To be clear: anybody whose family has been affected by the coronavirus or has been ill themselves has bigger worries at the moment than how to use their time wisely. But most people are trying to figure out how to reorder their lives around the new precautionary measures. We cannot change the facts of the situation, but we can try to use this time of crisis as constructively as possible.
Danger and opportunity
The Chinese character for crisis is composed of two syllables, which individually mean “danger” and “opportunity”. A crisis is something we should approach with caution – nobody can predict exactly how the pandemic will play out and what our lives will look like in a few months.
Nevertheless, a crisis can also be viewed as a chance to rethink our lives. The first step towards seeing the current restrictions as an opportunity for personal development is to recognize that you have the power to choose. You can either amplify your worries and fears by surfing the internet and reading the news a lot, or you can structure your day around doing meaningful things for yourself and others.
Restructuring starts with the mind
One of the most effective psychotherapy treatments is cognitive behavioral therapy. The heart of this form of therapy is called cognitive restructuring.
How does this method work and how can we make us of it during the coronavirus crisis? It might sound strange at first, but the way we feel is determined by what sort of thoughts we have. For example if we have the thought that we may be infected with the coronavirus, then we are afraid or at least have a feeling of unease. But if we think that we could experience personal development through the crisis, then we feel hopeful and are more optimistic. Our thoughts bring emotions with them.
3 steps to find inner calm
The first step is recognizing what sort of thoughts we have and distancing ourselves from any dominant negative spirals of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. One way of doing this is by prefacing each thought with the phrase “I am having the thought that…”
The second step is questioning the thought: how likely is it that I will get infected? What would be the consequences?
The third step is reflecting on what kind of helpful thoughts you would like to cultivate in your mind. It can be very effective to remind yourself of the present moment, for example “Right now I am healthy.” It can also be helpful to relinquish control to some degree, for example by saying “I will do everything I can to stay healthy, but the rest is not up to me.” You can also reassure yourself with scientific facts, for example “According to virologist Alexander Kekulé my statistical chance of surviving the coronavirus is 99%.”
Time for a new routine
Once we have found some peace through cognitive restructuring, we can consider how we can make the most of our changed circumstances instead of feeling helpless.
We can’t simply go to work, to the gym or to a restaurant or bar with friends without considering the new requirements. At the moment these restrictions often lead to the question: What shall I do now then? We feel uncertain, like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet.
An effective way to counter that feeling is to create a new foundation. Are there activities that you would like to integrate into your daily life which you never had time for before? Of course at the moment it will have to be something you can do at home or with physical distance from other people: walking, meditation, yoga, learning a new language, growing plants on your balcony, eating healthily, making a photo album, reading, creative writing, trying new recipes, writing a diary, breathing exercises, take our free online course on stress management to take you #calmthroughthecrisis – write a list of options.
Plan your new daily routine: What do you want to do after you get up? How will you structure your lunch break and what could be a new evening ritual? Routines and rituals give us a sense of security in uncertain times – and through doing activities that are important to you, you will cultivate the sense that you are fulfilling more of your potential.
Avoiding physical closeness is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus. Single people in particular can feel lonely in these circumstances. But even people living in shared apartments or with family members experience a kind of shared isolation. Constant contact with the same people can be a source of friction and lead to conflict.
One important way to combat loneliness and isolation is by maintaining other relationships via telephone or the internet. Maybe you would like to try something different and send postcards or letters to cheer up family and friends.
You can use the time of the coronavirus crisis to contact friends and acquaintances you haven’t heard from in a long time. This particular situation is a good reason to ask others how they are doing and get back in contact – because feeling connected feels good.
Conscious slowing down
As well as useful reflection, positive activities and maintaining relationships, you can use this time to consciously slow down your daily life. Many of us now have to rush from A to B far less often. In other words, we can finally relax a bit. The reason for this may be terrible, but there is a positive side to it. Now is the time to experience what it means to just BE.
If that sounds strange, see it as a little experiment. Sit in your favourite part of your home, close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. If you’d like to, you can lay a hand on your chest. Be aware of yourself in your body. If you can find a few minutes of peace like this every day, you can strengthen your sense of self during the pandemic.
As much as we would like to change things, we have to accept our circumstances as they are. The coronavirus is here and is spreading across the world. Our health systems are facing enormous challenges. We must drastically restrict our lives to help contain the virus.
Acceptance begins with being aware of our own resistance and letting it exist. Don’t fight against your frustration or fears – do the opposite! For example in the evening you could set aside a period of time – it could be as little as five minutes – to be alone with your thoughts. During this time try to breathe calmly and evenly so you are not swept away by one thought or another. Your breath is your anchor, which you can always come back to if your thoughts have wandered. By making room for all your thoughts and feelings, they will dog you less throughout the day – leaving you with a sense of serenity and acceptance.