Over the years I’ve helped a lot of people cope during and immediately after calamities. I can’t make a bad situation as if it never happened, but I will discuss how to make it slightly less hard, just enough less difficult that it can make a big difference and lift a lot of weight from one’s shoulders.
Maybe the ideas here can help you get through the next few weeks and make them a bit easier. Or, perhaps you want to adapt the ideas mentioned here to use with a friend that’s having a hard time. That’s okay, too.
Tip: I suggest reading through this together with a trusted friend. Afterward, you can discuss which ideas you found helpful and how to implement them. By doing this together, you can discuss the ideas afterward and how to implement them in a personal way, and you will have also earned a meaningful social interaction with a friend
We are all in the same boat
Before we begin, my message to you is: You are not alone.
Nearly all the civilized world is worried about the same things that you are right now. We are in this together, all in the same boat. We will help one another and do whatever is in our power to overcome these obstacles and get through this together.
As we speak, many people are doing everything that they can around the clock to keep you safe, make sure you have everything you need, and ensure that you live many more prosperous years. These include the World Health Organization, your local government’s branch for disease control, medical experts, scientists, your EMS and law enforcement agencies, those in charge of food supply and distribution, your mayor and local community leaders, your friends and family, and more. If you think about it you are the subject of a great many people’s care, and they are working around the clock to provide for you and keep you safe. You are not alone.
Meeting Basic Needs
In just a few paragraphs I will address fear, anxiety, and dealing with strong emotions.
Before we do that my first question to you is: Do you have all your physical and basic needs met? Do you have a roof over your head? Food? Clothing? Ample supply of medications, or whatever else you may need?
If the answer is yes, that is great.
If the answer is no, I’d like you to take the time to brainstorm on how to solve whatever problem you face. In order to feel safe, you first need to try to make sure your basic physical needs are met. Can you think of an organization, neighbor, or kind person who can help you with this? Maybe you know somebody who can investigate this for you and gather information on your behalf to help you figure out how to get what you’re missing?
If we are busy worrying about our most basic human needs, we are distracted. Once we have figured out a way to have our needs met, we can allow ourselves to move on to solve other problems, like how to get through these challenging times without getting bogged down by worry.
Are you feeling anxious? Are you ruminating throughout the day about scary things?
Before we begin offering solutions to overcome fear I’d like to tell you something about the strong emotions and gloomy thoughts that you may be having now: It is normal to be having strong emotions or gloomy thoughts in light of our current situation.
Any normal person would feel like this. Feeling scared or worried about our current situation does not indicate that you are crazy or in need of any special intervention.
(It may not even be a bad idea to do absolutely nothing about these thoughts or feelings-Instead, let them be there and just keep going about your day. That may sound crazy-this technique is discussed regarding Mindfulness Meditation and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, it’s worth checking out to better understand).
If you feel suicidal thoughts, you should call your mental health provider. If you simply want to talk to a mental health professional, go right ahead-there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Without any further ado, here are some ways to deal with fear and anxiety that you can do by yourself at home:
Just breathe. We’re always breathing, but never seem to notice the process because we’re so busy doing other things. In the case of anxiety and fear, you are so busy thinking about the future and worrying that it won’t turn out well for you that you probably aren’t noticing the process of yourself breathing – perhaps even now, as you hear this.
So, I’d like to invite you to sit right now, exactly in the spot that you’re in, for one minute, and just notice yourself breathing in and then breathing out. Try to stop thinking all about the future and whatever is worrying you and try and jump with me into the present moment, right here, right now, and just sit and do nothing. Just notice yourself breathing sets of in-breaths and out-breaths. Notice with me now twenty sets of in-and-out breaths. What you’re doing is jumping from the future into the present, and right now here you are, breathing and alright, breathing and safe.
Each time you are gripped with fear, you have jumped into the future again, so I’ll invite you to again try to stop whatever you’re doing and just notice a bunch of sets of breathing in and out, here in this moment, now. You might get hooked by fear three hundred times a day and you can just jump right back to the here and now each time. This will help anchor you from floating away into future-oriented doomsday thoughts.
Your mind is like a big ship with its sails open. Strong winds are blowing into your sails and trying to push you away into the raging sea, where you don’t want to travel right now. What should you do? Throw down your anchor. Anchor yourself.
I highly recommend learning basic mindfulness meditation to perfect this technique.
2 Notice and name objects
Another way to anchor yourself is to stop listening to this conversation for one minute and look around you. I’d like you to notice ten objects in the location you are in and say out loud what they are, and what color they are.
For example, I see a brown lamp in front of me, so I’ll notice it and say out loud to myself, “Small brown lamp.” I also see a red wall clock, so I’ll declare out loud, “Red wall clock”.
Look all around you. Look up. Look down. Look behind you. Find ten objects with you in the room right now, and name them and their color. Notice how you are in a room full of objects, and each one has a color. Each one has a size, a design, a shape, a texture. Get yourself into this for a minute and anchor yourself into the present moment. Get out of your head, thinking all about the future, and notice the “here and now” in the form of the red wall clock and small brown lamp. Anchor yourself into the here-and-now so that your ship doesn’t get carried away into the stormy sea.
This is a simple powerful way to jump from the future back into the present moment. Do this over and over as many times as you need to. Become a pro at jumping from worry back into the safe present moment.
3 Call a friend
Simply calling someone you trust on the phone and sharing your feelings with them can be a powerful remedy. People need social contact just like they need to eat. One of the most readily available resources to you during this time is your phone. Make a list of ten people that you’d like to call; friends that inspire you, friends that have a balanced understanding of the situation, friends that make you laugh, or friends that you haven’t caught up with in a long time.
You may want to select a trusted friend and make a “buddy system” where you call one another 2-3 times a day for a few minutes to check in with one another, share some jokes, or maybe take turns reading paragraphs of a good book. Imagine; you can read a whole book and have fun “together” while physically apart. Use creativity, and you can get a lot out of your phone to help get you through the next few weeks.
What sentence do you really need to hear right now? Maybe you really need to hear “This is all temporary; it will soon pass.” Perhaps you feel like you need to hear something else, like “I am safe, I am not alone”. Take three minutes to be with yourself and think of what message you really need to hear right now, and then jot it down on a paper.
Phrase the words in exactly the way that you’d like to hear your message. Finally, put the final edition of your powerful message on a piece of paper and tell it to yourself, out loud. Sit in a chair and repeat this helpful message over and over and over, at the pace which you find helpful, and really get into it. Say it throughout the day as many times as you need to. Jump from the gloomy future-thoughts you’ve been having into the present moment and hear yourself telling yourself the powerful message that you need to hear now.
5 Future Self
Imagine that you had an opportunity to meet your future self, the person you are thirty years from now. You get only get five minutes to meet with them, and you ask them what to do to get through this challenging situation. What advice do they give you, having gone through it all and possessing all that extra life experience and wisdom?
6 Safety object
Is there an object that makes you feel safer when you have it around? Sometimes people infuse a lot of meaning into objects. Maybe there is a holy object that you perceive can keep you safe. Maybe you have a photo of your family or a loved one or something from your childhood that makes you feel protected. If you have an object like this, you can put it out where you can see it and draw strength from it.
7 Humor, memes, playfulness
Humor takes something serious and changes its context, suddenly making it less intimidating. You might find that reading jokes or funny memes is helpful. You may find refuge particularly in humorous things that are completely unrelated to the current situation. You are looking for material that will gently ease you from overhanging gloomy thoughts and into laughter, gradually loosening your grip on your worries. Humor will help you hold onto your worries lightly instead of very tightly.
Sometimes people successfully manage their fear by listening to music with a soothing tune. Others find solace in the lyrics of a song, which inspire them to be resilient or makes them feel supported. Explore what type of music or lyrics help you feel calmer or stronger.
9 Expressive writing
Expressive writing might be a helpful way to straddle fear and bring it under control. Take a blank piece of paper and begin listing your fears. What exactly worries you? What do you think may happen to you?
Take 10 minutes every day for 5 or 6 days to jot this all down. Disregard grammar mistakes and the like; that’s not relevant to this exercise. Just take the entire 10-minute slot to scribble your worries down onto paper. Try to convey your worries as best as you can with whatever words, pictures, or descriptions of feelings necessary and somehow get them from your head down onto this piece of paper. That’s all there is to it.
A lot of people report significant benefits from this technique, as it allows them to examine their fears more rationally and see them for what they are.
Before doing this writing exercise a person’s fears roam freely and cause havoc-we never take the time to stop and look at them closely. Seeing the fears on a piece of paper gives us an advantage because it lets us see exactly what we’ve been worrying about in a list, captured in words. We are now better positioned to put things into perspective or engage in problem-solving. For example, imagine that you had five scary-looking dogs running around your neighborhood going wherever they please. By luring all these loose dogs into one enclosed area and locking the fence you are now in a better position to figure out what to do with them.
Another type of writing to consider is writing a daily entry into a diary. The goal is to have a way of expressing your most meaningful thoughts about the situation and recording them, capturing the meaning you attributed to that day’s experiences. As each day passes in this challenging period, you will glean new perspective on it and add this into your diary. As the days go by, you may find substantial benefit from this daily expression of your thoughts and feelings. You are also breaking down this seemingly endless period into days, one day at a time.
10 Spiritual insurance
You may find it helpful to purchase what I call a “spiritual insurance policy”. Perhaps it is making a significant donation to charity. Maybe you’d like to pledge to improve in an area that you were spiritually lacking in-sit down and make a viable plan to make that happen.
These ideas are meant to help you feel that you have purchased some “spiritual insurance” and protection from harm’s way. It may be best to do this with the guidance of a trusted spiritual figure who can point you in the right direction & accomplish your spiritual goals.
11 Gratitude List
Take a blank notebook and write your name inside. Take 1-2 minutes each day to sit down with your gratitude notebook and list on paper things that come to mind which you are grateful for.
It may look like this:
I am grateful today that-
I am breathing
I have a roof over my head
I have indoor plumbing
I had food today
I have close friends to call
And so on….
This list can be done for as little as two minutes daily. You may decide that you’d like to add to your list throughout the day. Keep it in a place where you’ll easily see it and make sure a good pen is available nearby to jot down your entries of gratitude as you go about your day.
This technique is used by many people to foster a feeling of gratitude. Instead of always noticing what they don’t have, they begin to see how many blessings they already have, everywhere they look.
This major paradigm shift can be key to helping you get through these challenging times.
I know a family who does this as a ritual before starting their meals together; they take 60 seconds to list things they have gratitude for. Doing this together as a family also imparts this positive and powerful technique to your family members – before you know it, you’ll have made gratitude a part of your family culture.
12 List of challenges you’ve already overcome in your life
Take a paper and list several hard situations that you’ve overcome in life. Perhaps one of your parents died, you got divorced, lost a job, were abused as a child, or were in a road accident. Include natural disasters or wars that you have gotten through.
After making this list, take a moment to reflect on how you are extremely resilient and have gone through so much already. You are made of tough stuff and contain tremendous inner strength to withstand stormy weather. You’ve been in challenging times before and have gotten through them-you can do this again now and withstand anything our current challenging time throws at you.
Below your list, you may want to take two minutes to form the perfect sentence that describes your great resilience and inner strength. Once you have captured the exact words that describe your strength and resilience, jot it down in big letters at the bottom of your paper.
I remember once hearing a line, “It’s not about how hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” This line carried a lot of meaning to me personally, and I made a point to memorize it. Many years later, it still inspires me.
See all that you’ve withstood and how far you’ve come – you’re made of extremely strong stuff.
13 Faith and Prayer
Many videos are going around now on social media from spiritual leaders. While many of them will be talking about faith during these challenging times, you will not necessarily connect with their wording or approach, and that’s okay. Perhaps the speaker’s target audience is people who are different than you. Whatever the case, I’d like to suggest that you go “faith shopping” like you shop for shoes. Feel free to “try on” and listen to ten or fifteen different spiritual leaders talking about the current situation and look for one that “fits” you. Does it inspire you? Does it motivate you to make positive change? Does it help you trust in God? Does it improve your mood?
I’ve received thirty videos on faith in the last two weeks, and two of three of them jumped out at me and gave me tremendous insight and strength. They somehow touched my soul and enabled me to trust in God a little more. Prepare to go shopping and look for the type of orator or message that you connect with. It’s okay if this takes a bit of time. Finding the right source of inspiration for your soul should take at least as long as finding a good pair of shoes.
You might be able to take a shortcut by calling a trusted, like-minded friend and asking them what they’d recommend for you to see. They may have seen thirty videos like I did and be able to direct you to the three videos which spoke to them. If you consider this friend to be like-minded, the chances are that this shortcut will help and you will benefit from the content that they recommend. The goal is to feed your soul with just the right type of content that will allow you to have more faith and trust in God, one of the most powerful tools known for overcoming challenging times.
14 Go on a digital diet
If you ate a box of chocolate chip cookies for breakfast and consumed donuts and cheesecake for lunch, and then you got heartburn or a stomachache, would you be surprised? Similarly, don’t be surprised that you feel worried and depressed from reading all the sensationalistic doomsday rhetoric of the media. Consuming dramatic bad news all day will give your mind a tummy ache and cause heartburn for your mind.
Instead, decide to look at the news once in the morning and once at night, if you so wish, but not aimlessly throughout the day.
Even when looking at the news, filter out the drama and try to just pick up the practical information that you need to know. Imagine you are panning for gold; use your sifter to sort out the little useless rocks and dirt. Take the gold from the media you see, the valuable information, and dump the rest back in the river.
By checking the media at specific times, you may find that you have gained back a lot of time once for aimlessly media-scrolling. Convert this gained-back time into something meaningful, fun, or experiential, like baking a cake. Consume less drama and live more, and your mood will improve just by doing this alone.
15 One day at a time
Some people might find it easier to get through the next few weeks by breaking them up into smaller units to focus on, like going “one day at a time”.
Try to get happily and successfully through today, or through this hour. Decide which unit of time will help you best, and let that overwhelming feeling fall away.
16 What do you think will help?
Over the years I studied many ways of helping people overcome paralyzing fear and anxiety. Nonetheless, I always ask the person in front of me a simple, powerful question: How do you think you can overcome this fear? What do you think might be helpful to you to solve this problem?
I learned from some wise folks that every person in the whole world has great wisdom about how to solve their problem and tremendous inner resources to do so. Sometimes, all we need to do is remind people that they have this wisdom and problem-solving capacity already and guide them a little bit to reveal this.
What do you think might help you deal with very strong emotions of fear and anxiety? Be like a scientist; feel free to spin a theory as to what might be helpful to you and then go test it the next time huge anxiety comes your way. Be playful and curious about it and tweak your method until it works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay too – just keep moving forward until you find another approach that works.
17 Be Happy
It may sound easier said than done to maintain a positive attitude during this challenging period. Nonetheless, it is important and perhaps critical for survival.
Several Cholera Pandemics occurred between the years 1817-1975. During these difficult outbreaks, we find historic Jewish leaders emphasizing the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and fighting worry.
Among famous Middle Eastern Jewry, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1835-1909) quotes the Doctors of his time that the fear and worry from contracting Cholera is a major risk-factor to get sick from the disease. He advises avoiding seeing and listening to worrisome things that will foster panic, emphasizing the necessity to maintain calm and a positive stable attitude.
In Europe we similarly find Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Posen (1761-1837) writes “try not to worry, doing whatever you can to distance sadness and depression”.
In the Talmud regarding war strategy, we are told: “the beginning of defeat is running away”. We must proactively defeat fear and worry utilizing any technique at our disposal. There are countless records of human beings in both ancient and modern history overcoming extraordinary odds and surviving, attributing their victory to their attitude and resolve.
Regardless of all the tips and techniques that one will read and hear during this pandemic the single most important one is: Be resilient-never give up.
A last word
I hope you find some of the ideas mentioned here to be helpful. I encourage you to discover the best way for you to overcome boredom, fear, and loneliness over these next few weeks. Every person has tremendous inner resources to draw from.
You are made of strong stuff and we will get through this together. This is a temporary situation, and it will end at the right time. Make sure to adhere to the guidelines of your local health experts and be well. May we soon hear good news.
Disclaimer: The information herein is the author’s opinion alone. Consult with your family’s professional healthcare providers and educators for information on what your family should do regarding Covid-19.
About the author
Avi Tenenbaum is an expert in Disaster Behavioral Health and Psychological First Aid. His experience includes providing aid for families coping in the wake of large-scale disasters and war including the Second Lebanon War, Hurricane Harvey, The Pittsburg Tree-of-Life massacre, the Haifa 2016 Fires, Operation Cast-Lead, and more. He is currently on the front lines battling the effects of Covid-19 on the soul. email@example.com