In the episode, “Managing Our Anxiety and Fear During Covid-19” of Red Table Talk, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Willow Smith talk to clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula and writer Jay Shetty, about ways to strengthen our relationships and our mental health during Covid-19. They go over what we can do with our schedules, our news sources, and our breathing, to make sure that we can care for ourselves and the people around us.
Read this if...
- You’re stressed out by the pandemic
- You feel alone in quarantine
- You’re in charge of someone’s care
This episode of the Red Table Talk features Dr. Ramani Durvasula and Jay Shetty.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of Psychology, and writer. She frequently appears in programs such as The Today Show and Good Morning America.
Jay Shetty is a content creator, writer, former monk, and motivational speaker. He has appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, and The Today Show to discuss mental health and life purpose. He is also the host of the On Purpose podcast.
the distilld lessons (extended)
In this pandemic, we’re not only afraid of the toll of the virus to our physical bodies, we’re also anxious over how it’s affecting us mentally. In this time when we feel a mounting threat to our mental health and even our relationships, what can we do to pull through?
In this episode of Red Table Talk, clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula and author Jay Shetty joined Jada Pinkett-Smith and Willow Smith to discuss the tools to heal our minds and relationships during the global pandemic.
Here are the distilld lessons inspired by the “Managing Our Anxiety and Fear During Covid-19” episode of the Red Table Talk podcast:
1. Building and sticking to routines are helpful.
Establishing a routine helps us develop a sense of purpose. When we get up in the morning, we know exactly what to do. It gives us a sense of control. It has even proven vital to dealing with anxiety during the pandemic.
Routines help because we create structure for ourselves. When we carry them out, we also gain a sense of accomplishment. When you set routines, you might even learn more about yourself. By keeping a routine, you could learn what types of exercises you enjoy, what time of day you’re most productive, and so on.
Knowing ourselves better through routine can also give us a better mental space for decision-making. When we make a conscious effort to understand who we are, we get a better idea of our fears and motivations. We then learn how we make decisions, which will help us make better choices.
Rest is also part of routine. It’s okay for us to slow down at this current point in time. The pandemic takes its toll, whether we’ve been hit by the virus ourselves.
We should also make time for sleep. When we give our bodies the right amount of sleep, our mental health will benefit immensely from it. This means not under nor oversleeping. When people get a good night’s rest, they feel better overall.
2. Our reactions to what is happening around us is valid.
Dr. Ramani points to the amygdala as the architect of our anxiety. It’s the part of our brain that’s associated with fear. It’s responsible for responding to the stimuli in the environment. The prefrontal cortex—the part of our brain associated with reason—has taken a back seat with the pandemic. Our amygdala is active because there is a constant threat that isn’t going away. As a result, our emotions are heightened.
The amygdala also causes deficiency at assessing risk in the face of uncertainty because its reactions are made for short-term responses, not long-term threats. We’re not used to living in with such uncertainty. Since the amygdala is always “on”, our responses to situations are also different from how we would normally react. This is why we’re hoarding groceries, when we ordinarily would only shop for what we need. This is why we’re in constant states of anxiety even if we’re relatively safe.
Apart from fear and anxiety, we are also in grief. We’re grieving over people, plans, and futures that have been affected by the pandemic. Whether the loss is a job or a party, these losses can weigh heavily on an already anxious brain. We can remind ourselves that it’s okay to grieve, no matter the loss.
3. There are techniques that help people cope.
Another way to cope is to protect our peace of mind. Our inner peace suffers when we bombard ourselves with bad news. We don’t have to consume every single piece of news out there. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening, but only to an extent. When we take on the bad news we have no control over, we only grow anxious. It’s okay to turn off the news and go off the grid for a while if that’s what you need.
Jay also suggests for people to practice thankfulness, insight, meditation, and exercise—or T.I.M.E. We can take this time to be grateful for the life and power we still have. We can focus on what we can control and let go of what we can’t. We can do mindfulness and meditation exercises to reclaim our inner peace. We can also let out our worries through physical exercise, get out of our heads and into our bodies.
In case we feel overwhelming panic, we can also practice the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique. When feeling like we’re about to have a panic attack, we can focus on the five things we can see, touch four things we can touch, listen to three things we can hear, breathe in two things you can smell, and savor one thing you can taste. What this does is take your mind off of what’s causing the panic attack and shifting our focus to our very present.
People have shown improvements from anxiety, depression, and pain through mindfulness-based practices. The above techniques, as well as controlled breathing, and even stretching help with improvements to brain function. These can give us much-needed mental boosts, especially in these times.
4. Breathing has a large effect on overall health.
An even simpler method to help us during moments of distress is breathing. Multiple studies suggest that breath-control improves overall health. Breathing techniques promote our physical, mental, and emotional flexibility every day. The can increase comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness. They also reduce symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.
To relax the mind and body, exhale more than you inhale. Breathe in for four counts, and then breathe out for five counts. This is even helpful for when you have trouble sleeping. This type of breathing exercise lulls the body and mind to rest.
The way we breathe can help stabilize our heightened emotions. It leads us to a simple but powerful idea: when we improve how we breathe, we improve our lives.
5. Compassion fatigue happens, and can be avoided.
Compassion fatigue happens when you care too much, and for too long. It’s a deep physical and mental exhaustion accompanied by acute, emotional pain. Too much compassion can be so draining that we have no more energy left for it.
While commonly seen amongst healthcare providers, we may be experiencing this ourselves these days. Compassion fatigue is not something we can afford. To avoid it, Dr. Ramani suggests taking time to care for ourselves. When we care for ourselves, we build our behavioral, cognitive, physical, spiritual, and emotional resilience. We begin to build our compassion satisfaction, the sense of fulfillment we feel when we do good for others.
When we take time for ourselves and protect our personal space, we relieve ourselves from the stress that can lead to compassion fatigue. Then we can care for the people around us better without sacrificing our own well-being in the process.
In this time, it’s important for us to look after our mental health in order to cope with the physical threat of Covid-19. We can start by acknowledging that our reactions to what’s happening around us is valid and understanding why we’re reacting the way we do. We can then apply ways of coping from improving how we breathe to building and sticking to new routines.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.