These are challenging times. Here are a few things that might help if you’re feeling low.
Actually, you’re already breathing. That comes with being alive. Something we’ve all been given good cause to celebrate, during this pandemic.
So stop and enjoy it for a moment. Just take five deep breaths.
Really fill your lungs, then empty them. Open your chest, feel your ribs expand, then relax. Breathe in life-giving oxygen, plus love, energy, and hope.
Breathe out stale air, along with all the fear, anxiety and worry you’ve been holding in.
Feel better? You can do this, any time you want. You just need to remember.
2. Turn Off The News
Stop checking social media. Or clicking on links to stories that may or may not be true. Turn off rolling news channels and bulletins. Give yourself a break from feeling angry, helpless, overwhelmed, fearful.
Try this for 24 hours, a week, or (better still) a month, and see how you feel. Then decide how much of it to let back into your life.
3. Focus On What You Can Control
Sit down and write a list of everything that is worrying you, everything you are concerned about. Then cross out every single one that is out of your control.
The news, the weather, the virus, the economy, other people’s behaviour, the Government, the latest war/scandal/corruption/celebrity breakup. There’s little you can do about any of this, right now.
Now look at what is left, and choose to focus on that. Your thoughts and feelings. How you’re helping your family, supporting your friends, reaching out to your community.
What you’re watching, reading, spending, sharing. How you’re speaking to yourself, and taking care of yourself. How you’re speaking to others. What you’re working on.
Watch what happens. When you focus on what you can control, you change. The people around you start responding differently. And your influence on everything else quietly, gradually increases.
Take naps. Especially if you’ve never had a daytime doze before. Have a duvet day, when you never get out of your PJs, you snuggle in blankets and do nothing but read, listen to music, and watch TV. Sleep, if you can.
You really don’t have to be manically productive, every second of the day. Rest and replenish your energy and focus, and you’ll be able to see more clearly and notice what’s really important, rather than drowning in busywork.
If you’re feeling numb and exhausted, just cut yourself some slack. You’re not alone. The events of the past two years have weighed heavily on all of us.
We’ve all had our own journeys through this difficult time. Be kind to yourself. You’ll be much more ready for the challenges to come, if you rest and take care of yourself now.
5. Get Outside
Just walking somewhere beautiful can be a healing activity, a gentle mood-changer. We all know that we feel better after getting out in nature. And even a walk around the block can help.
Yet it can be hard to do, when life is weighing down on us. All I can say is, no matter how reluctant I am to get off the sofa and out of the warm house, once I’m in motion I never regret going out.
Try to be totally present and aware of your surroundings, rather than running past events on a loop in your head, or time-travelling into a future that might not even happen.
Really enjoy your five senses. Try taking five minutes to really look at what’s around you, to notice small details, vivid colours, a gnarled tree trunk or a bird in flight. Then take five minutes to listen deeply.
What can you hear? Traffic, birdsong, the wind rustling leaves or grasses, children playing? Then focus on the feel of your feet making contact with the earth, the air on your skin, the textures of your surroundings.
Smell and taste can be more challenging, but try focussing on these senses too for a while, see if you can awaken your animal awareness.
Enjoy the sensations of being out of your head for a while, and the stories we are constantly telling ourselves, and back into your body. Now tune into your intuition, your instincts, your deep inner knowing. Your sixth sense, if you like. Does it have anything to tell you?
6. Listen To These Podcasts
At the start of the pandemic Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield embodied calm on The Tim Ferriss Show, and gave some useful perspectives on anxiety and chaos that helped me enormously. His website is packed with other resources to help you stay steady in difficult times.
Brene Brown talked brilliantly on anxiety and calm in her podcast, Unlocking Us. She discusses how we all tend to over-respond or under-respond when faced with anxiety. I winced in recognition of myself in her descriptions.
I’m a classic over-responder, jumping in to take over and fix everything for everyone (whether invited or not) as a way of dealing with my own fears.
7. Watch Zoolander
OK, for you it might not be Zoolander. Or even Anchorman, Groundhog Day, Lost In Translation or Zombieland.
Ben Stiller in Zoolander (Paramount Pictures)
These are my comfort films, the ones I go to when I really, really need a laugh, or to have my heart gently warmed. (Clearly, Bill Murray is some kind of father figure for me, as I’ve just realised that he’s in most of these.)
Whatever your equivalent is, watch it now. Lose yourself for a couple of hours. Ice-cream and popcorn purely optional.
8. Let Go Of Judgement
Judging is tiring. For you and everyone around you. It’s often another expression of fear and anxiety.
See how it feels, to let go of it for a while. To interpret someone else’s actions charitably (because they too might be tired, scared, or acting on faulty data).
Or just let go of trying to interpret them at all, and just accept that’s who they are, and it’s out of your power to change that. Better, no?
By connection, I don’t mean scrolling, commenting and liking, or going into that long, dark tunnel of looking at everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives on social media, and comparing them to your own flawed (and human) one.
I mean talking, possibly even laughing, with other flawed and imperfect humans, not connecting via a screen. Play with your child or stroke your pet. Or, if you don’t have children or animals of your own, visit a friend with a family, or take a neighbour’s dog for a walk.
Pic by Joe Caione on Unsplash
If you need help, reach out to and ask for it. You’re giving the person you ask a gift: the gift of being wanted and needed. Pick up the phone and call (not message) that friend who always makes you smile. Sometimes, even a brief chat can change everything.
10. Be Grateful
This can be difficult, when times are tough. And I know how annoying it is, when you’re feeling low, to have some smug and chirpy Pollyanna nagging at you to count your blessings, and be aware of all you do have. Nonetheless.. it works.
Try writing down three things you feel grateful, every day.
Focus on the details: the steam rising from your morning coffee; the farmers who grew that coffee, the people who roasted it, ground it, transported it to you; the first buds on a tree outside your window; that first buttery bite of breakfast toast.
On a bad day, it can be as simple as the fact that you are alive. The sun rose today. If you are reading this online, the chances are you’ve got a home, a bed, at least some food. These are not things many people, in many parts of the world, can take for granted.
Jump up and down. Dance to some cheesy techno tracks, or play some air guitar. If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, punch a pillow, get it out.
Think about a run, a swim, a workout. Shaking all over, pulling weird faces, giving yourself a tight, comforting hug can all help release stress and change your state quickly.
And in case you missed this, here’s a panda, showing you how it’s done.
One minute six seconds of pure joy
12. Decide How You Want To Grow Through This
Bear with me, here. Most of us know about PTSD now, the psychological aftershocks that can follow traumatic events.
What is less well-known outside psychology circles is the more recent concept of post-traumatic growth.
It is common for people who have been through trauma — and most of us will, at some point — to actually come out of it with more empathy and understanding, discovering new depths of creativity inside themselves, and more meaning in life.
We didn’t choose this awful pandemic, any of us. Very few of us actively want climate change, war, loss, illness, accidents.
Yet these things happen. They are happening now, all around us. And we can argue about why, or comfort ourselves by trying to deny them. We can rail against life’s unfairness, about the way bad things sometimes happen to good people.
Or we can take a step back, and try to choose how we want to respond, who we want to be at the end of it. We can choose to be kind. To help, when we can. We can strengthen our relationships, and connect to our communities.
We can come out of hard times feeling stronger, more resilient. And ready to make changes, to create a world that is safer, fairer, better. For everyone.
Sheryl Garratt is a writer, and a coach helping experienced creatives of all kinds get the success they want, making work they truly love. If you’re ready to grow your creative business, I have a FREE 10-day course detailing 10 steps to success — with less stress. Sign up for it here.