For over three weeks now we have heard the admonitions of experts as we battle this new COVID-19 enemy. We have left our workplaces, schools, places of worship and set aside our anticipated plans for our safety and the safety of our neighbors. We have stepped into a new reality of being on a short leash and having limited physical contact with loved ones and the community at large.
While this quarantine is wise and necessary, it does come with a psychological toll. Remaining sedentary goes against our natural instinct in a time of crisis (fight or flight) as our reflex to take action is currently stunted. Bessel van der Kolk, MD trauma expert and author of the best selling book, The Body Keeps the Score, has referred to this time of COVID-19 as a time of
"new and developing traumas." He reminds us that we have stress hormones to move, protect and take care of ourselves. Staying immobile goes against our natural response to take action so we must find ways, even in our quarantined state, to remain physically active as well as emotionally and mentally healthy.
Activities of action such as runs, walks, yoga and dance can all satisfy our need for movement during a time of crisis. Finding a safe, non crowded area to move and exercise satisfies the sympathetic nervous system and quiets our bodies by saying, "you're okay, you'll be safe because you can move (and potentially get away from danger)." Movement in some regular form must be a routine especially in times of crisis and now in our quarantined reality. Additionally, activities such as cooking, working in a garden or completing a project creates movement that has a purpose which can also bring calm and rest to a nervous system experiencing fear. Movement satisfies our primitive drive for safety and we must do it.
Dr. van der Kolk also suggests creating a private space where one can retreat and be away from others within their own home when desired. This also is an important need during this time of quarantine. Everyone should be allowed to create a safe place and withdrawal to a quiet space. This can be challenging as families are close in proximity and emotions are high and intense. All people living together should have agreed upon areas in the home where others can not come, and that place is respected as a safe, personal refuge. Creating this safety among families is healthy, necessary and allows for a reset in thoughts and emotions.
Finally, creating a schedule of events to look forward to is imperative at this time. This changes a perspective to one of hope and optimism. We must create a calendar of connections and activities that we are expected to engage in. This can be as simple as a phone call among friends or a video conference among classrooms or teams. It can also be a personal event like walking to the backyard to pick wildflowers to beautify a kitchen table. Setting these times of connection and purpose also addresses our innate drive to be productive (hunters/gatherers) and satisfies an important subconscious and natural need within.
It is possible to grow and thrive in this time of quarantine and create a joyful space for yourself and those you love.
The need for emotional and mental health is of upmost importance now and must be given the same attention and precautions as the physical health precautions we are all taking.
Creating movement within our boundaries, establishing a secure place to retreat and purposefully scheduling events to look forward to gives us the important foundations of physical, emotional and mental safety.
And when we feel safe we grow and thrive!