In pandemic times, there are four skills you can use in a four-step process to dial down the intensity, feel calm, take charge and gain a sense of control.

I’m not sure about you but sitting at home in isolation has bought a bunch of things to the forefront of my mind, and my life.

I think right now we are all faced with it – the overwhelm of all the unfinished things in our house and in our lives, the clutter we have accumulated, and the onslaught of media and negative headlines.

We normally have the ability to physically escape these things and to continue on with the doing work of life, rather than attending to this unfinished business. 

But now living in pandemic times, it’s an extreme experience to face the internal clutter as well as the external tragedy, risks, loss, grief and uncertainty. 

Few people have prepared themselves for these times. 

It’s more than just stocking your pantry – it’s also about feeling in control.

After all, right now we are winging it, pivoting, adapting and trying to take steps toward our goals in a new way. And we may also have had to throw our goals out the window!

That’s why I want to talk about feeling calmer and less overwhelmed – by taking control of the things that we CAN control.

What’s really in our control?

If you think about it, most circumstances are outside our control.

Six months ago you had no idea this pandemic was coming – and that’s just one of hundreds of things you could never have predicted in life.

What is within our control is what we think about things, and how we act.

And, we create certainty and a sense of control by making decisions about what we do and don’t want, and what we will and won’t do.

What is within our control is what we think about things, and how we act.

So right now is the perfect time to stop thinking about what we can’t do, and to get clear on what we can do, so we can take back control of our thoughts and actions.

It’s time to stop the spread of fear, anxiety, and worry, and instead of just coping, we need to bounce back and start thriving, coping with challenges and feeling strong.

It’s all in the mindset.

Let’s stop letting our thoughts run wild, unfettered. 

Let’s talk about the skills we can develop to manage our minds and to actively cultivate healthier thoughts.

Compassion

Firstly, we can develop compassion for ourselves and for others. Compassion is a practice as well as a response to the circumstances around us, but it starts with self-talk.

Compassion is being kind to ourselves and others (instead of judging). It’s about recognising the common humanity (we are all suffering and it will pass) and to be mindful of what we can do in this moment (I can control my thoughts in this moment).

We can only focus, think straight and make decisions when we are calm.

Factualising

The second thing we can do is to stop catastrophizing. 

As an expert in catastrophizing with many years of experience, I want to take you through a three step process I have developed to calm things down – a process I call factualising.

The premise of the model is that catastrophizing is a sense of heightened emotion that we create in our brains. It’s exaggerating and expecting or even predicting the worst possible outcome.

Obviously, that’s very unhelpful!

So this model I’ve developed helps us to step back from that heightened emotional state and out of our ‘feeling brain’, into a more neutral, calm and logical state, by engaging our more logical, ‘thinking brain’.

The three steps to the model are to 1. write down your negative, catastrophizing-style thoughts, 2. trim it down to just the non-emotive facts, and 3. to reframe it with an ‘even-though’ statement.

Here’s an example.

Negative thought:

I am so irritated with myself because I didn’t do my exercise session today. I was too cold and tired, and now I feel terrible.

       Just the facts:

       I didn’t do my exercise session today.

       Reframe:

Even though I didn’t do my exercise session today, I feel determined to do my session tomorrow.

Finding Strength

The third thing we can do is to find strength, because this helps us to feel grounded, and to gain a sense of our capacity to cope.

The process to finding strength could include reflecting on past challenges and how you overcame them.

Maybe it’s identifying all the people and networks around you who can support you, and who have been there for you in the past.

Strength also comes from cultivating positive thoughts. This could include practicing gratitude each day, creating an oasis for yourself at home – a quiet place to rest, relax and reflect.

Strength includes looking at the upsides and shifting attention to what has been learned or discovered despite the challenges. 

Strength can be more easily maintained when you are consistent with self care. We gain physical and emotional strength and resilience by going to bed early, waking up at a consistent time, eating nutritious food, doing exercise, breathing deeply, meditating, thought modelling, journalling, factualising and practicing self-regulation.

Make Decisions

The fourth thing we can do is to make some decisions about how we will think and act in the next period ahead. 

When we have no plan and have made no decisions, we are floating around in the sea of chaos, feeling helpless.

But when we decide what we will and won’t do, how we will do things for the next week, what we will experiment with, and which tools, support or resources we will use to give our plans a good chance of success, it feels like we’re taking charge again.

A lot of people think that decision making is where they should START in the process of taking charge.

But in uncertain, pandemic times, decision fatigue is a real thing. It means you don’t have the capacity to make decisions.

That’s why I started with the three steps of compassion, factualising and finding strength – because these are the foundation of good, rational decision-making and planning. 

As you might have noticed, there are a lot of things that ARE in your control right now.

Probably more than you imagined!

If you follow this four-step process, it will help you to take charge of the things that are in your control so that you can feel calmer, more confident and more resilient in the face of uncertainty and chaos.

Summary

In any case, even the most calm, balanced people may struggle in uncertain, stressful times. 

My four step process for taking charge of the things that you can control is:

  1. Practice compassion and self compassion
  2. Start factualising instead of catastrophizing
  3. Find strength in the past, your networks and appropriate self-care
  4. Make decisions for the next period of time to regain your sense of control.

Instead of just coping, we need to bounce back and start thriving, coping with challenges and feeling strong.

In the longer term, consistent self care is the foundation of mental wellbeing. It is therefore an essential precursor for building resilience, for effective decision making and for remaining calm in the face of adversity.

If you would like to find out about working with a coach, visit melaniejwhite.com/contact

Ready to feel calm and in control?

Focus on the things you CAN control. If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

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