Three Strategies for Coping with the Ongoing Pandemic

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Just about the time we thought we had turned the corner on the pandemic, along comes a surge in Covid cases because of the new variant of the virus and the large number of citizens still not vaccinated. It seems like we are not out of the woods yet and in fact we may be in yet another new time that requires a great deal of self-protection and attention as to how to protect those around us.

Babette Rothschild in The Body Remembers suggests three approaches we can take to promote self-care, reduce our anxieties and distract us from unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors that often occur when we are overwhelmed by stress: creating oases, using anchors and seeking safe harbors.

The ongoing and endless stress of the pandemic is traumatizing for each of us and our family members. Our brains are hyper aroused. We can be hyper-vigilant and even hyper- aggressive in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We can also be highly dissociative and, as I described in a recent blog, may experience a lack of joy sometimes leading to ongoing depression. It is important to acknowledge the toll the pandemic is taking on each of us and those we care about.

Creating an Effective Oasis

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We all need a break on focusing on the pandemic and the many ways it is impacting each of us. Rothschild suggests one approach is to create our own personal oasis. 

An oasis is an activity that demands concentration and attention and allows a person to escape into an activity different from focusing on stress or trauma-related sensations or symptoms. 

In order to be effective, an oasis needs to not be something the person relaxes when doing it, such as watching TV or reading a book, because it is too easy to wander into one’s own thoughts. Rothschild shares that knitting might be an oasis for someone who is learning this skill, but would not be for someone who knits automatically, unless it is a very difficult pattern. Using an oasis can reduce hyper-arousal and quiet a person’s internal dialogue that may be responsible for exacerbating stress-related or traumatic sensations and symptoms.

For some, using playful or interactive activities that involve focusing on something concrete and practical may offer us the opportunity to take a break from focusing on the pandemic. Exploring websites with activities that present distracting challenges could be a way to create an oasis to escape our focus on living through a pandemic.

Using Anchors

Rothschild says that an anchor is a concrete, observable resource that gives a person a feeling of relief and well-being. It also can be like a mental attachment or transitional object like something a child uses to promote feelings of safety, connection and security. It can be the recollection of a loving, nurturing person who represents safety, security and caring. It can be things like wrapping yourself up in a favorite blanket that represents warmth and a kind of escape from focusing on the stresses of the pandemic. When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, a person can imagine how much safer and protected they can feel by focusing on an anchor, either literally or figuratively, providing a sense of relief and safety.

As a tool and using an anchor, we can invite ourselves to stop thinking about the realities of the pandemic and mentally change the subject to thinking about the anchor. “I’m going to take a break from focusing on the virus and what it is doing to our world and instead think about how much calmer I feel when… is here.” Anchors are powerful and can become a form of strength and support to us to reinforce the affirming message that we deserve this kind of support.

Creating A Safe Place

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Similar in many ways to creating a safety or self-care plan, Rothschild says that “the safe place is a specialized anchor… A safe place is a current or remembered site of protection. It is preferable for the safe place to be an actual, earthly location that we have known in life. As such, there will be somatic resonance in the memory of it–sights, sounds, smells, etc., connected to that site that will all be recorded as sensory memory traces–which will make it highly accessible and useful to us. We can imagine this safe place during times of stress and anxiety, or it can be used as any other anchors are used, to reduce hyper-arousal.”

If we focus our attention on it, we can create mental images of a safe place we have experienced and can remember that whenever we are feeling overwhelmed by memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the pandemic. We can even go to a literal safe place, such as taking a walk in a park or driving somewhere just to enjoy the view and any other sensations that are relaxing and distracting.

Part of creating anchors, oases and safe places involves appreciating that we each deserve permission to use these to create and maintain high levels of safety, both literally and mentally, throughout the coming months. Living through this pandemic has been a new phenomenon to most of us. The reality is that this has been thrust on us. However, we can claim our power and not let the pandemic consume us as to be detrimental to our mental and emotional health.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. How do you think creating your own specific anchors, oases and safe places may relieve some of your stress and anxiety related to the pandemic?
  2. What are some specific anchors, oases and safe places you can create to help you manage and avoid being overly stressed?
  3. How can you help those you care about create their own anchors, oases and safe places?