We are now in month nine of this pandemic and I can honestly say I don’t know how we got here. Yet here we all are. It’s a weird paradigm where everything has changed, and yet a lot hasn’t. In this short amount of time, I’ve learned a lot about Dan; my feelings, beliefs, reactions and how I’ve had to shift gears in order to take care of myself. Caring for myself in the deepest ways I didn’t think I had within and searching for new ways of soothing, when many of my “go-to” processes we’re not, and still aren’t, available.
For some of you that follow me on Facebook, I have a Facebook-Live event that I hold called “Wisdom Wednesday’s” where I share little pearls of wisdom that I have collected over time, either from listening to and observing my elders/teachers or cultivated from direct experience. From this reflection, I realized that I do have some wisdom to share, and my hopes is that it can help educate and support you while we continue with the ongoing process of this pandemic.
While the arrival of effective vaccines and better treatments are making a promising turn in overcoming COVID-19, we still have a lengthy road ahead of us. If you’re anything like me, you might be excited at this news, yet feel like a kid waiting to open their Christmas presents and you’re tired of the suspense.
I’m tired too. The physical and emotional toll of social distancing, the continuous fear of being around people, and the yearning to reach out, to touch, and be seen without a mask on, is getting old. While we know this is the right thing to do, and is a beautiful compassionate act of humanity, I was reminded by my brother the other day that “we simply aren’t programmed for this.” It’s brilliant, and so true. Humans are actually good with change, but it takes us a while to get prepared for it. Our nervous systems have not had hundreds of years to adapt to the physical, social and mental changes COVID has created for us.
I like to equate it to trying to run a Windows 10 program on a hard drive that normally runs Windows 95. You might get some functionality, but long-term that won’t last. We are hitting that long- term as humans. The things we are experiencing - the withdrawal from friends, family, social life, and yes, touch, are all things our nervous system is fitting against.
I know a fair amount about the nervous system from my work in massage therapy. Affecting the nervous system in a positive way is the root of most of massage work. Getting the bodies system to relax and the body to recharge is the best way healing can occur.
So what the hell do we do now Dan? Quarantine doesn’t allow for a lot of the processes we as humans normally fall to in helping us cope difficult situation. Well I’m glad you asked, because below are some suggestions that I am finding useful in the maintenance of my own nervous system, sanity, and well-being.
Set your system up for the day!
Most of us use our cellphone for alarm clocks these days. The beauty with more modern systems is that they can provide different tones, or even songs to wake up to. Instead of blasting your body awake with the siren sounds of doom, change your alarm to soft bells, or a gentle classical piece of music. This will allow your system to wake up gently, and not set those cortisol levels (stress hormones) too high, too fast.
The next thing I like to do upon waking is to focus on taking some deep breaths. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it helps to wake up my system by breathing in a decent amount of oxygen. And secondly, it helps to calm my nervous system and bring awareness to my body and emotions. I normally do this while placing my hand on my heart and belly, which is a great way of connecting with self.
While breathing, I take stock of what’s going on inside, doing a sort of roll-call check-in. Here I say a few affirmations, “I am safe. I am supported. I am healthy. I am loved.” They might sound cheesy, but they act like a computer program for yourself and whether you actually believe it or not, your system will respond. Don’t believe me? Try it.
Stretching in bed and self-massage is another favorite of mine. I kind of hate morning exercise, so I’ll use this time to gently stretch and move my body awake. Self-massaging your feet and neck are wonderful ways to connect the body, stimulate a calmness in the nervous system, and provide some stress relief before you start the day.
This might sound like it would take half the morning, but in truth it only takes 5 -10 minutes when we wake. Which leads me to my next little gem, one that I struggle with the most, yet it is very powerful when done. Avoid any sort of media first thing! Listen, your emails, notifications, and text messages will all be there later. Awaking up and scrolling the internet while in bed for many has been habitual. We don’t need to be subjected to harsh, negative and scary media right upon waking. Remember we are trying to program our system of calm and restoration, not terrorize it. This pause on checking any media until later in the morning has shifted my health in better ways.
Drink a tall glass of room temperature water! I know this might sound like common-sense. Yet most of us don’t get the adequate hydration we need. While not a doctor, I have found drinking a large glass of water before any coffee, tea or juice helps me to have better focus and system functionality. Room temperature water is best, as it doesn’t shock the kidneys like cold water would. Throughout the day especially in the winter when the air is so dry, I regularly check in with how my body is doing, including my anxiety and often times increasing my water intake can help, as dehydration causes all sorts of imbalances.
There’s a running joke and tons of meme’s out there talking about how “bubble baths” are not self-care. I get what their trying to say. There are deeper processes of self-care and focus that a simple bubble bath won’t fix, but I’m here to tell you, please don’t discount the power that a bath can make as part of your routine. I’ve only recently got into taking baths, mostly because my current apartment has come with wonderful old fashion claw foot tub that lets all of me get covered in water at once. 3 out of the 4 season I end up taking baths about 2-3 times a week. I love using Epsom salts and essentials oils for muscle and stress relief. A 15-minute soak can be a game changer especially in social distancing. Why you ask? It’s simple! When hugging, touching, holding, cuddling, are what we are avoiding, being embraced by water is away for the body and your soul to feel a presence of safety, of comfort. I think it reminds of us our time in the womb, being held by our mother’s presence. While not a replacement of actual touch, I’ve found it effective enough and helps me sleep more peacefully.
Lastly, have a laugh. Fill your down time with comedies, a hilarious book, stand up shows, or have a giggle feast on the phone or zoom with friends. Pull out the old board games if you live with folks and rekindle some childlike quality to help lighten your heart. I find that time of deep belly laughing actually helps to push through some stagnant energy, creating some space within ourselves, easing tensions, worries and fears.
But the biggest and most important thing is to have compassion for self. We are all just doing the best we can, while we are literally stuck in this weird survival mode. You won’t be able to do all these suggestion at once, nor would I expect you to. Like with life it’s a practice. Find which ones work for you, that you’re able to maintain. I’m not successful every day, and there are weeks I just say screw it and end up doing the complete opposite, much to my detriment. I honor it and move forward starting up again when I’m ready and feel the need for balance again.
I do hope you find these suggestions useful. I’d love to hear if any of them make change for the better. Don’t be shy, reach out, remember we are in this together.