The present state of society lately can seem strange, scary, overwhelming, and filled with uncertainty.
People are out of work, stressed financially, confined to our houses, and we are left with memories of what life was like before this crisis.
Memories of taking your pets to the dog park, going to the movie theater, and actually eating inside of a restaurant.
Being a mental health professional, I get to see the kind of effect it can have on many different people’s lives. As a fellow human being, I also feel the effects of the current COVID-19 health crisis has on everyday life. With no concrete end date as to when all of this will calm down, the future can seem cloudy. We know that this difficult time will end – eventually, and things will go back to normal – eventually.
However, I find myself asking: What are we all supposed to do until then?
While a health crisis like this is a once in a lifetime event, how do we survive it?
Better yet, how could we thrive during this difficult time?
The answer is self-care. Mastering the art of self-care.
Most of you will also have people in your lives that you want to care for and that you are worried about right now; however, you can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself. Below are a few ways to take good emotional care of yourself, and increase the likelihood of remaining emotionally healthy until daily life returns to normal.
1. Limit your exposure to news/social media related to COVID-19.
The last thing anyone needs right now is to constantly be looking at/researching/exposed to every little development of the virus, deaths, and outbreaks. If you want to keep up to date on current events, seriously consider only letting yourself read/watch the news/listen to things about COVID for no more than 15 minutes a day. This will make it easier for your concerns about the crisis not to consume your whole daily life and inner thoughts.
2. Establish a routine, and stick to it!
Give yourself structure by making a daily routine for yourself. While this can look many different ways, you might want to create something concrete on paper. Before going to bed each night, write down what you need to do for the next day. You can even give yourself times if you feel it would help provide more structure. An example of this could be: 3-5pm ~ Write blog on self-care, 6-6:30pm ~ make dinner, etc. When the situation gets to be too overwhelming, there is some comfort to be had in just looking at your daily to do list.
3. Keep a regular bedtime and time you wake up.
Sleep has a huge impact on mood. While staying up late or sleeping in can be wonderful, be careful not to do it too often. Especially now. Sticking to a set bedtime and wake up time will make it easier for you to go to sleep, make sure you get enough rest, and give mind (and body) the comfort of a routine during these uncertain times. See a previous blog I wrote having to do with sleep hygiene for more info on this topic.
4. Don’t overdo it!
During times of great stress, try to avoid of putting added pressure on yourself (both physically and mentally). Some people may feel the need to keep busy. While that can be a completely healthy thing, be careful not to overdo things and exhaust yourself. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be doing something every minute of every day. Stick to your daily schedule. Once the things listed on your schedule are complete, then take it easy the rest of the day.
5. Reach out and connect with others.
While you may not be able to see your friends/family in person right now, technology can really help in this situation. Consider making plans to talk to your friends or family online with video, over the phone, or on FaceTime. Seeing familiar faces can be an enormous comfort. It is easy to get disconnected from others with shelter in place. Reach out and talk to others.
6. See a medical doctor if necessary.
If you start to feel like this situation is really taking a toll on you (physically and mentally) strongly consider talking to a medical doctor. Medication may help you during this difficult time. Seeing a medical doctor is not just for when you are struggling with physical symptoms, medication may help with emotional troubles as well.
7. Practice relaxation techniques and mindfulness.
These can be techniques taught to you in therapy, that you have read in a book, or that you learned while looking online. There are many excellent relaxation videos on YouTube for you to use when feeling stressed. Be careful! These exercises should make you feel calm, safe, and never involve doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or puts you at risk in any way.
8. Express yourself.
Don’t fall into the trap that you have to keep all of your challenging feelings inside. Letting them out and expressing yourself can be profoundly therapeutic. Call up your friends/family, journal, create a video blog, or engage in some form of art to get your emotions out. Many people report finding this to be beneficial.
There has been a vast collection of research that supports a positive connection between exercise/physical activity and improvements in people’s moods. While you may not be able to go to the gym at the moment, try to hold yourself accountable for remaining on your exercise routine. If you don’t have a routine yet, this is an excellent time to start one. You don’t need fancy exercise equipment to get your body moving. Practice yoga in your living room, fun with your dog around your back yard, or order from weights online to use. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better. You might be surprised just how much a little exercise can help with the way you are feeling.
10. See a therapist.
It takes a strong person to reach out and ask for help. Consider making an appointment with a therapist to get added help in thriving during these difficult times. A therapist can offer professional guidance throughout the course of COVID-19, teach you more advanced coping skills, and provide continued support for as long as you feel you need it.