioning part of our brain and can lead to uninspired action. So, take a minute to honor the fear, write about it if so inspired, and question it. Ask yourself what you are really afraid of, look at what the fear is telling you. Feel it in every sense of your body. Be friendly with it. See where it resides. Honor it. Thank it for informing you. Yet then release it. Don’t let it take hold of you. Feel it exit. Wish it well on its way out. And get yourself back to a positive emotional state.
Things may not be as easy as they were. Fear is normal and it is okay to feel. What is important to realize is that these new difficulties will either defeat you or reveal new strengths. Your physical muscles always get stronger from working against resistance. The same is true for the muscles in your mind, your spirit, and your character. Treat this whole period of challenge as a time when you can make your greatest progress as a human being.
SAVOR THE SMALL MOMENTS
This can be really challenging especially at a time like now. It can be difficult to not focus on what we’ve lost. In addition to the tragic losses of life and health and jobs are the losses experienced by people of all ages: missed graduations and proms, canceled sports seasons and performances, postponed weddings and vacations, separation from family and friends when we need them most. But even during lockdown, you still have many small moments to savor. The smell of coffee, the feel of the warm shower on your back and so on. When you stop to take in these moments, rather than let them rush by on automatic pilot, you are giving your brain a chance to process the pleasure, which boosts your serotonin – the feel good neurotransmitter that helps elevate your mood and make you feel calm.
FOCUS ON YOUR TODAY
Stay present. We are freaking out about the virus because we are worried about the future, and possibly regretting the past. Yet we know this doesn’t keep us stay hopeful. Watch your mind wandering, exposure to news, and keep track of who you connect with and how you are feeling in that connection. Engage your senses to stay grounded. When you find your anxiety increasing, take a deep, slow inhale and notice what you smell. Get out in nature (if possible) and feel your feet on the earth. When we get in our head, we are generally unhappy and definitely not hopeful (hope requires positive feelings and inspired actions). Know what you can control, and what you can’t, and leave the rest behind.
That control part is key. Stressful situations are often beyond our control, and we create anxiety and worry when we try to control what we can’t. Focusing on what can be controlled, on the other hand, can decrease these feelings of anxiety.
LEARN TO ACCEPT UNCERTAINTY
To cope with the uncertainty, many of us use worrying as a tool for trying to predict the future and avoid nasty surprises. Worrying can make it seem like you have some control over uncertain circumstances. You may believe that it will help you find a solution to your problems or prepare you for the worst. Maybe if you just agonize over a problem long enough, just think through every possibility, or read every opinion online, you’ll find a solution and be able to control the outcome. Unfortunately, none of this works. Chronic worrying can’t give you more control over uncontrollable events; it just robs you of enjoyment in the present, saps your energy, and keeps you up at night. These steps can help you become more tolerant and accepting of uncertainty.
- Identify your uncertainty triggers. A lot of uncertainty tends to be self-generated, through excessive worrying or a pessimistic outlook. Some uncertainty can be generated by external sources, especially at times like this. Reading media stories that focus on worst-case scenarios, spending time on social mediaamid rumors and half-truths, or simply communicating with anxious friends can all fuel your own fears and uncertainties. By recognizing your triggers, you can take action to avoid or reduce your exposure to them.
- Recognize when you feel the need for certainty. Notice when you start to feel anxious and fearful about a situation, begin to worry about what-ifs, or feel like a situation is far worse than it actually is. Look for the physical cues that you’re feeling anxious. You might notice the tension in your neck or shoulders, shortness of breath, the onset of a headache, or an empty feeling in your stomach. Take a moment to pause and recognize that you’re craving reassurance or a guarantee.
- Allow yourself to feel the uncertainty. Instead of engaging in futile efforts to gain control over the uncontrollable, let yourself experience the discomfort of uncertainty. Like all emotions, if you allow yourself to feel fear and uncertainty, they will eventually pass.
- Let go. Respond to the what-ifs running through your head by acknowledging that you’re not a fortune teller; you don’t know what will happen. All you can do is let go and accept the uncertainty as part of life.
- Shift your attention. Focus on solvable worries, taking action on those aspects of a problem that you can control, or simply go back to what you were doing. When your mind wanders back to worrying or the feelings of uncertainty return, refocus your mind on the present moment and your own breathing.
REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS
When you’re feeling anxious, tell yourself it’s a normal part of being human. It’s important to understand that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts may come into your head for a whole bunch of reasons. By accepting that they are not facts, thoughts lose some of their power to upset us.
Try writing down the words that are going through your head, especially when you’re in a tough situation. Then read them back as if someone else had written them. This can help you to realize that your thoughts aren’t you, and to accept them for what they are: just thoughts.
DO THE BEST YOU CAN…IT REALLY IS ENOUGH
This is scary. I know some of you are worried about your family’s income. Some of you are worried about losing your home or your cars. Some of you are scared you’re going to lose your businesses or that you won’t be able to put food on the table. These are all very natural and fair things to worry about. Shifting your mindset won’t change your circumstances, but it can help you get through the day. Do the best you can. Remind yourself that some days are going to be harder than others, and don’t dwell on the things you could have gotten done or should have done differently. Instead, try to focus on the more positive moments throughout your day.