By Leah Harris

People with “Lived Wisdom” Share Strategies for Navigating Panic, Worry, and Isolation

The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people around the world feeling isolated, vulnerable, and afraid. But for many people who have lived experience with mental health and substance use struggles, these feelings are not new. And out of that lived wisdom, peer supporters around the world are leading the way in sharing strategies and survival tips. 

One such guide was recently published by The Dulwich Centre, an Australian organization promoting narrative approaches to therapy and community work. The project, entitled “Lived wisdom on panic, worry and isolation – Stories to support the community amid the COVID-19 crisis from mental health service users, survivors and ex-patients,’” was created to highlight the knowledge and extraordinary skills of these communities. “

An overarching theme from survivors of trauma and difficult times is the importance of making a commitment to do something each day to resource yourself. While there is no one-size-fits-all to healing and survival, here are some strategies that people are using to stay grounded.

  • Take a break from screen time. Soothe your frazzled nervous system by spending regular moments of quiet time away from screens, and moving your body or simply being in the outdoors (away from people) if it is accessible. Ashley at PEERS says, “To maintain my wellness in these times, I walk outside in the afternoon. It helps me not to be stuck to my computer all day, and it forces me not to stay in bed all day.” 
  • Lean into the arts. The arts have always been a lifeline in troubled times. For some people, the healing vibrations of music are essential for soothing distress. “Music is a daily wellness tool for me. The beats, sounds and words help me to relax, gain energy when feeling drained, escape when I’m dealing with stressful events,” says Zakiya at PEERS. Check out Club Quarantine if you’re missing the dance floor. Or watch this entire Brooklyn neighborhood holding together to the strains of the Notorious B.I.G.! Here is a continually-updated list of Bay Area arts events you can stream while sheltering in place. 
  • Express yourself. In times of great stress, creative expression can be a lifeline. Now is the time to lean into your creativity. Some people are keeping an online journal, art journal, or making a zine about what it’s like to be alive right now. Others are crafting DIY face masks.
  • Focus on what you can control. Folks with lived wisdom who’ve navigated stress and trauma emphasize that it’s crucial to refocus on the things that are within your control. “The worst bit about it is the fact that someone is telling you that you can or can’t do something. Finding ways to feel like you have control over what you do in these times can be counter-affirming, like deciding when you sleep or eat, organizing objects or furniture or making something like art or food,” offers one participant in the Dulwich Centre guide.
  • Access peer support. It goes without saying, especially if you’re isolating alone, to connect with the large and growing number of life-saving peer supports available online. Just some of many opportunities are listed in the resource section below.
  • Get involved in a mutual aid project. Many people are participating in mutual aid projects of all kinds; there is so much that can be done to support one another, even while physically distant. “Increasingly over the years, I find I’m less interested in accepting things that are not OK, and I find getting politically active is a great way to tackle my fears, by trying to help create a world that is safer for all of us,” says another participant in the Dulwich Centre guide.

Please remember that even though it may feel like it, you’re not alone, and we want you to know it. PEERS is working on a PEP Talks video project for community members to share their lived wisdom and stories with one another online. 

Learn more about recording and sharing your own video here.


Lived Experience Wisdom

Peer Support Groups Online

Mutual Aid Projects