In the wake of the COVID pandemic, for the first time in the history of our nation, all states have simultaneously declared a state of emergency. People are shut in their homes and worried about their health as well as the health of everyone around them. The fear and uncertainty all around us has never been so thick. COVID and our response to it are literally history in the making.
Just like this virus is novel to our bodies, so too are its effects on our minds. It’s called a novel virus because it has never been seen in humans before, hence our immune systems are poorly prepared to defend against it. Likewise, our psychological selves, our coping resources have never been exposed to something like this, and thus are also poorly prepared to assist us.
The news is plentiful about how to keep yourself physically well; therefore, let’s take a moment to discuss how you can keep yourself mentally well.
Staying inside and reducing activity, not to mention for those who live alone – the lack of physical touch from other people- can feel a little like you’ve been in a sensory deprivation tank. Hard to know which way is up, what time of day and day of week it is; it can be literally disorienting. Here are a few things to help keep you grounded. I like to refer to them as practicing our S’s.
1. Stimulate your senses: Light a candle, listen to music, paint a room, take some pictures, open a window, or take a hot bath.
2. Stay connected: We are lucky to have this happen during a time of great technology tools. With video conferencing, group video conferencing, text, email, and social media – we can easily stay in touch with everyone in our circle. Netflix even has a function that allows two people to be on a video call while watching the same movie so that if one person pauses or rewinds, it happens for both people watching.
3. Structure your time: It’s hard to get up and hit the day as you usually would when there is nothing to do and nowhere to go, but we will fare better if we strive to maintain as normal a schedule as possible. It’s the first time many of us are working from home, and not many of us know how to do it properly. It’s very important to have good boundaries and have designated work and personal hours. We suggest sticking to the normal work hours as much as possible. For example, even though you’re working from home the hours of 9 to 5 are dedicated to completing your work. At 5 o’clock, you close the computer, and turn off your phone and tend to your personal life. Try to keep meals at the same time, do your at home exercise at the same time, and go for your daily walk or two at the same time each day. These seem unimportant but the reality is that they help our brains mark the passing of time and provides a sense of order in our environment.
4. Sleep well: I think we can all agree that once and while it’s fun to stay up and pull an all nighter, bingeing on our favorite show. And now seems like a perfect opportunity to do that. However, our mental health does better when we keep a consistent sleep routine especially during times of stress. We suggest going to bed within the same two-hour window each night and waking around the same time each day. This is especially important even if there’s not much to do or reason to wake up.
5. Sip, don’t chug the news: While being informed is very important and can help us feel as sense of empowerment, over consuming the news only adds to our stress and can make us feel overwhelmed. Each time we watch, we hear something that is upsetting and anxiety producing, stimulating our brain’s fight or flight response, and creating a stir of anxious energy. Under usual circumstances, this would prompt us to act, run, fight, or flee. But now we’re stuck inside the house and not able to do anything to release all that energy or stress that is building up. It’s not a good feeling. Taking breaks from the news and social media helps distance yourself, even a little, from what’s going on and helps you avoid getting overwhelmed. Choose one very reliable news source, preferably the CDC, and check the latest news once a day for a short time, no more.
6. Stay active: Whether it’s running on the treadmill, doing yoga, or cleaning out some closets, be sure to stay active and be at least a little productive. It won’t feel like wasted time that was taken from you if you use it well and accomplish something that is meaningful. This is a good time to clean out the garage, attack that stack of books you’ve been meaning to read or clean out the junk drawer that frustrates you on a daily basis. Accomplishing meaningful activities, no matter how small can help defend against feelings of helplessness and create a sense of empowerment.
It’s common and totally normal to feel afraid and stressed during this pandemic. None of us have ever been through something like this so it’s not like we can pull from experience. COVID- it’s the ultimate equalizer, we are all in the same boat- the same boat as every single person on the globe. It can be a time for reflection about what’s truly important and might remind us to be more grateful and tend to our relationships a little more. If you need help dealing with the reality of COVID-19, reach out to our team at (630) 522-2134. Never before have humans been so united against a common goal; let’s emerge from this united too.