By Dana Reid D.O. - Child and Adult Psychiatrist
During this time of great uncertainty, most of us are feeling the entire spectrum of emotions. Fear can swallow us when there is a disruption to our world as we know it and as the unknown looms out before us. It can feel very scary not knowing what may happen to us or our loved ones and not knowing how things may change or how long this will last. The feeling of having no control over the situation can be very unsettling.
Additionally, we are ALL grieving. We may be grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of our sense of stability and security, the loss of our freedom to do what we want when we want, the loss of our jobs or businesses, the loss of big celebrations like graduations, weddings, planned trips, playing in a state championship game or the loss of time spent with our dear loved ones. Even as we are feeling uncertain or even lost, it is imperative that we prioritize self care and our mental health. Stress can substantially compromise our health and immune systems, and the spiral of anxiety will exacerbate our fear. Although we might be tempted to numb out these uncomfortable emotions, it is necessary to allow ourselves to feel them. It is important that we try to maintain a strong sense of normalcy as best as we can. We need to focus on what we can control if we are to find any stability in these trying times.
Here are some tips that can help you care for your body and mind during this difficult time:
1. Keep a consistent structure and routine. Wake up at the same time every morning and try to go to bed at your usual bedtime. Get up and get ready for your day as if you were going to school or work. I know you might want to, but do not stay in your pajamas. You will be surprised by how much better you feel after you take a shower and get dressed. Keep meal times the same and for those in virtual school or working from home, work during the day and during similar hours. Open the blinds to get some sunshine and don’t spend your whole day in bed under the covers.
2. Eat nourishing meals and snacks. Stay focused on fueling up with nutritious foods, and include a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy grains to help your body feel its best. Options might be limited now due to factors beyond your control, but do the best you can. Stay hydrated and limit alcohol and too much caffeine.
3. Stay connected with friends. Physical distancing and staying inside can cause more social isolation which is not good for our mental health. Get on a Netflix Party and watch a movie with your friends, get a Zoom game night together, connect on video game platforms. There are so many avenues to stay connected by utilizing the available technology. Reach out to your friends and check in on them and see how they are doing.
4. Get out in nature a couple of times a day. Sit on the patio, go for a walk/run, go on a family bike ride. It is therapeutic to escape the four walls of our house from time to time. Just remember to keep a 6-foot distance between yourself and others. If you are unable to get outside, open the windows! Sunlight is pure vitamin D, and vitamin D is a natural mood booster.
5. Make family memories. With more time together as a family, this is a great opportunity to create new memories and bond. Play board games or watch movies together. Cook meals and bake together. Try a new hobby together. Someday, you may look back at these times and be thankful for these memories and times together.
6. Limit your news. Limit how much time you spend watching the news or reading social media posts about the pandemic. It is important to stay informed so rely on 1 or 2 news sources that share accurate information. Absorbing the 24/7 news cycle is unhealthy. Stay informed but don’t spend all day everyday refreshing the coronavirus updates. Also, be careful watching too much news around kids.
7. Exercise and move. Daily movement is a keystone of physical and mental health. Working out from home is gaining tremendous momentum, and all you need is a living room floor or another small space to move. If you belong to a gym, see if your gym is streaming classes or has on demand classes. YouTube has free workout videos and some companies like Peloton are offering a free 90-day app for everyone during this time. Instagram has a number of free at-home workout videos for every experience level. The workout does not have to be perfect or pretty or use the latest and greatest equipment. All that matters is you get your heart rate up and maybe even a little sweat going.
8. Show compassion and kindness. When we take the time to help another person it makes us feel good and allows us to stay connected to others. Offer to pick up groceries and medications for a neighbor or someone who is elderly. Have an extra roll of toilet paper? Give it to someone who needs it. This whole situation gets a little easier to bear when we are looking out for one another. We might be physically distancing, but we are all in this together.
9. Be creative. Creative outlets can be very therapeutic and is a great distraction from what is going on around us. Try your hand at painting a canvas or doing fun crafts. Start journaling, writing or blogging. Decorate a small area in your place. Try a new hobby or learn a new instrument or language. Sign up for an online classes like photography or cooking. With more free time, this may be the opportunity to discover those interests you always wish you had the time for.
10. Show gratitude. When it seems like we are surrounded by negativity, it is paramount we shift our perspective and appreciate every small ray of light in our lives. Start that gratitude journal you always thought about starting. Write out 2 or 3 things every day that you are grateful for. Try to be specific. It might be easy to come up with a whole list, but if you are struggling to come up with even one, remember it can be simple. The kids may have drained you, but aren’t you grateful for the afternoon spent chasing them around the yard or laughing with them? What about that beautiful sunrise that you woke up or that cup of coffee that you enjoyed?
11. Yoga and meditation. Meditation and yoga reduce anxiety and improve sleep. There are several meditation apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer. You can do yoga videos on YouTube. Spotify has numerous guided meditations for when you need to ground yourself in the present moment. Something as simple as listening to calming sounds or music for a few minutes a day can relieve a tense mind.
I hope you have found these tips helpful and are able to incorporate them into your days ahead. Remember to stay in the moment, be present and stay connected with others. We are all in this together!
Dana Reid D.O.