Grounding a Coronavirus State of Mind

How to stop feeling frazzled and fragmented.

Posted Apr 10, 2020

Have you noticed that feeling you are having where you can’t quite relax? You might have welcomed the idea if someone told you a few months back you would be home with plenty of time on your hands. But today, in between your tasks, job, schoolwork, children, and other responsibilities, you're not at peace or relaxed. Instead, your brain defaults to a keyed-up, disjointed sense of yourself—a kind of mentally frazzled state of mind.

You struggle to remember what you should be doing, and then again and again your mind drifts: “I am physically OK right now, but I could be on a ventilator in a few weeks time,” or “I have more free time, yet I can’t do what I want to do, or what I always enjoyed doing in the past,” or “I can’t believe everything I don’t get to experience or my kids don’t get to experience at this time,” or “I am just lucky I am still healthy,” or “I shouldn’t complain; at least I am not on the front lines,” or “I need to check the news and see if I can figure this out better,” or “What if my parent or loved one gets sick, and I can’t even go to see them?” or “Why did I waste the day again? I should be organizing my garage, cleaning out my closets, why am I so unmotivated?"

Before you know it, you’ve lost another hour to these deep and coiled thought streams. You feel empty and unproductive and beat yourself up for wasting this precious time when you could be teaching your children Mandarin or picking up a new instrument or painting that beautiful spring sky.

You are not alone; everyone is feeling it. We are living with a number of contradictions that we have never before experienced—one being that while a global pandemic is occurring, we should be motivated to be our most productive and enriched selves. But we don’t actually have that time when we can’t see (or think) the way out of our current state, because all of the answers are just not available, yet. Nevertheless, we attempt to gain some control over the anxiety this uncertainty brings by hitting repeat on our distressing and unsolvable thought patterns.

All of which leaves a person with a pulse of fight-or-flight responses. Fight or flight is normal and evolutionarily adaptive; however, it also depletes our store of emotional reserves and leaves us with mental fog and an empty, untethered feeling.

Because the crisis is a prolonged stressor that will go on at least for a while, it is important to start shifting out of the coronavirus state of mind and into a more grounded here-and-now space.

Grounding a coronavirus state of mind means lowering your expectations for yourself. If someone you cared about died, you wouldn’t expect yourself to learn conversational Spanish, start an online music appreciation class, or begin to compulsively clean and organize every square inch of your living space. Quite the contrary, you would allow your feelings to come in, and you would be kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself, and you would connect with loved ones and trusted others about your experience. When you find yourself in that frazzled, stressed-out space that you can’t quite define, do these three things:

1. Awareness

Notice when you experience yourself as keyed up, frazzled, or unfocused. Pause and pull back from the rabbit holes your mind is drifting down. All of the thinking you are doing will not solve the crisis at hand.

2. Breathe

Take five deep breaths in and out. Focus on the sensations of your breath or the feeling of the ground beneath you. Come back to the present moment.

3. Connect

Right now, you are OK. Can you make the present moment more real? Consider going outside and looking at nature, sitting and playing a game with your child, petting your dog, calling a friend. 

References

For more strategies to manage anxiety, check out my book, Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now.