These are challenging times. People the world over are under quarantine – distancing ourselves physically so we can help to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. This means spending most – if not all – of our time in our homes. While we are grateful not to be infected with the virus, we might not be so grateful for this type of existence.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously said, “everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Keeping a positive attitude in difficult situations can take a lot of self-management. And there are techniques you can use and habits you can form that will help. I’ve done the research and here are six proven strategies that will help you through this difficult time:
1. Develop a Gratitude Practice: First, I highly recommend developing a daily gratitude practice. It might seem strange that I’m suggesting gratitude during a time when there seems to be less to be grateful for than normal, but that’s exactly why it is so important. Having a daily gratitude practice will serve you best on days when there is the very least to be grateful for. Gratitude helps us cull out the one bright spot in a day filled with darkness. Something you could try is keeping a gratitude journal by the side of your bed. Before you go to bed, challenge yourself to write down five things you were grateful for that day. Then, the next morning wake up and read them to start your day on an up note.
2. Keep a Daily Routine: The next thing I suggest – and I think this is especially helpful for those of us with kids at home – (but if you don’t have kids that doesn’t mean you should stop reading) is to create and keep a daily routine. Even if you are at home with nothing to do, it’s helpful to have a routine. Wake up every day at the same time. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Exercise. If this time of staying at home stretches on for a while you will probably find that the days when you feel like adhering to your routine the least are the days when you need it the most. Routine gives your days structure and helps to keep you on track.
3. Create and Maintain a Sense of Purpose: It’s scientifically proven that having a sense of purpose helps people maintain good mental health. One thing I’ve seen suggested to help give us all a sense of purpose during this time is to make a list of all the people you care about and every day choose one person on your list to check on. You can call, text, or Skype, but the important thing is to make yourself useful. Be the shoulder someone else can cry on. Be the listening ear. Be the sounding board. I always say if you are having trouble finding a sense of purpose in life then go be of service to someone else. Even if all you are doing is listening, you are helping.
4. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness can vastly improve your attitude and sense of well-being. It can be spiritual in nature, or it can simply be pragmatic. One mindfulness practice that is simple but effective is to practice mindful eating. You might try it with one meal a day. Simply choose to put your full attention on your meal. Slow down. Focus on the smells, the flavors, the textures. Focus on the act of chewing and swallowing. When you practice mindfulness intentionally some of the time you will find that you are more in tune with your body, mind, and environment all of the time. You’ll find that you take more pleasure in the little pleasures, and maybe that the big pains don’t seem so big.
5. Develop a Spiritual Practice: Some people find that creating and maintaining a practice that is spiritual to them helps to maintain good mental health. Meditation to be a highly accessible and effective spiritual practice. Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing upon your breathing. But if you’re having trouble getting started, you might try searching the app store with the term “meditation” (“Calm” is one app that gets high marks) or tracking down some guided meditation tracks on your favorite music app.
6. Practice RECK: Finally, if you are at home with other people, I highly recommend using this increased time together to practice your RECK. If you’re familiar with this site, then you might remember that RECK stands for respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. The point of RECK is that it’s easy to remember, because it can take a surprisingly high amount of discipline to practice. If you doubt this, then take a moment to reflect upon the last time that you were either disrespectful, unempathetic, uncompassionate, or simply unkind to one or more of your housemates. You might not need to reflect back very far. The idea of RECK is to help us love one another properly.
Start from a place of respect. Do your best to be respectful of other people’s feelings. If you must fight, then fight fair – don’t say anything that you’ll wish you could take back later. Maybe hold back that real zinger you know you could use but shouldn’t.
Then, make an effort to be empathetic with the people you’re spending your time with. Are you making an effort to see things from their perspective? Keep in mind that this means going beyond mere sympathy which means to feel for others to making the effort to actually feel with them. That’s empathy – to feel what they are feeling; to feel with.
Next, keep your compassion switch in the “on” position. Don’t discount other people’s suffering… rather make an effort to try to relieve it. I find this especially effective with children – even if you are merely helping them learn to help themselves. Their suffering is real to them, and your compassion is real to them too.
Last, but certainly not least, in all things and at all times… be kind. It’s simple to comprehend, but hard do. It means not taking our feelings out on others. Sometimes, we might get irritated, but taking our irritation out on others is unkind – no matter now innocent or justified it might seem at the time. Being kind helps to maintain a positive environment for everyone.
There they are! Six proven strategies to help you stay positive and maintain good emotional health during these challenging times. Pick one or try all six and see how they go. Report back in the comments!
All the best,
Founder, Century of Compassion