View of beach jetty and sky

How to feel calm in a crisis

April 2020, Pandemic.

It’s all pretty weird, isn’t it? I closed my clinic 1&1/2 weeks ago and I’ve spent that time feeling lost, confused and concerned for my clients, while wondering how to keep my family afloat now that I can’t work. I keep thinking I’ll be super productive with all the ‘free time’ but I haven’t got out of my pyjamas before 11am any day yet. Sometimes this feels very disturbing and sometimes it’s funny – but weird-funny.

But every day I notice another silver lining. My favourite one is how quiet it is in my neighbourhood – correction: there’s almost no traffic noise, but there’s lots of children’s voices and bird calls – the good noises. And the air is SO clear – the sky is a brighter blue and it smells so clean – I live close to the centre of Melbourne so that’s really different.

Everything is uncertain but I keep returning to what I do know, which is that my purpose in this life is to help people feel better and to teach them to help themselves feel better. I know I can do that whether it’s face to face or digitally. So I want you to know I’m here to help, and I thought I’d share some things I’m doing to feel calm during this crisis in case they might also help you. 

The first thing is to acknowledge that all the feelings you’re feeling now are okay. All responses to this crisis are ‘normal’ because this situation is not normal. And productivity is only possible when we’re feeling calm. Plus, productivity isn’t the main aim in life, despite what our linear, patriarchal, capitalist society tells us. We’re Beings, not Doings. If this time is nothing else it’s an opportunity to focus more on Being. And when we’re just being, it’s fine to Be tired, Be sad, Be slow, Be vague, Be happy, Be still, Be present – with yourself whoever you live with, Be kind – especially to yourself.

Second, limit the time you spend reading or listening to the media/news/social media. I’m checking in once a day or less, usually in the morning – definitely not at night since I want to sleep well – and I’m only reading reliable non-commercial sources. I try not to focus on things that feel wrong in my body when I read them, or make me feel angry or scared. This is challenging and I don’t succeed all the time, but I give it a go.

When I do feel angry or scared I try to notice it, feel the feelings and accept myself for feeling them instead of beating myself up for having normal human emotions. Even better is to look for things that make me feel relaxed or happy, because these reduce stress in my brain/body. Some people say we must watch for the dangers so we’re prepared – but it’s just as important to watch out for the good things happening in the world – I bet you’ll find lots of them once you start looking.

Third, follow a routine – it could be the same one you had when you went out to work each day, or a new one that works better now you’re home. The predictability of a routine is very calming, since it reduces the number of decisions you have to make in a day. It also gives a sense of being able to control part of your experience, which is so valuable in this uncontrollable situation.

Fourth, if you’re working from home, go easy on yourself. You won’t be able to work as much as you did at the office – this is not business as usual in a different location, everything has changed. So spread out your deadlines and projects over more time, if you have control over that. If you like to set goals and make lists, write down the things you need to get done so you don’t have to try to remember them, and then just pick 1 or 2 to focus on each day, just the things that really must happen today.

I also love Kate Northrup’s advice to make a weekly to do list instead of daily – write down just a few things that must happen this week on Sunday night or Monday morning and allow the week to flow towards those things. You could also write a few things on a ‘to do list’ for the Universe (or God or whatever spiritual source you connect with) to take care of it for you.  Handing over the responsibility to a higher power for things that seem too difficult or big for you to do helps you relax and worry less about them, and then – have you noticed that when you give up on something happening, it seems to magically work itself out? Someone else steps up to do it, or circumstances rearrange themselves to make it no longer necessary. Surrendering, letting go of the feeling that you have to do it all and be responsible for everything allows life to flow and unfold more easily and reduces both your stress and your workload.

Some other simple ways to help yourself feel safer by calming your nervous system:

  • Sit, lie or stand barefoot on the bare earth for a few minutes or more each day
  • be outside as often as you can
  • lie on your back with your legs resting on a sofa or a big pile of pillows for 5-20 mins, breathing slowly
  • breathe slowly whenever you have a moment
  • notice the air on your skin when you’re outside
  • look at the sky now and then
  • be amongst plants when you can – even indoor plants can help us regulate the internal environment of our bodies, our microbiome

I hope these suggestions help you. If you try them, let me know in the comments what works for you.

Learn more about Kate Northrup’s Do Less approach to life and business

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