Tips to help you FACE COVID
FACE COVID is a set of practical steps to help you respond to the coronavirus situation, put together by Dr Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap.
Here’s what it stands for:
F = Focus on what’s in your control
A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings
C = Come back into your body
E = Engage in what you’re doing
C = Committed action
O = Opening up
V = Values
I = Identify resources
D = Disinfect & distance
Focus on what’s in your control
As we deal with the many different challenges associated with the coronavirus, fear and anxiety are normal, natural responses; but what we don’t want is to be overwhelmed by our worries.
The more we focus on things that are outside our control, the more hopeless and lost we are likely to feel. The most useful thing you can do in any crisis is to focus on what’s in your control.
You can’t control what happens in the future. You can’t control the virus, the economy, or the restrictions in place, and you can’t magically control your perfectly natural feelings. What you can control is what you do, and that can make a huge difference to you, your family, and your community.
We all have far more control over what we do than we have over our thoughts and feelings. Controlling what you do to respond to what is happening around us is our number one aim. This involves dealing with our inner world (all our difficult thoughts and feelings) and our outer world (the day-to-day problems we are facing).
But how do we do this?
When a storm comes in, boats in the harbour drop anchor. If they don’t, they get swept out to sea. Dropping anchor doesn’t make the storm go away, but it holds the boats steady until the storm passes. In an ongoing situation like this one, we may experience emotional ‘storms’: unhelpful thoughts and feelings spinning around inside our minds and bodies. If that storm sweeps us away, things can get much more difficult. So, our first practical step is to drop anchor, using the simple ACE formula.
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
Silently and kindly acknowledge whatever is showing up inside you: thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, sensations, urges. Observe what’s going on in your inner world.
Come back into your body
While you are acknowledging those thoughts and feelings, come back into and connect with your body. Everyone will have a different way of doing this, but here are some suggestions:
• Slowly push your feet hard into the floor
• Straighten your back and spine
• Press your fingertips together
• Stretch your arms or neck, and shrug your shoulders
• Breathe slowly
You don’t want to avoid or distract yourself from what’s happening in your inner world. The aim is to be aware of all of your thoughts and feelings, continue to acknowledge them, and at the same time to connect with your physical self.
Engage in what you’re doing
Get a sense of where you are and refocus your attention on what you’re doing. Again, everyone will have their own way of doing this, but you could try some or all of the following:
• Look around the room and notice five things you can see
• Listen for three or four things you can hear
• Notice what you can smell or taste, or sense in your nose and mouth
• Pay attention to what you are doing
• End the exercise by giving your full attention to the task or activity at hand
If you can, run through the ACE cycle slowly three or four times to turn it into a 2 to 3-minute exercise. Don’t skip the A, even if it’s hard. It’s so important to keep acknowledging any thoughts and feelings you have, especially if they are difficult or uncomfortable. If you skip the A, this exercise will turn into a distraction technique – which it’s not supposed to be!
Dropping anchor is a very useful skill. You can use it to:
• Handle difficult thoughts and feelings
• Switch off autopilot and engage in your life
• Ground and steady yourself in difficult situations
• Disrupt rumination, obsessive thoughts, and worrying
• Focus your attention more fully
The better you anchor yourself in the here and now, the more control you have over your actions.
Committed action means effective action, that is, action that is guided by your core values or action you take because it’s truly important to you (even if it brings up difficult thoughts and feelings).
After using the ACE method to drop anchor, you’ll have a lot of control over your actions which makes it easier to do the things that matter. Of course, that includes all those protective measures against the coronavirus like handwashing and social distancing, but it includes other things, too.
For example, what are simple ways to look after yourself, those you live with, and others in your community? What kind, caring, or supportive things can you do? Maybe you can share a kind word with someone in distress, or help with a task or chore for someone who is overwhelmed.
Many of us are spending a lot more time at home, and are wondering what to do with that time. If you feel able, consider things like exercise, cooking healthy or comforting meals, and doing meaningful activities by yourself or with other people. If you’re familiar with mindfulness, this is a great time to practice those skills. Throughout the day, ask yourself, ‘What can I do right now – no matter how small it may be – that improves life for myself or others?’. Whatever the answer is, do it, and engage in it fully – even if the answer is just to sit still with yourself for a moment.
Opening up means being kind to yourself and making room for difficult feelings. At a time like this, uncomfortable feelings are guaranteed to make an appearance: things like fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, frustration, or confusion. These feelings are normal, and we can’t stop them. However, we can open up and make room for them: acknowledge they are normal, allow them to be there (even though they hurt), and treat ourselves kindly.
Being kind to yourself is absolutely essential to cope well with any crisis, especially if you are also a caregiver. If you’ve ever flown in a plane, you will have heard this message: “In the event of an emergency put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Self-kindness is your oxygen mask in a crisis. If you need to look after others, you’ll find it easier if you’re also taking care of yourself.
Ask yourself, if someone you loved was going through this experience, feeling what you are feeling now, how would you treat them and what would you say to them? Then apply that to yourself.
Everything you do should be guided by your core values: What do you want to stand for and what sort of person do you want to be as you go through this? How do you want to treat yourself and others?
Your values might include love, respect, humour, patience, courage, honesty, caring, openness, kindness, or any number of other things. Of course, as the current situation unfolds, there will be obstacles in your life: goals you can’t achieve, things you can’t do, problems for which there are no simple solutions. But you can still live your values in countless different ways, even in the face of all those challenges.
Identify resources for help, support, and advice. Your resources might include friends, family,
neighbours, health professionals, or emergency services. Make sure you have emergency helpline phone numbers to hand and don’t forget to include psychological help in that list.
Reach out. And if you are able to offer support to others, let them know; you can be a resource for other people just as they can be for you.
One very important aspect of this process involves finding a reliable and trustworthy source of information for updates on the coronavirus and guidelines for responding to it. The World Health Organisation website is the most reliable place to find this information, as is hse.ie.
Distance and disinfect
At Bloomfield, we look after people with lots of different needs, so we know the importance of good hand hygiene. Washing your hands well and regularly is one of the most effective things you can do to stay safe and healthy. When you’re out of home for shopping, exercise, or caring for others, practice social distancing and stay at least two metres away from people you don’t live with. Follow official government and health advice around meeting other people, and think about how your actions may affect them and not just you.
This piece has been modified from “FACE COVID – ACT Guidelines for Responding Effectively” © Russ Harris, 2020.