Thoughts, Ideas & Practices for How to Soothe/Calm Yourself During COVID
May 15, 2020 8:51 AM   Subscribe

As someone who even before current times had a problem talking calm and peace to himself, I would appreciate your thoughts, ideas and practices about how to do that for myself during the COVID19 pandemic. While I'm "keep[ing] calm and carry[ing] on", there is a part of me that (meant in a non-suicidal way) feels like I'm living the last days of my life.

One of the things that I need to work on -- it's how my brain formed due to my history -- is that I find it hard to calm my mind. As such, I'm having real problems with COVID. While I can rationally operate in a day-to-day sense, my sleep's been pretty profoundly affected, and I'm finding myself wondering if I'll begin coughing one day and then die a few days after that, as has been told about some medical professionals and others. It feels as if prior medical certainties about the disease are evaporating (what it affects, etc.).

I am not asking for false confidence, and I am trying to be careful (washing my hands, wearing masks, practicing social distancing, etc.) for my own sake and others' -- but there is a part of me that is scared for both physical death of me or those I dearly love, or massive societal unrest (civil war, fractured states, canceled election, etc.).

I am completely aware of how damn lucky I am in many respects.

Also, I would DEEPLY appreciate it if, in this thread, people did not affirm or reinforce reasons for panic or fear.
posted by WCityMike to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Trust your practices, stay in phone or video contact with loved ones, keep busy through the day with physical tasks, and *definitely* limit media consumption. Cap it at 5-10 mins a day to catch up on headlines if staying on top of things helps you feel in control, but no more than that. Take entire days off a few times a week.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:56 AM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

For me it always comes back to the present and looking at what is happening in my present. I totally, totally, totally get the loop/mind/fear thing. But the best thing for me is things that bring me to where I actually am which is - not sick, not starving, not homeless.

So here are some actual ways I do that. I'm an overfunctioner so that will show:

1. Help others. In my community we have a match up service to call shut-in seniors, and that's been pretty amazing. I'm running online crafts for neighbourhood kids too.

2. For me, gardening is turning out to be a saving grace, but I am lucky to have a garden. Also decluttering, finally getting pictures in albums, colouring in adult colouring books.

3. MOVE MY BODY, always good. I struggle with motivation and having space at home (emotional, physical) but there are a lot of good online classes and stuff.

4. I'm actually starting an online certificate in a week - is there something you've always wanted to learn? A language, software, explore places like Coursera etc.

5. I have been reading sf/fantasy lately, I find it soothing in a way that other genres are not for me right now. Reading for me is better than anything on a screen, and I do it with favourite tea, a blanket, and candles...a ritual, in other words. I use a Kindle that I don't connect to wifi except to download books. Other rituals might be a bath, a foot soak, a stretching routine, or listening to favourite music.

5. a) I heard a thing on the radio that listening to songs of your youth that make you happy automatically lifts your mood. I have found this to be really true for me! It is now 1988-1993 in our house musically. :)

6. I have been bad at this on and off but the nights I detach from all media at 6pm are generally the best.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

Oh I should have said walks/bike rides, but the weather here this week other than one day and a few spots has been rainy and cold. But getting outdoors is a big one, if you can safely.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:01 AM on May 15, 2020

As an atheist member of Al-Anon, I spend a lot of time taking it a day at a time or an hour at a time or even 10 minutes at a time as needed. I try to set a timer as a way of limiting the amount of time I allow myself to worry if I realize that I’m kind of stuck worrying. Then I remind myself that I don’t actually have control over my eventual death or lots of other things so then I try to either think about things that make me feel grateful or think about things that I can do in a concrete way that make me feel better and more in control like cleaning something up or making some food or going for a walk or whatever small things I can do. I also have been reading a lot more. Books that are semi-addictive because they are fast action formulaic genres that take me out of my troubled brain and into a different universe.

I am lucky in that I have a prescription for a sleep medication, which I take maybe once a week but often less to help me reset my sleep patterns when they get too out of whack.

It’s a hard time. I try to think of life as an experiment in which I try various things to see what works and helps keep me relatively stable for a flexible definition of stable. I love MF but have found that right now I do better by visiting a little less often. You may need more MF or less of something else. This is kind of the ultimate YMMV but the first two posters have some great advice. This is an important question; thanks for asking it.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

(Wanting to tread lightly here, but, a commitment to radical acceptance may be helpful. Could be triggering if there is not an accompanying philosophical or religious belief around the sort of big existential questions... if that’s the case, just stay busy, and focus on the fact that researchers everywhere are working their buns off trying to develop effective treatments, in an atmosphere of unprecedented information-sharing.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:05 AM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

You need things that burn cortisol - reduce the flight, fight and freeze stress hormones that are being over produced in your body right now.

Exercise until tired.

Laugh your ass off at silly movies.

Cry your eyes out at sad movies.

Give yourself orgasms

Get hugged and have skin to skin contact. The dog will work just fine for this, but babies held against a naked chest are best and another adult hugging you is more than adequate.

Do stress release yoga to dreamy music.

Get involved in an intense fun collaborative project that gives you little downtime to think about the dooms and glooms, and gives you something to direct your thoughts towards.

Doing two of these each day should help.

In addition to this start a long term project which has no end and where you make daily or at least weekly progress. Examples of projects like this would be studying a language or learning music. Pick a project that you can keep doing indefinitely and where there is no end point for you to fall short of so that you don't turn it into "I must do this before I die..."

For some people the black horrors of the void can be addressed by looking at them closely. Yes, I am going to die and the human race will end and life will go extinct and the sun will nova and burn up every particle of what was the earth... For others this turns fear into depression and a sense of futility. There may be a trusted philosophy in your life that you can explore that will help you to get a sense of gratitude and appreciation for your short life without risking the other reaction, so don't explore the void without first thinking of the best path to take there, such as while holding metaphorical hands with your faith leader, whether that be Stephen Hitchens or Jesus.

If you can't sleep because of the dooms and glooms at bed time do not try to turn off such thoughts but direct them in ways that are not teleological. Fear, misery and futility thoughts at bedtime should not wander towards philosophy or politics but instead towards the inhumanity of man inherent in Game of Thrones, Fear of the Lambs and St. Mary Mead. It is much harder to think sweet and optimistic thoughts when your brain is channeling horrors due to cortisol overproduction than it is to shiver at the dastardly deeds of Sweeney Todd.

You are not alone. A lot of people are trying to figure out how to calm and console themselves right now.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2020 [13 favorites]

I have always quietly listened to podcasts/audiobooks while falling asleep because it puts my brain in "listening" mode rather than "thinking" mode. The sweet spot is something that's interesting enough to stay engaged with while falling asleep, but not SO interesting that you actually stay awake to listen. Some of my favourites are "stuff you should know" "lore" and "you must remember this"

I also like to listen to stuff during the day while doing things if I start getting up in my head. I'm currently steering away from anything topical or political because I am way more nervous about covid than I normally am about current events, so I'm just trying to go with Distract Tactics. I try to be audiobooking or have background tv, etc, way more than I normally do, because I am not loving being with my own thoughts right now - they're too wound up. Reading is also nice, gives you something to think about.

Whenever I'm catastrophizing about something in my life, my parents have two different things they say - my dad, "don't borrow trouble" and my mom, "you could always get hit by a bus tomorrow." which sounds kind of harsh but I'm used to the idea behind it - that we are not in as much control as we could wish, and to not spend too much time worrying about something we think might happen, as we really have no real idea what will happen.

breathing exercises, especially ones that come with a visualization aspect and aren't so much about just sitting there with your own thoughts, are helpful for me. As well as just, breaking the moment when I'm wound up. If I'm laying in bed thinking too much, sometimes I will spring up and like, drink a glass of ice water, or throw in a load of laundry, and try again, telling myself that this time I will be more relaxed when I go back to bed.

also, this one you'll have to use your judgement for: the podcast "this podcast will kill you" is about pandemics, hosted by two epidemiologists. For me, I like the knowledge that this moment we're living in is not entirely a unique event in the history of the world. But it may stress you out further, you'd have to make a call there!
posted by euphoria066 at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

My husband and I are both struggling with this. We have started doing two things every day; these activities could easily be done partnerless as well. I've noticed a big change in my ability to self-soothe during the day.

1. We start every morning with a "risk assessment," basically a brief summary of what we think our stress will be like. Mine today was, "I'm feeling pretty good, but I have that final exam today and will probably be anxious about that. I will need to be compassionate with myself and might need your help with that."

2. We end every day with "compassion talk," basically a quick take on when we were sufficiently self-compassionate during the day, and when we struggled. Mine today will probably be something like, "I'm proud of myself for letting go of my negativity about the test. I found myself stressed about small things at work, so next week I will work on that anxiety."
posted by shb at 9:38 AM on May 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

A super basic CBT skill is distracting yourself, in the most literal boring-ass way. I had a therapist who directed my attention to this tasteful twig arrangement in her office and made me notice "oh hey, it's dark brown, and the pokier sticks are in the middle, and look how that one forks into a bunch of mini-twigs, and" etc. A body scan can be similarly helpful: how do my toes feel? How do my ankles feel? (That might be counter-productive for obvious reasons, "how does my chest feel" might not be a great move depending on various things.)

I feel this question very deeply and thoroughly, btw.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

As prevention: being more mindful about my social media exposure has been helpful for me. I realized that a lot of the mutual aid Facebook groups - while wonderful in some ways - were also a particular reservoir of people who seemed to be anxiety spiraling, so I left/unfollowed them. People do what they do but it wasn't good for my mental health to be along for that ride. I made a new twitter account where I only follow accounts that post pictures of cute animals plus a handful of other people who I know to be steady and calm. I unfollow ruthlessly as needed.

Guided muscle relaxation exercises are sometimes better/more accessible to me than meditation or doing the same activity on my own. I think preferences on style vary but there's a bunch on youtube. "body scan" or "progressive muscle relaxation" will bring some up.

This one and this one use the specific technique of scrunching up your muscles tightly and then letting go, which sometimes helps me when other strategies won't. This one is meant for kids and is very descriptive about exactly what you should be doing to contract your muscles, like "pretend you're squeezing a lemon! Get all the juice out!" which can either be useful or annoying, depending.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

The things that have helped me the most during this time:
1. Exercise. For me that means walking, since I don't have a bike and the gym is closed. Sometimes I go on a trail and sometimes I just walk around the neighborhood. I usually do 30 - 60 minutes but I think even 10 minutes can be helpful.
2. Coloring books. I listen to podcasts while I color and it's the right amount of soothing/distracting for my brain. You could listen to music or just have TV noise if you like that.
3. Jigsaw puzzles. Also while listening to something.

I think 2 & 3 help because they distract me visually but require very little effort. Whereas if I had to draw or paint or sew or [other creative activity], those activities are fun and distracting but also effortful.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:49 AM on May 15, 2020

I have stopped reading the news pretty much. I look at headlines once a day or so, and sometimes read an article if it seems possible. It's great! We don't own a tv that gets news (streaming only in this house) and I don't listen to the radio. A lot of these practices predate the virus - I stopped listening to NPR sometime in 2015, I think.

Walking and looking closely at nature are the best things in my life right now. I have 2 nature apps on my phone - Seek and Merlin - and they are great, I like to enumerate the things I'm seeing.

My partner and I sometimes feed each others' anxiety and sometimes soothe - I have been trying to be better about recognizing and naming when I need to stop a particular line of conversation.

Sleep is a problem! Cut back on caffeine? Stop looking at screens an hour or more before bedtime? I keep my phone in another room, it never comes into the bedroom. But I am struggling with it too. I have a whole category of much-read, soothing fiction - my list is pretty personal to me, but it includes Ursula Le Guin, Dorothy Sayers, and PG Wodehouse. What books immediately make your shoulders come down from around your ears? Read them until your eyes droop.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:05 AM on May 15, 2020

Are you taking vitamin pills? It has been about two months since I started a multivitamin and some Emergen-C immune boost* and although I'm still having some really, really bad days I have noticed a level of greater physical well-being that has a knock-on effect as long as I don't think about it too hard. My assumption is that I was kind of deficient in a lot of vitamins and it's taken this long to get up to speed.

*Basically out of stock everywhere, I had a box randomly sitting on the shelf, but any multi-vitaminish gummy will do - I just make sure I'm getting lots of vitamin D, vitamin D, B12, zinc and selenium in addition to the multivitamin.
posted by Frowner at 11:23 AM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I cannot sleep at night. I've found the only thing that really helps is playing wordstacks on my phone. Somehow it is interesting enough that I can focus on it instead of my anxiety, but not so interesting that it actually keeps me awake. I straight up play it till I can't keep my eyes open.

Listening to chill podcasts like Gardeners Question Time also works, but not in bed with my husband because I can't fall asleep in headphones.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2020

I really love this guide for dealing with worry and anxiety due to COVID-19.

A super basic CBT skill is distracting yourself, in the most literal boring-ass way.

FYI, distraction in the manner described is explicitly discouraged by CBT unless (1) the anxiety is threatening your ability to do something you absolutely have to do and/or (2) the anxiety is posing an imminent threat to your or someone else's physical safety. It is explicitly meant to be only a one-off, short-term thing to get through a moment that you couldn't otherwise get through. It's the old movies where someone slaps someone and says "SNAP OUT OF IT!!!," those are the kinds of situations when distraction is indicated according to CBT. A CBT therapist recommending it as a go-to, ongoing skill is not a CBT therapist.

posted by quiet coyote at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

i threw all my clean laundry on the floor and jumped on my bed until i was nauseous and it was p great, although my downstairs neighbor was like "r u ok"
posted by poffin boffin at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hey there! My recommendations come from what I have done or tried to do. Experience is a good teacher to know what works.

Be kind to yourself. How you feel is right.

I do mindful meditation and have found it very useful. I came to it in my Refuge Recovery group. The notion of observing the racing mind and acknowledging it. Then using breathing or mantra techniques to refocus on the present time. Bit by bit, over time, I have built a practice that works for me. I use a free app called Insight Timer. Lots of meditations that you can filter through to find what you like and works for you. I filter out religious themes, filter to a time length that I have available and topic I am interested in. I listen and if it resonates, I continue. If not, I look some more. A really great resource.

I learned that there is a lot of information out there. I generally like to be informed of what is happening. That works on one level but not on another. I really don't think anyone wants to hear what I have learned. That makes me think about things that I normally would process with someone else. The absence of completing the process (learning-sharing-talking through) has made the new information fester and doesn't add to my quality of life. So, I limit my intake and my sharing is almost non-existent.

I have begun to focus on political races. I am north of Chicago and looking at trying to throw in with the Democrats in Wisconsin. It gives me a ray of hope to know that I can *try* to accomplish something bigger than myself that will benefit others.

Appreciate nature. The natural world is at an inflection point. The change of seasons is incredible if we spend the time to notice. I observe the changes in the trees, the birds, the frogs singing. It lifts me to know that I am a part of what is happening. Things that have been happening for a really, really long time. They continue. Life continues.

Try to do something different. Maybe something you've always wanted to. That might take small bits of energy each week. I am going to be planting a vegetable and flower garden from scratch this year. Maybe it's a story or building a PC from scratch. Don't have to do it all at once. Just bits of a bigger project. Engaging.

Years ago, I had trouble sleeping and stumbled upon a trick that really worked. If I played some innocuous AM radio talk show, at a barely perceptible level, my brain had to really focus on trying to make sense of what it could hardly hear. I started to sleep well. I learned that the topic could not be of interest or music as I would agitate around those things. Meaningless stuff, like maybe, sports talk was the best. I always recommend this to people in the hope that it works for them.

Be well, friend.
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:53 PM on May 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

My feelings are very much like those of the OP. I was already suffering from anxiety and depression before this happened, helped a bit by meds but not a whole lot. So...I am fearful of trying new things and find it difficult to motivate myself to do anything. I have tried to meditate but can't do it for more than a few minutes and can't do anything at all when the anxiety gets really bad. I am very aware that many of my fears are irrational, but cannot seem to adjust my emotions to that knowledge. I am in the danger group for Covid, well over 65, with some medical issues.

One suggestion that I cannot even imagine how it could work is setting a time to worry and postponing the fears until then. If I could turn off the bad thoughts like that, I would not be having a problem. Part of this is that the bad thoughts of dying or terrible things happening to those I love are vivid and visual and very painful, I try not to think them, but I certainly do not want to conjure them up at some later time.

I have no energy, do a little bit of exercise but not enough, can't bring myself to do house work except a minimum. The only escape is reading, mostly mysteries but they must have a happy ending and not be too gruesome, and mindless or at least conflict-free TV shows. There is nothing I always wanted to do, all that went away with the depression. I hate myself for being like this, cowardly and uncertain and unable to move and take decisive action.. But I am not suicidal; I fear death.

I do not watch the news or anything remotely political from either side, and live in extra fear that Trump will win again. Just seeing his face creates a visceral reaction of disgust and nausea. I do not want to know anything more about the virus, I do the right things as best I can, mask and gloves, social distance, only go out to get food, but I keep thinking I am not doing enough. I am fortunate to live with my husband and adult son, but they are not much for talking about feelings.

I am trying to live from day to day, I do not see an end to this. It helps to see my cute little grandchildren across the country on skype, but very much fear I will never see them again in real life and they will not even know me, they are 1 and 4. Also my son got two adult cats from a shelter, but they make me miss my sweet, affectionate old kitty who passed away just before the virus hit. Having any cats in the house is comfort though, I have never been without cats since I was born.

I keep in touch with a couple of friends, and keep reminding myself how many people have it worse, especially the poor and out of work with a government that hates minorities and poor people and will not help, just lie and lie.

Sorry for going on, but that helps a bit too, and know others are in the same boat mentally.
posted by mermayd at 2:58 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Psychology Today has two recent posts that seem relevant to your question: Lifestyle Choices for Good Mental Health During Covid-19 and Should You See a Therapist to Deal With COVID-19 Stress? There are also a few related AskMes and links to potentially helpful resources listed on the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page, in the Recovery section.

From a C-PTSD standpoint, it sounds like you are taking an important step to be writing this Ask and reflecting on how to better care for yourself, but a mental health treatment provider could better explain why. I sometimes do a version of this kind of reflection by asking myself what would I do for someone else in my situation, i.e. 'make peppermint tea' or 'find delicious food' or 'dispense medication as prescribed.' I think about C-PTSD as a chronic medical condition, so I try to summon my inner medic to help tend to it. I have also found that soft comfy clothes, exercise, hot showers, and calming music can be helpful, but it's therapy that has helped me understand how these practices connect with managing C-PTSD, and I think the process can help make the practices more effective.
posted by katra at 12:11 AM on May 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

A global pandemic is a pretty unique situation where I'd say any level of distraction you need to get through it is 100% okay regardless of what kind of therapist says what. Especially if you're already anxious and in the particular way you've explained you are - this does not sound like a combo of things or a type of personality where you're in danger of escapism that's going to permanently harm you or whatever. IMO "feels like I'm living the last days of my life" means you have permission to use whatever pleasure or comfort suggested here or that you come up with yourself, for as long as you want.
posted by colorblock sock at 1:19 AM on May 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

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