The Covid-19 pandemic has brought much of the human race to a standstill. Many of us cannot leave our homes except to get basic necessities. The short term goal in this process is to stop the transmission of a rapidly spreading virus, but the long term outcome might just be how it impacted our mental health. Grief, anxiety, and depression are very real things happening as our species engages in a very non-human activity of self isolation. Finding ways to mitigate this emotional roller coaster can be essential for the here and now.
If you are feeling out of sorts today as you sit in your home, this is actually a sign of mental health. This paradox might sound odd, but it’s true. Let’s start this chat by acknowledging that what you are feeling is REAL, OK, and NORMAL. How are you actually feeling? Please tell your loved one or someone exactly how you feel today ( or send a response in here to this blog). Acknowledging your emotions can be hugely helpful in reducing your distress levels. Please complete this sentence: Today I am feeling _______________________. If you are having a hard time filling in the blank, please use this list of possible answers: overwhelmed, scared, anxious, calm, terrified, confused, numb, spacey, angry, nervous, loved, sad, uncertain, bored, curious, content, grief stricken, relieved, etc.
When people experience trauma, they often feel a wide range of emotions, including emotions that don’t seem to match up with the current experience. This is all a normal part of trauma. NAMING our emotions or the thing that is happening can actually help us get a hold of the experience, and while we are still in the thick of it with this COVID-19 journey, acknowledging it in real time can reduce some of the emotional distress. We don’t want to fall down an emotional rabbit hole here, so let’s add one more tool to incorporate along with naming our emotions…. a handy, dandy emotional safety plan.
An emotional safety plan is a tool to use when your experience is so intense, it shuts down the thinking part of your brain (your pre-frontal cortex). Writing an emotional safety plan in advance of an incident can remind you to do something to pull yourself back, and bring that thinking part back online. I worked in an inpatient psychiatric facility for many years we found so much value in this tool, that all employees (ranging from the CEO to the janitorial staff) attached our emotional safety plan onto the back of our name tag. If we got triggered, overwhelmed, or were trying to not get sucked into extremely stressful moments, we were encouraged to look at our safety plan, and use it to help us get regain a sense of equilibrium.
What would your emotional safety plan look like this week? There is no “perfect” way to make a plan, but the idea is to make a list when you are calm that you can use when you are not calm. Feel free to use a few of these prompts:
MY EMOTIONAL SAFETY PLAN
NAME IT (the feeling or thing I am experiencing):
SOMEONE I CAN REACH OUT TO SPEAK WITH:
SOMETHING I CAN DO FOR SELF CARE:
SOMETHING I CAN TELL MYSELF TO GET THROUGH A REALLY HARD MINUTE, HOUR, DAY (we are all having a LOT of these in our current pandemic/self isolation, maybe a little mantra here might be helpful):
An emotional safety plan is simply a list to give you perspective on the here and now, and provide some emotional regulation. This is not designed to move you away from your emotions (remember we decided a few paragraphs ago that feeling our feelings is profoundly important. This is just an extra tool in case your emotions overpower you. If your distress is overwhelming, or if you are in emotional or physical danger, please see the hotline numbers at the bottom of this link.
1-800-799-SAFE -Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-273-8255 – Suicide Hotline
If you find this whole conversation a bit out of your comfort zone, please watch this excellent interview with Dr. Brene Brown on the profoundly important act of being real and expressing emotions during this really challenging time. She was interviewed this week on 60 minutes: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/brene-brown-cope-coronavirus-pandemic-covid-19-60-minutes-2020-03-29/