Feeling Stir-Crazy? Try this.

Sharon Salzberg
May 12, 2020

If you’re feeling stir-crazy right now, you’re not alone!  Social distancing and quarantine have caused many of us to feel restless, cut off, and very fragile – not to mention all of the anxieties about our health, our families, economic insecurity, and so many other things. This is entirely normal.

Here are two practices that may be helpful to you: reflection and meditation.

First, it’s worth reflecting on what’s at stake. I personally am vulnerable: I'm over 65 and I have asthma, so I have a pre-existing bronchial condition. Last year, I was very sick. So I feel the importance of social distancing personally. Your staying at home is a gracious and graceful act for people like me.

It's also worth reflecting on the many people who are not able to practice social distancing. All kinds of people: doctors, nurses, people who work in mass transit, or restaurants, or grocery stores. When I was sick last year and I was recovering, I had home healthcare aides, and I think about them. They’ve got to work and they're keeping people going. So many people like them are out there.

Reflections like these can help put our own situations in perspective.

That's not to say that the distress of being stuck at home is not real. It is real. It may be physical: you may feel like you're just going to jump out of your skin. It could be mental: you can plan and plan and plan and plan, which we think gives us some feeling of security, but which often just makes the restlessness worse.

Again, these are normal reactions. Don’t judge yourself for having them. If you’re feeling sluggish, move the body. If you are able to, take a walk. Don’t let stir-craziness degenerate into something worse.

There are also several meditative tools you can use when you’re feeling restless.

For example, you can shift from seated meditation to walking meditation, paying attention to the feelings of your feet on the floor. Even in a studio apartment, you can walk back and forth.

Or you can join one of the many new online communities doing yoga or Qigong, or other contemplative movement practices.

Another meditative practice to soothe the nervous system is to pay attention to ordinary experience. For example, in these times, one experience we may be having more often is the feeling of washing our hands. You can focus on the present-moment, physical sensations of your hands in the water.  

Ordinary experiences that we normally overlook can be very comforting and easeful. 

Finally, one helpful practice when you’re feeling restless is to create mental space, because restlessness is like a big energy trying to move through a tight, cramped, and closed-in space.  

So think about what creates that sense of openness or spaciousness for you. For me, it might be doing lovingkindness meditation for all beings everywhere: opening up to all people, wishing that everyone be happy and peaceful, not tuning in to their fragility or vulnerability in this moment, but focusing on openness, generosity, and kindness. For some people, finding mental spaciousness may be as simple as gazing at the sky.

So ask: what creates that sense of openness for you? That's what's really going to help, because then the restless energy can actually pass through. 

And then you can devote that energy to coping with this crisis, and to helping others do the same.

Sharon Salzberg is a renowned meditation teacher who played a crucial role in bringing mindfulness to the West. Sharon is a New York Times bestselling author of nine books, including Lovingkindness, Real Happiness and Real Love.

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