Coping Through Covid: 7 Strategies to Support You and Your Sobriety
At the risk of putting more covid-19-related content out into the world, I felt compelled to offer some tangible tips to my community that may serve to support you, your self-care and your sobriety in this wild and unpredictable time.
On top of being a heart- and service-centred coach who teaches mindset transformation and resilience-building, I’m also a person who’s been in recovery for more than 3.5 years. The tools that I’m sharing today are tried, tested and true in my life and ones which I teach in my coaching practice. They are all incredibly effective, especially when used in combination with one another. If any or all of these tools are new to you, pick 1 or 2 that really resonate with you and start practicing them now. You can always add more to the equation later on. I wouldn’t recommend trying all at once, especially if they’re new. Too much change simultaneously can be overwhelming and subsequently paralyzing, which is antithetical to what we’re hoping to achieve.
1) Reach Out
Connect with friends, family and loved ones! Yes, this will require a bit more effort and perhaps creativity but connection is essential for all humans and extra essential for humans in recovery. Do what you can to hear someone else’s voice and where possible, see their faces and body language. Phone calls, Facetime, and Zoom are amazing options! I’ve seen group workouts, dance and karaoke parties and Netflix now has the option to host “watch parties” so you and your pals can watch the same movie at the same time so grab some popcorn, call your bestie and press play on Tiger King (or whatever tickles your fancy). Isolation does not have to mean disconnection.
2) Be Present To and Process Your Feelings
Ugh. I know. I said it. Feel your feelings and get super honest about it. Before I offer guidance on how to do this, please remember two undeniable truths: The first is that all feelings, even the most intense ones, will pass and fade in severity. You have experienced this yourself so you know it to be true. The second is that being uncomfortable is not going to kill you. It will just be … uncomfortable. And it, too, will pass. The reality of the situation is that most of us are likely experiencing a whole host of diverse, challenging and possibly unsettling emotions given the significant amount of sudden change we’re all experiencing. This can be unnerving and for many of us, we aren’t in the practice of actually feeling and processing our emotions. Now is a good time to learn to sit with them.
Since becoming sober over 3.5 years ago, this one has been HUGE for me. I used to Houdini my feelings and myself like a champ because I didn’t a) want to feel uncomfortable and b) because I didn’t believe I had the capacity to handle the hard emotions that surfaced. What I didn’t know then that I acutely know in my soul now is that pain and discomfort are our teachers; they shine a light on areas that need to grow, transform and/or heal and when they show up in our lives, they are there to deliver messages. We need to listen, not distract or numb.
There are a few steps to this so bear with me.
Notice your feelings and actually pay attention to the emotions that you’re experiencing as they occur.
Name your feeling(s): I am sad. I am angry. I feel bored. This can be a really powerful awakening.
Actually FEEL it. After you’ve noticed and named it, be with and in it, even if/when it becomes uncomfortable. We are hard-wired to escape pain and discomfort so our natural tendency is to try and get away from it ASAP. We often do this by distracting ourselves (with people, social media, work, sex, tv, etc.) or numbing (with food, booze, drugs, sex, people, etc.). When you start to feel uncomfortable, notice what you naturally start to gravitate towards to distract or numb; observing this process provides you with helpful information if you’re looking to break some of those distracting/numbing habits. While you’re in your feelings, notice if you feel it anywhere in your body. Is your stomach clenched? Has your breathing quickened? Are your shoulders hunched?
Try to surrender to it. Don’t try to escape it. Take a few deep breaths and notice if anything has changed in terms of feeling or intensity.
Don’t judge your experience. Often, we delay the natural releasing rhythms of our feelings by adding stories (or judgments) to our feelings, instead of just noticing, naming, feeling and letting them go. Instead of judging, approach your thoughts from a place of curiosity. If you’re tempted to inquire, ask questions like “I wonder why I’m feeling XXX?” or “I’m curious how I went from feeling happy to feeling anxious.”
Sometimes the process outlined above is sufficient (trust me, that in and of itself is a lot of emotional work); however, if you’re looking to dive in deeper, you can always journal on your experience. See strategy 4 for more on this.
3) Mind Your Mind
This one can be tricky because most of us aren’t in the practice of tuning in and actively paying attention to our thoughts as they’re happening. Before meditation and mindfulness took up residency in my life, this was absolutely true for me. Meditation has been a great tool that teaches me to not only bring awareness to my thoughts as they are occurring but to choose which ones I want to engage with. This is an especially powerful tool in the current environment of #covid mania, where so many things are up in the air and uncertain, and we are being bombarded with information overload. A helpful reminder when minding your mind: thoughts are just that - thoughts. They only hold value once you choose to apply meaning to them. If you choose not to engage and choose not to make them mean anything, then they are insignificant and will have zero impact on you and your experience. Your thoughts shape how you experience the world by the meaning we apply to them so choose mindfully. And like any other new practices in your life, be patient and stick with it. Choosing to tune into awareness and invite mindfulness-based practices into your life is a process and take practice. Just patient and gentle with yourself.
When life is feeling like a lot, I find that journaling what comes up for me and the emotions I’m experiencing to be a tremendously positive and helpful activity. It can be quite powerful to “dump” everything you’ve been thinking and feeling out on paper so you no longer have to hold it all in your head and heart. You may also find that writing it out brings new clarity to your experience.
5) Move Your Body
We know that moving our bodies releases endorphins (our natural, feel-good chemicals) which are also linked to alleviating anxiety & depression symptoms and at times like this, we could all use a bit of a natural mood elevator. Movement can take many forms and can be free and easy to do. This could include (keeping in mind minimum physical distancing protocols, of course): a brisk walk, playing with your kids, riding your bike, going for a run, jumping rope, yoga in your living room … the list goes on. Whatever keeps you moving is what you should stick with and try to make it fun!
6) Breathe With Intention
Yep. I said breathe. You’re probably thinking “I breathe all day, every day” and yes, you do. But when was the last time you actually gave your full attention to your breath? Think about it. I’ll wait.
My point exactly. Keep reading.
Breathing is an incredibly powerful tool to ground, bring calm and reduce stress. The next time you’re in a moment of high stress or anxiety, try this. It's a tool straight out of my coaching practice that is loved by all my clients because of how simple, powerful and effective it is. It takes less than 5 minutes to do and has the power to move you out of a state of stress and into a state of relaxation and healing.
7) Work with a Coach or a Therapy (depending on what your goals are)
Most coaches and therapists have moved their services online now (if they weren’t there already) so finding support without compromising on physical distancing and quarantine is entirely feasible. If you’re interested in learning tangible, practical tools to move forward and create change in your present life and future, look into a coach. If you’re looking to deal with lingering issues from your past and find some healing around those, a therapist might be a better fit for you. With either choice, you’ll find support, accountability and likely tools that you can apply to your life immediately.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is not about overwhelming yourself with new self-care tools and practices that you have to take on yesterday. If a couple things on this list stand out to you, start to implement them now and see how it feels. If nothing on this list speaks to you, move on. The goal here is to learn and do what we can to best care for ourselves and preserve our sobriety in times of great change and uncertainty. While we can’t control much of what’s happening around us, we can absolutely control everything listed above and importantly, we can absolutely control how we want to shape our experiences based on how we show up in them. You’re not alone. We’re in this together and we’ll get through this together.