My home is extremely neat and orderly. If you’ve been over, I’m certain you’d vouch for that.
I grew up in a house with an abusive and unpredictable father and one of the coping skills I developed to feel less chaos was to control my surroundings—to keep my bedroom, my school work, and my life as organized and tidy as I possibly could.
Looking around and seeing that things were in order somehow provided me with a sense of inner calmness.
In many ways, this skill has served me well throughout my life.
For much of my adulthood, I have also chosen to explore my relationship with chaos—the discomfort I experience when things feel uncomfortable, uncertain and outside of my control.
These last few weeks have pushed me to my limits. From what I’ve heard from friends and clients, I am not alone.
There is so much going on in the world right now that is simply outside of our control. At times like these, I am learning that the only thing that I can control is my inner world—the thoughts that I think and the places where I choose to direct my attention.
That’s a lot of pressure, right?!
To be honest, I started this list for myself one night when I couldn’t sleep. I decided to share it with you for two reasons. Maybe some of you will learn something from it that can help you navigate through this uncertain time. And maybe someone reading has something to share that might help me or others. If so, I’d love it if you’d please comment in the section below…
10 Ways to Stay Calm During Times of Chaos
1. Replace “what if” with “what is”. “What if” thinking can induce panic and force you to process situations that have not happened—and may never happen. Stop yourself from beginning to imagine the worst-case scenario. Instead refocus your mind on “what is”. Look for something positive, that is true in this moment, no matter how small.
2. Respond instead of react. There is an important distinction between reacting and responding that takes place during a pause. In that pause, allow yourself to take a few deep breaths and become more centered. Try not to react immediately to new news (unless it’s a true emergency, of course). Instead, breathe and collect as much information as possible and then respond as necessary. Responding (as opposed to reacting) helps you remain less emotional and improves your ability to make appropriate decisions.
3. Stay informed but not inundated. While it is necessary to stay up-to-date about the current situation, it is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news or checking for updates. Do not let information inundate you all day and night—especially if you have children at home.
For example, studies after 9/11 showed that the people who watched the most news were more likely to suffer from anxiety, despair, panic, and PTSD.
4. Look for the hidden gifts. Is this experience bringing you closer to your loved ones? Encouraging a sense of connection or community where you live? Forcing you to slow down? Strengthening your sense of gratitude for the simpler things in life? Making you more appreciative of what others normally do for you? Or showing you how strong, resilient and flexible you really are?
5. Maintain connection. Socially distancing is not the same as socially isolating. Connection is so important in times such as these. Go on hikes or walks with your children, pick up the phone and call your best friend, chat over Facetime with extended family, enjoy long snuggles with your animals, or take a virtual, interactive group yoga class with your favorite teacher.
I was included on group text with a number of moms from my daughter’s third grade class. This week, my daughter and I offered up a suggestion for anyone who wanted to participate: find items around your house and create an octopus (ok it was her idea!). As the pictures of her friends and their octopus creations came through, my daughter literally squealed with delight! Her face lit up seeing her friends and what they each made in their home.
6. Spend time in nature. Nature is healing! Get out into nature, take a walk or hike and breathe in the fresh air. If you can’t go far, simply plant your feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths. Soak up a little sunshine, even through a bright, sunny window.
7. Do the things you love. It doesn’t matter what it is, but if it brings you joy then do it! Cook, watch movies, journal, take baths, meditate, sing, dance or clean your closet!
One of the things I am enjoying most is working with my phone clients and writing blog posts. Because these are things that I always do, they are the hours when my life feels most “normal” and I feel the most connected and present.
8. Take care of your body. Eat good food, get good sleep, think grateful and loving thoughts and be extra kind to yourself right now.
For many of us, our self-care routines are being forced to change a bit since so many things are closed. Simply do the best that you can with what is available to you. I’ve been joking that I now have plenty of time at home to take impeccable care of my teeth! I have no excuse anymore to not floss 😉
9. Use your breath. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what is wrong.”
When we are anxious or stressed, we breathe rapidly and shallowly. Taking long, deep, purposeful breaths will shift you from your sympathetic (fight or flight) into your parasympathetic (rest, digest and heal) nervous system.
My favorite technique is square breathing. Square breathing is a mindful exercise technique that helps to calm the body and relieve stress.
Sit in a comfortable position. Then simply follow these four simple breath segments, each done to a count of four.
Breath in – 2 – 3 – 4
Hold – 2 – 3 – 4
Breath out – 2 – 3 – 4
Hold – 2 – 3 – 4
Focusing on the breath and the count of four, repeat the same process until you reach a relaxed state.
10. Look for support. This is a truly unique time in history because nearly everyone in the world is sharing in this experience together. Many individuals and organizations are offering free resources and teachings to help support people through this challenging and uncertain time.
Below are a few great resources that I know of (some are time-sensitive offerings). Again, please feel free to share any additional resources in the comment section below.
- Family Support Group for fostering regulation and connection in the home by Soma Healing Center: Mar 27th at 08:30 PM MT (Link to Zoom Meeting; Meeting ID: 592 148 019 Password: 783416)
- Free online group Tonglen meditation sessions from Janet Solyntjes, MA, Certified MBSR Teacher March 23rd at 5:30 PM MT, March 25th at 7:00 AM MT, March 26th at 7:00 PM MT (Link to Zoom Meeting)
- Kaiut Yoga Boulder is offering free online Kaiut Yoga classes to all Hospital Staff and First Responders (police, fire, and ambulance) in Boulder County. Those who qualify should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Free 21 days of meditation: Finding Hope in Uncertain Times with Oprah & Deepak
- Free podcasts, videos, ebooks, and articles from Hay House
- Free meditations from headspace
- Care package from Sounds True
- At home resources for kids from Kiwi Crate
- List of educational companies offering free subscriptions
- Lunchtime “doodle sessions” for kids from children’s book author, Mo Willems
I will end this post with a beautiful poem that brings me to tears each time I read it. In my heart, I hold this vision of our collective healing—and our joining together again.