Human beings thrive on consistency. That does not bode well for us in these “Covid Times”. Clearly we will be challenged; especially those who live alone or are away from family. However, pulling together and creating new routines can help us experience a sense of togetherness even while physically apart.
The key here is to reinforce and amplify the thoughts and behaviours that give us a sense of connection and belonging.
Those who have access to technology can use smart phones and the internet to connect. But the internet itself is struggling to accommodate our need for connection. We have intermittent service, eye strain, headaches, higher costs for data and phone calls and a new kind of fatigue. All this makes it pretty important that we make effort to create some happy times over the next weeks.
Here are some things we can do:
Things ARE different and this alone can stress our nervous system.
However, a daily practice of looking for things to be grateful for literally stimulates uplifting feelings in the brain. Your morning cup of coffee or tea, the beauty of fresh snow, a bird at the feeder, your favourite show, a luxurious shower, the breath you are taking right now are things we can be grateful for and actually increases our sense of well being.
Think simple. Yes, you will miss a lot of things, but your brain doesn’t distinguish between huge and tiny when it comes to generating pleasure. We can have the same degree of well being from the random appreciation of a dew drop as with an elaborate holiday dinner.
The key here don’t label things “good or bad”. Our attitude affects our entire mood, and during holidays there can be a lot to compare and regret.
Be mindful of thoughts that present as happy memories and morph into a sense of loss. How you respond to thoughts determines whether your day is filled with gratitude or despair. If you have memories that routinely make you sad, be gentle and comforting to yourself as they drift into your mind and switch the topic. Remember: Do not believe everything you think!
Plan Activities and Start New Traditions.
Our traditions create rhythm and predictability and give us a sense of belonging. So this year make some new traditions.
Write a song or poem with others.
Develop a new recipe. Donate to a new charity. “Adopt” someone who is alone and bring them food, a small gift or card. Take a drive beyond your own neighbourhood to see the holiday decorations. Call friends you routinely send cards to and connect more deeply than usual.
Make lists of things to do that are up lifting.
Books, movies, music, art, your favourite tea, a craft, people to call, walking, playing with a pet. Have the list handy so when you are down you don’t have to start from scratch remembering them.
Get a rescue pet, a gold fish, some plants.
Caring for something gets the hormone oxytocin flowing and fosters a sense of connection.
Do something crafty.
Meet friends online to make cards (with grandkids?) from scratch. Or do this alone while listening to music. Being creative stimulates different parts of the brains and can be rejuvenating.
Call friends and family.
Plan this in advance. Plan the the call over email (if you use that). Put it in your calendar so you can look forward to it. Call everyone!! Share from your heart rather than the usual chit chat.
Plan a holiday menu with your family.
Each person can make one dish to share. Bring your dishes to each other or have one person do the rounds. You can even share dinner together over a video platform.
Google “The 5 love languages”.
Take the quiz. Have people you care about also do it (it takes about 10 minutes). Exchange results and learn personal ways to best express love to each other.
Make a memory box.
This creative project feeds the spirit. Find a small box. Assemble crafty things: crayons, sequins, bits of yarn and other tidbits. Decorate your box. And keep these supplies accessible.
Each time you are nostalgic note the memory on a slip of paper. Decorate the paper and sit in APPRECIATION, fondness and gratitude for that experience. Feeling it needs to be deliberate because unless we feel something physically it is not stored in memory and slips away.
Keep assembling memories in your box. You will be cultivating happiness as you deliberately infuse your box with happy memories and gratitude.
If thoughts turn into sadness or regret be mindful and gently bring yourself back into appreciation. It takes practice to do this- but learning to deliberately switch gears will serve you well.
Plan Down Time- Rest and Digest
Resting, and “being”, not doing, is important.
The vagus nerve connects our brain and other organs. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for “rest and digest”. Keeping this nerve healthy reduces stressful feelings.
Singing, humming, breathing out more slowly than you breathe in
These help reduce stress by calming the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. Make this a daily routine.
Sing in the shower or while doing house work or along with your music. For some people holiday songs and movies lead to sadness. If that’s you avoid them.
When we are unhappy we tend to avoid others. We may think we are a burden or be concerned others will see us as “weak”. But isolating is the worst thing we can do. Think about it- the worst punishment is solitary confinement. Do you know loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day?
Research shows too much self-reliance and independence is not good for our well being. And if you know someone living alone or prone to isolation- schedule times to reach out to them - have a story or joke ready to share and help them feel connected and included.
Find an exercise or movement class on TV or online and join in.
Make sure you have healthy snacks to eat.
Take a free online art course on Facebook or Youtube.
People don’t tend to like change- but if you approach this time with curiosity and a sense of adventure you may be surprised how many resources you can connect with.
Yana Hoffman is a psychotherapist and lives in the Guelph, ON area. She works with individuals and couples and writes for Psychology Today Magazine. She has over 37 years as a therapist. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org