For nearly everyone this spring, it’s been challenging to stay calm, grounded and pro-active as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread around the globe.

Ironically, though, there is very little control we have as individuals over how things might unfold from here. What we do have complete control over is whether and how we choose to respond to things, whether they are our own thoughts, the concerns and fears of others, and all the what-ifs that can flood the mind when uncertainty looms over our lives and consciousness. 

Mindset expert and business coach Marcy Stahl stresses the importance of “protecting our own ecosystem.” when it comes to staying calm and focused. This means that no matter what might be going on in the world outside, we’re prioritizing nourishing ourselves and creating a positive, affirming immediate environment. Marcy’s analogy is that if we’re on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop down, we won’t be successful at supporting other people if we don’t provide ourselves with air first! Marcy suggests scheduling and then honoring crucial self-care time daily so that it ripples out and supports you in all areas of life.

Another colleague and friend, Christine Lustik Ph.D., helps people create healthier, more resilient environments through cultivating and developing greater mindfulness. She suggests consistently using her “STOP Tool”  to help reduce stress and increase clarity and focus:STOP – This is a tool to practice that hesitation between reaction and response. At any point throughout your day, or whenever you sense your body and emotions reacting to something, go through this acronym in your head.

S – Stop what you are doing, intentionally pause.

T – Take a breath, follow your breath in and out, feeling it as it enters your body.

O – Observe your thoughts, sensations, and emotions. Labeling them can help create a spacious and calming effect. For example, observe that your throat is tight, your forehead is scrunched, and you feel agitated.

P – Proceed with what will serve you in that moment. Perhaps just taking a breath was enough; perhaps you need to step back.

Just as the pandemic has shaken up routines and schedules worldwide, consider this disruption as an opportunity to proactively  shake things up in your home, interpersonal and community life. Following are some personal strategies I’ve learned through life experiences that may also help you stay centered, grounded and calm in challenging times.

Break pattern. For every 30-45 minutes you’re at the desk or computer,  take ten minutes away. Call someone to say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them. Or stand up and stretch, make a cup of tea, pet the cat, dance to an inspiring song. Consider yelling or singing if you feel like it, as long as it’s not going to piss off or disturb the neighbors!

Breathe deeply. Most of us breathe rather shallowly and quickly over the course of the day. Instead, practice breathing in for three full seconds, then breathe out for three seconds too. Experiment with breathing in and out for three full seconds throughout the day from sitting, standing, moving and other positions and notice how it feels. Doing so can be especially soothing and grounding when you’re stopped at a red light in heavy traffic, or standing in long lines.

Set and honor consistent, clear boundaries. Put time limits and boundaries on checking the latest news, news feeds and social media. Get the digest, not the live breakdown on what’s happening as events unfold. Challenge yourself, friends and family members to talk about topics other than what’s happening in the news, too. Honestly and politely let others know when you’d prefer to talk about something else, and then do it!

Treat Yourself. This looks different for everyone, of course. With restaurants and other public places closed except for take out food and beverage orders, it’s already been an opportunity for Erik and I to stretch our culinary skills and repertoire. With warmer weather forecasted for the weekend, for one night we’ll be grilling salmon, rice and veggies and sipping some pinot grigio. We’ve also set our sights on making a slightly toned down version of dom yang, a Thai-inspired soup, for another meal in the coming weeks. We’re also lining up early spring and late summer vegetables seeds to plant, knowing that we’ll be savoring and enjoying the fruits of our labors not that far down the road.

Keep the faith.  A few days ago, we caught up with one of our neighbors over a safe social distance. We were so excited to learn that he and his wife had just bought a home and that their moving date would be the first of April! My oldest nephew and his fiancee have set their wedding date for late October. Another couple we know recently became pregnant with their second child. And we just bought a new to us replacement vehicle for Erik’s 1987 Nissan truck.

Palpable, positive energy ripples out and inspires others when we demonstrate faith and trust.  As someone who lived for years in the closet can attest to before coming out as a gay man, there’s considerable energy expended living in a state of fear. One excruciating emotionally exhausting morning, I opened to the possibility that being out might be a safer, saner and healthier place to be and live. Looking back, I’m glad to have taken that tremendous leap of faith and trust. Doing so created opportunities for others in my life to also be more honest, authentic and vulnerable, and that has been an immeasurable and enduring gift.

Envision things turning out even better than you imagine. As human beings it’s easy to tumble into monkey mind where we worry about all the things that could go wrong. What if we caught ourselves when we fall into that mindset, and instead wonder “What if everything turned out alright?” Being able to re-envision and re-frame things may help reveal silver linings, opportunities and other blessings in challenging circumstances or situations.

As the British Government urged its citizenry nearly 80 years ago, there’s tremendous wisdom we can take with us, no matter where our feet are in life, when we keep calm and carry on.

And that is my wish and vision for you at this time.

Travel, be and stay well!