Six months ago my productivity was great, but not anymore. I’ve overcommitted my time and attention to too many projects; I’m behind on all of them. I’m stuck in an eddy of overwhelm: stunned, lethargic and inefficient.
My mind won’t remember things. Walking from the kitchen to the living room, I’ve already forgotten why I’m here.
A lot of us are barely keeping our nostrils above water right now, struggling to mobilize our energy and focus.
Why are we so off-balance? Where is our resilience? Why can’t we remember phone numbers or where we left the oven mitts?
Is it fair to say that most of us aren’t feeling blissful in the ‘new normal’?
Our brains love planning for the future, but we have no idea what lies ahead now for our work, our schools, our government, our religion, our economy, our relationships, our health. How do we deal with chronic uncertainty?
Our bodies and minds are not designed for living in a continuous state of emergency and anxiety. We’re okay at enduring life emergencies that last days, or even weeks. But how do we navigate the next year or two as the pandemic makes its harrowing, unpredictable journey around and around the planet?
Our brains and nervous systems don’t know how to withstand sprawling, open-ended uncertainty. So our minds fail us, awash in a slurry of stress hormones.
We’re afraid, frustrated, lost, and bewildered. The ancient Greeks called this emotional state ‘acedia’: a numb listlessness under the fog of a troubled mind.
We can’t afford to feel this way every day for the next couple of years.
So how do we manage endless, ongoing stress?
Our brains have a built-in ‘surge capacity’ — the ability to deal with stress for limited periods of time. But most of us blew through our surge capacity months ago.
To reclaim our energy and ability to concentrate, we need a new approach to the vast uncertainty of this time.
Here are 8 tools I started using last month, trying to claw back some mental well-being. So far, my resting heart rate has dropped 10 points, I’m able to sleep better, and most days I’m not high-strung and overwrought.
Unlike you, a journal doesn’t worry! It’s blank, innocent, and full of potential. Writing down your inner monologues — even if the thoughts are repetitive and semi-sane — helps to make you more compassionate about the intense stress you’re under. Writing heals. Acknowledging your thoughts soothes an un-quiet heart.
A transformative book
Did you know that humans think 65,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day, and 90% of those thoughts are the same thoughts we had yesterday? And the week before that. And the month before that.
We become stuck in ruts and routines because we re-run the same old worries, gripes and judgements every single day.
If you want to change how you’re thinking and feeling, try reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza. The author offers a scientific and well-researched roadmap that guides us to upgrade our inner lives, even if we’re lovelorn, addicted to unhealthy habits, resentful, angry, sick, lonely, or financially stressed. This is a book that will set you free.
Moving the fingers softens one’s thoughts and replaces bad habits. Crafting soothes a restless mind, helping us enter that blissful state where we lose track of time, the environment, and our negative inner voices. You can find hundreds of online craft classes (Craftsy, Ravelry, Instructables).
A meditation practice
It’s not easy to meditate with so much chaos around us, but there’s never been a better time to try. I’ve been practicing Isha Kriya meditation for the last few weeks, and the effects on heart rate and general mindset are amazing, even with practicing just 12 minutes a day. Try the free Sadhguru app on your smartphone, or one of the hundreds of meditation apps that offer relief from our daily parade of 70,000 annoyingly repetitive thoughts!
A sleep hypnosis (or guided meditation) app
Two of my faves are the Solfeggio hypnosis app by Glenn Harold, along with the lovely Serenity app. You can put the meditations on repeat so the soothing voice is with you all night long, in case you experience wakeful periods.
A stretch of road, sidewalk, or grass
If you need to do something physical to regulate a racing or dull mind, a daily practice of mindfulness walking reduces overwhelm and helps diminish stress hormones like cortisol. I’ve found that it helps to say out loud what you’re seeing, thinking, and feeling. “In this moment, I am walking on the cool grass. It reminds me of being little, racing across the dewy lawn in bare feet on Saturday mornings. And that memory makes me feel nostalgic for simpler times. In this moment I’m taking another step, and touching the papery bark of an old apple tree…” Just being present with what you’re actually doing, and saying it aloud, will put you into an elevated state of being.
Organic food in the fridge
I’ve noticed that when people go through cancer or the stress of a frightening diagnosis, doctors often recommend an organic diet for their recovery. Organic food producers avoid pesticides, chemicals, and synthetic fertilizers in favour of old-fashioned fertilizers like manure and compost, so the nutritional value of the food is higher. And the flavours are bigger and more intense. Remember how carrots used to taste when you were little? Carrots were a crisp avalanche of tangy sweetness drenched in flavour! That’s exactly how today’s organically-grown carrots taste. In addition, the nutrients in an organic diet help protect the immune system, which can’t hurt right now.
A fresh set of lowered expectations
This is probably the most powerful tool in the list. Unless you were alive during the flu of 1919, you have absolutely no experience with pandemics. The Covid health crisis is new to us. You’re not going to feel like yourself for a while. If you’re behind on projects, be compassionate toward yourself by lowering your expectations. A pandemic isn’t something we can nail or ignore or shrug off; we just have to move through it. Lowering your expectations around what you’re capable of right now will help you avoid disappointment, self-judgement, and emotional extremes. And while you’re at it, try lowering your expectations of your relatives, colleagues, and friends too.
If you have some tools that are keeping you on track, please click on the comments link and send us your thoughts. We’re all in this together. Let’s get through it with kindness.