How is Lockdown #2 going for you? Are you working from home like nothing has changed or are you experiencing what the experts call “learned helplessness;” a feeling that however hard you try, you have no way to change your personal situation?
A new study from Haifa University reported in The Jerusalem Post found that there has been a 300% increase in requests for psychiatric treatment and a 40% increase in anxiety and depression during the current lockdown, a situation that the report’s author Elite Mardo describes as “catastrophic.” A quick scan of social media confirms that the national mood is at a 2020 low. People are angry, disenchanted and fatigued. But what can we do to make this lockdown more manageable? Having just returned to Israel from two weeks in the UK, where the news is just as dismal and the weather has turned wet and cold, I’m buoyed by the beautiful October sunshine and brightly colored flowers that are blooming in an unusually peaceful Tel Aviv. The fact that I can walk or cycle 1KM from my home is also amazing – it’s nine times further than in the previous lockdown, so on a personal level my spirits aren’t as low as they were between March and May. But if you’re already into your third week of closure, what can you do to boost your mood and your chances of emerging from this challenging time with your emotions intact?
1) Accept that your emotions will be up and down
“Many people are starting to feel more depressed – they’re tired, demotivated and in a downward emotional state,” says Dr. Ian Moran, a Tel Aviv-based British psychotherapist.
“Often this is connected to feeling angry – and there’s a great deal to be angry about. Lockdown cuts us off from what we enjoy and this is also a big trigger for sadness. The first thing to do is accept that it’s entirely normal to feel this way. Then exercise an active choice: choose to live in the moment; do not predict the future, and identify three things each day that you appreciate.” Whether it’s a comfy bed to sleep in, a food delivery from the supermarket or the light that floods into your apartment every morning; even small things can help re-balance the negative and positive in our minds. Moran also recommends finding yourself a good listener.
“Let the burden out.” If you don’t want to share with a friend or family member, call ERAN. The organization offers emotional first aid by telephone and Internet and is there to help you whether you’re stressed about money or feeling anxious in isolation. To call their hotline, dial 1201.
“If you’re feeling anxious, it’s also incredibly simple and effective to do some controlled breathing: breathe out more slowly than you breathe in,” says Moran. “Try breathing in for seven counts and out for 11.” Hopefully you’ll feel lighter and brighter as a result.
2) Ritualize your day
After months of experimenting with my Nespresso machine, I’ve worked out that I like to drink one strong espresso with a bit of frothed milk every day from a china cup and saucer, Italian style. But I don’t grab this at 7 a.m. – instead, I save it for when I’m showered, dressed and out on my balcony in the fresh air. Sometimes I text my mum in England and ask her if she’d like to meet for coffee. Then we FaceTime and drink together while catching up on the hitherto mentioned dismal news. It’s become something of a ritual. Rony Stav, founder and director of Yoga to the People TLV, thinks that ritualizing one thing each day can help us better connect to the present moment and boost our sense of satisfaction.
“Often we’re only present when we’re in pain,” she explains. “But we can try to flip it around to be present when we’re doing something nice. This means the days won’t become a bundle of frustration and anxiety, which is what we’re being directed to go towards by the different media around us.” Importantly, your daily ritual doesn’t need to have a spiritual element.
“You can try to meditate, but you can also find a podcast; not a meditation podcast, just one that you’re intrigued about,” says Stav. “Or organize your apartment. Read a book. Take a longer shower. Sit next to your window. Make changes so that the air and energy in your home moves. Buy a plant; take care of it by watering it at the same time every day.” Whatever you do, when you make it a ritual, it creates a more satisfying moment.
“And this can help clear blockages in our bodies and emotional lives,” says Stav.
3) Don’t forget your micro-community
In July, I wrote about the rise of the micro-community at the time of COVID-19. While none of us want to be locked down a second time, it’s important to notice the people that are right there in front of us – even if we live alone. I knew I’d get back late after my flight from London, so I texted my neighbor Chani on the fifth floor to ask if she could buy me a few vegetables to make my first breakfast that bit easier. When I arrived at my apartment, a bag of groceries was sitting outside my door. Another friend had re-stocked my cleaning supplies while I was gone.
During a Sukkot evening walk, I passed a neighbor by chance on the street. We had a masked chat and the conversation helped me feel connected.
“Every little interaction counts,” says Dr. Dina Wyshogrod, a Jerusalem based mindfulness coach and clinical psychologist.
“Even if you don’t know a person’s name, you can send good energy to them and they’ll pick up on it. When we share loving kindness, we calm the vibes around us. And right now we have a common goal: we’re trying to figure out how to survive this thing.” So connect with your neighbors in whatever socially distanced way you can, and reap the rewards.
4) Go forest bathing from the comfort of your own home
The Japanese have long regarded forest bathing as a form of therapy that can reduce stress and boost our immune systems. Yet while we’d all love to head out to nature right now, we can’t. Thankfully though, we can still reap the benefits by exploring a cool, interactive soundmap that’s been created as a forerunner to the 2021 International Forest Festival in the UK.
Over 550 people from more than 50 countries have contributed short audio postcards, showcasing aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands, which you can listen to for free at timberfestival.org.uk/soundsoftheforest-soundmap/.
Just click on a location and let the sound of birds chirping and waterfalls crashing wake up your senses while you stay safe inside.
“By accessing this audible forest map, we can all engage in shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) from the comfort of our own homes,” says Hinako Omori, a musician who is now using the map as inspiration for an original piece of music. While the map features sound clips from the UAE and Turkey, there are no contributions from Israel. So if you’re lucky enough to live within a kilometer of a forest, you can help us get Israel on the map. Visit https://timberfestival.org.uk/soundsoftheforest/ for full information about how to upload your forest sounds and watch your stress melt away as you click your way to calmness.
5) Reboot your energetic system
If lockdown 2.0 is more permissive than the first one, why does it already feel so hard? The answer, according to Tracy Alexander, a Tel Aviv based meditation teacher and mindset coach who’s offering guided self-healing sessions on Zoom, is that we have already used up a lot of our ‘adaption energy’.
“We’ve already done this once; therefore our systems have become overloaded and we have a reduced capacity to adapt to challenges,” she explains.
“Most of us don’t have a daily meditation practice and therefore we’re operating within a system that needs a reboot – like when a computer has too many tabs open.”
To deal with this overload, Alexander recommends establishing a pre-sleep routine that’s all about self-care.
“Close the blinds, go to bed before midnight, don’t stare at your phone or computer directly before bed and don’t consume caffeine or sugar.”
Learning how to breathe is also helpful.
“Google ‘Nadi Shodhana.’ It’s an alternate nostril-breathing technique that works to unify both hemispheres of the brain. You could also try pressing your index and middle finger just above each eyebrow, to stimulate a pressure point named ‘perspective.’ Hold these points for two minutes, then move one hand to the heart and the other to the naval. Feel for the pulse and breathe. This is a nice way to refresh the system, when you’re feeling bogged down.” Whatever you choose to focus on, remember the words of the 6th century Taoist philosopher and poet, Lao Tzu, who wrote: “Do man’s vision’s last? Do man’s illusions? Take things as they come; all things pass.”