You’ve been stripped of your usual stress coping mechanisms. Now what?

You can’t get that runner’s high at the gym, or the reassuring, warm hug from a friend. Gone too is the informal chat with a colleague at the office to brainstorm solutions on the latest fire drill or the dinner out with your partner to end a long week.

Just a month or two ago, these choices gave you the “feel good” hormones and buoyed you through the days — consciously and unconsciously. The pleasure chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin are rich cocktails that help sustain our spirits like a perpetual happy hour. But what happens when those happy cocktails stop flowing?

I found out!

After an accident, I spent months staring at the ceiling from a back and neck injury. I went from a highly active, healthy and relatively happy person, to completely laid out on my back and battling depression. I couldn’t even read because I wasn’t able to hold up a book. And this was before Netflix. I began to question what was more painful…the boredom or the actual physical pain.

Finally, I got to physical therapy. I’d lie across the seat in a taxi because I couldn’t sit without excruciating pain. Over the weeks and months my body got stronger, but my physical therapist noticed my state of mind was faltering. I saw him more than any other human at the time, so he got to know me quite well. When I told him that I didn’t feel myself anymore, that I felt low, easily distracted, irritable and cranky….he got a smile on his face. “You’re a junkie” he said “and you’re going thru withdrawals”. WHAT??

He was right, I was used to going to the gym 5 times a week for up to 2 hours, dancing and playing on a softball league. Also, I went out with friends or clients many times a week. Now, I was completely isolated, living alone, and immobile. Thank goodness for NYC food delivery!

My physical therapist opened my eyes. I wasn’t getting all those natural chemical highs and my entire biochemical makeup had shifted. I worried that I might be going crazy when it turns out my symptoms where from happy hormone “withdrawals”. I had to find, learn and create new sources the fueled my body with serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. What I didn’t know at the time was how this experience and discoveries would support my training and coaching clients in going through their own disruptions and transitions.

Fast forward over a decade and now millions of us are facing isolation with our support systems ripped out from under us. Are you feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and anxious? One minute you feel like you’re managing it all and the next you’re raging or crying. You aren’t going crazy. You may be going through withdrawals — biochemically, emotionally and mentally. Covid-19 has been a major life disruptor and requires you to switch to new coping and management skills for yourself and with others.

What do you do now that your usual “fixes” are largely no longer an option for the foreseeable future?

1. Understand the range of emotions you’re feeling and their intensity are likely driven or magnified by your body’s lack of happy hormones from your usual sources.

2. Realize that any perceived “threat” can trigger your brain into survival mode — “fight, flight or freeze”. This mode of the animal brain draws you out of your better reasoning brain function and can lead to greater emotional volatility. A big threat trigger can be watching the news. Try Canadian news which is not nearly as dramatic and they report what’s going on with their southern neighbors — us. This is my go-to source for no more than 30 minutes of news a day.

3. Cultivate and amplify compassion and empathy for yourself and others. How can you find the grace and space to understand behavior on a deeper level?

4. Lean in to community — virtually. We are tribal beings and thrive in connection with others. Consider hosting a virtual game night or dinner. It’s super important to get face time and see other faces even over the web. See earlier article for the many benefits.

5. Move your body. While you can’t go to the gym, you can still get some highs right in your living room or kitchen. Dance, yoga, stretching, push-up, squats and more. Maybe a virtual dance party. It brings in some social fun…even if it’s at your expense.

6. Carve out “you time”. Blend it with movement and go for a walk (maintain 6 feet of course) or try a guided meditation via an app like Calm. Extend your bathroom time for a get a break from others in your house. If you have kids, have a relative or friend read them a book or play a game over zoom or skype. Virtually babysitting is effective and It helps family stay connected and gives you some time for yourself.

7. Ask — “How could this time benefit me? What are the advantages of this experience? How does this support me, my family, my community, the world? These questions will help counter the mind’s inherent negativity bias and bring in more perspective and good feels.

8. Laugh. It’s a reliable and fast way to get some endorphins flowing. Dry Bar comedy app has loads of clips as does YouTube or find a stand-up on Netflix. You can even ask Alexa to tell you a joke. No guarantees on a laugh with Alexa though.

Be gentle with yourself and others as you make shifts to new sources for your happy hormones. Your new choices might feel awkward or even mechanical at first and that’s normal. It doesn’t mean the new options are less valid or helpful…they are just less familiar. Remember when you first started learning to drive or play an instrument? You fumbled and faltered. It’s part of the learning process. Keep going.

More resilience and stress management tools are on their way in future articles. If you need support in the meantime, please reach out.

Originally posted on Medium here:

Brenda Cross

An international best-selling author and speaker, Brenda helps you breakthrough to true transformation and lasting change to live your best life.