Since my last blog, we’re two weeks further into this Annus horribilis: we will forever remember 2020 as the period in our global history where life as we knew it ground to a halt due to COVID-19, a new disease caused by the corona virus, so-called because of its crown-like shape under a microscope.
The year that heralded a new decade has, within three months of its clock striking midnight, become a time when global social distancing is the new norm, with lockdown forcing us to stay indoors and adapt to a new, restricted way of living.
Whilst the effectiveness and benefits of restrictions on our movement, self-isolation and quarantine can be measured in gains by the reduced spread of the disease and subsequent deaths, what is less well documented are the losses to our wellbeing due to an enforced reduction in human interaction and the emotional and mental strain of this way of living.
We are all acutely aware of the scale of this pandemic. Globally, to date, recorded cases have totalled over one million, with more than 54,000 lives lost as a result of the disease. We will tell the generation who come after us of the sadness we experienced during this chapter in our lives and the things that we took for granted before the reign of corona. Things like our freedom, and being able to visit family and friends whenever we wanted; the power of a hug and its importance to our health; being able to say goodbye properly at the end of a loved one’s life, whilst being present in our droves in hospital wards following the birth of a new one.
And it’s here that I move to self-soothing and its importance during this time. Living as we are has caused a dip in the cocktail of hormones that fuel our feelings of happiness: the production of seritonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins have all been affected by our current way of life. Recognising this is important because it helps us to understand part of the reason why we feel different inside. Their diminished levels within me, have really helped me to recognise what a powerful impact they have upon my mood and how hugs and cuddles with our nearest and dearest provide far more than we appreciate.
The importance of exercise at this time also cannot be underestimated. Endorphins released during physical activity are crucial in order to support our mental health which is why, for those of us that can, it’s so beneficial to carry on with our local exercise routines, albeit if it has to be at home. The benefit of this is two-fold: our own personal wellbeing gain and the ongoing support for our community based exercise instructors who overnight, have been forced to learn new ways of bringing their expertise to us. They have worked so hard to develop their businesses and client base; exercising remotely is helping to protect and preserve all that they’ve worked so hard to create, and in turn our physical and mental wellbeing is being protected and supported too.
You might remember in my last blog, that I said I’m currently taking part in mindfulness training. It’s delivered via Zoom and is proving to be a great form of exercise for my mind. Little did I know when I signed up to the course in January, just how connected Zoom was going to make us all feel this year. Being in a room, virtually, with lots of other people, felt very strange on day one of my programme. Now of course, for so many of us, our days and weeks are being totally supported by its presence.
Part of my programme this week has looked at the importance of self-soothing and its impact on mood boosting hormones. It’s with this in mind, that I share with you this self-soothing exercise. It reinforces the value of a hug in the absence of one from somebody that you miss:
Step 1: Sit upright in a chair and close your eyes.
Step 2: Take a deep breath in as you stretch your arms out sidewards, to shoulder height, or a height that is comfortable for you.
Step 3: As you breathe out, bring your arms in and wrap them around yourself.
Step 4: Give yourself a pat on your arms with each hand and tell yourself, “It’s going to be ok. I’ve got you”.
Step 5: Repeat steps 2-4.
The healing power of self-soothing, with a hug that you give to yourself, might seem on the surface to be superficial and a bit silly but don’t underestimate its potential effect. Have a go and see for yourself. We can’t measure what we can’t see but we know when it’s not there. You may find you feel a little better afterwards.
Be kind to yourself in the coming week. Acknowledging that this is a challenging time is necessary to get through it. And get through it we will, but what we look like at the end of it, depends on how we care for ourselves, during it. A regular dose of self-soothing might serve us all in good stead.