How to stay mentally healthy in a time of social distancing
We are tribe animals, wired for connection, interaction and communication. When we’re close to, touched by and feel understood by another person, our body releases oxytocin that makes us feel safe and loved.
Many of us are now finding ourselves socially isolating in our homes with our partners, families, friends or in a worse case scenario – all by ourselves. There are currently nearly three million people in the Netherlands who live alone according to new figures from Dutch statistics agency CBS. And the people worst affected are again, the elderly.
Finding ourselves suddenly stuck at home alone or with our loved ones can throw up plenty of challenges. Besides the practical issues of who gets to work where and when and organising a well planned day, including exercise and healthy food, we have to deal with our own and potentially other people’s emotions.
Unprecedented times like these can trigger fear, anxiety or anger. We can feel stuck, if not even imprisoned. The restless part in us might already scream ‘’I want to get out’’, whilst the controller and the perfectionist in us aims to get as much, if not more done even under these new circumstances.
And to make matters worse our internal judge will be chattering away about our own inability to cope, the annoying traits of the people we live with and the circumstances at large. Blaming the situation, politics and society for everything. All this results in a toxic energy circulating either in yourself, in your home or both.
And if we still keep going along quite happily your ‘’loved’’ ones might be triggering every single one of our buttons. The screaming kids, the unappreciative husband or the freaking out and demanding aunt. No wonder some of us are already going stir crazy two weeks into this new situation.
So what’s an individual to do to remain mentally healthy in these challenging times?
Use it as fuel for your spiritual evolution
Dr. Shefali Tsabary said it beautifully in one of her recent videos. It’s these kinds of times that spiritual teachers far and wide have been longing for. A time where the whole planet is required to slow down, come back to what is important and what is not. A spiritual awakening on a much larger scale and a realisation that we are all in this together.
So what can you do to stay mentally healthy?
Start taming your ‘’monkey mind’’
According to the following extract of a blog post by One Mind Dharma the “monkey mind” is a term that comes from Zen and Chan traditions of Buddhism. It refers to the state of mind in which thoughts arise rapidly and we find ourselves lost. The thoughts may be a number of things, and you may experience monkey mind consistently with specific patterns. Maybe you often find yourself lost in worry about the future, regretting a past action, or just bouncing from random thought to random thought.
Two of the factors on The Noble Eightfold Path are wise concentration and wise mindfulness. This is a foundational Buddhist teaching, and one which is related to our experience of monkey mind. When the mind is bouncing around like a monkey from branch to branch, we get ensnared and may be sent for a ride.
Often, when the mind falls into this state, we are neither concentrated nor mindful. As such, the presence of the monkey mind calls for the cultivation of effort, concentration, and mindfulness. This can be especially difficult when we are just learning to meditate, but we can learn to work with monkey mind with consistent practice.’’
They list 7 Ways to Work with a Wandering Mind in their blog which we’ve shortened a bit for the purpose of this article. For a full version and further resources click here.
1. Recognize the Monkey Mind: The first step is to notice when monkey mind is present. This is a practice in mindfulness of the mind, and can take time to cultivate.
2. Use the Breath: Focus your awareness on your breath and practice bringing the mind back when it wanders. This cultivates a collected mind which is able to be with something without falling into distraction by other stimulation.
3. Cultivate Loving-Kindness: Train the mind to respond rather than react to the monkey mind. As we grow more gentle in our responses, we are able to meet the monkey mind with patience and wisdom rather than reactivity and with judgement.
4. Practice Self-Compassion: Cultivating compassion can help us meet the difficulties we experience with patience and wisdom. When we become reactive, we are often not able to respond with mindfulness and wisdom. Compassion can help us to pause and be with the stress rather than trying to avoid it or push it down.
5. Notice Reactions to Monkey Mind: Mindfulness of the mind is a part of mindfulness practice. When we notice that monkey mind is present (in meditation or in daily life), we can try to notice what the reaction is. Often, the reaction is perpetuating the suffering more than we realize.
6. Use Awareness Triggers: Try setting an awareness trigger. This is something that reminds you to return to the present moment. When your trigger happens, take a moment to return to the present. Take a few deep breaths, feel the body where it is, listen mindfully, or do whatever brings you back to your present-time experience. Here are a few awareness triggers you may try using in your daily life:
- The sound of a telephone ringing (or buzzing)
- Changing posture from sitting to standing (or vice versa)
- Walking through a doorway (including between rooms, inside/outside, and cars)
- Taking a drink of water (or tea, coffee, or anything else)
- Brushing your teeth
- Set a reminder to go off on your phone and/or computer
- The feeling of walking and the feet on the floor
7. Practice Mindful Consumption: Finally, recognize what you are consuming and how it may be impacting your experience. There may be certain things you’re consuming that contribute to the arising of monkey mind. Although many of us have different experiences, some things we consume which may exacerbate monkey mind include:
- Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine
- Sugar and simple carbohydrates
- Media we watch/listen to such as TV, movies, music, news, and books
- Conversations we have and interactions which cause stres
May these steps support you in these challenging times to stay mentally healthy. And may we all come out of the latter more conscious, connected and centered. And if there’s any way we can support you, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can do this. Together.
Manuela Damant. Azkua Coach