COVID 19 and mental health: Tips to maintain emotional safety and well-being

March 31, 2020

COVID 19 and mental health: Tips to maintain emotional safety and well-being

1. Establish a daily structure routine. This is #1 for a reason – it is critical that, during this time of uncertainty in our larger exterior world, we increase predictability/certainty in our smaller world (e.g., our home). Our brains experience a sense of safety, when things are predictable and, as a result, can remain in “low stress mode.” Lack of predictability increases stress responses. Do your best to have the basics begin and end at the same time, everyday (e.g., sleep/wake, meals, work, exercise, outside/leisure time).

2. Fuel your body properly. This is simple and important. You get from your body, what you put into it. Eat well and drink lots of water. Aim for a diet that includes lots of nutrient-rich foods. Plan to drink half of your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. (e.g., a 100 lb person should drink 50 oz of water per day).

3. Get outside! Sunshine and fresh air go a long way towards lifting our spirits and allowing us to feel connected to the larger world. Even better, try to get 20-30 min outside, early in the am. This will help align your circadian rhythm and give you a boost of energy for daily tasks. We also get that wonderful boost of Vitamin D from the sunshine, which we all know is helpful for immunity. Try to get 30+ minutes of exercise daily. This can take form of a long walk, a nature hike, an exercise video (if weather is bad), lifting weights if you have them, a run, dance. Our bodies are made to move and movement will be rewarded with improved mood and reduced anxiety.

4. Connect with others. Utilize all of this wonderful technology to make phone calls, face time, zoom meetups, texting, writing a letter. Be sure to monitor the quality of relationships, in which you are investing your time. If you leave a conversation feeling uplifted, grounded, comforted, etc., that is a good place to invest your energy. If you leave a conversation feeling drained, depleted, anxious, or upset, it may be a good time to set a boundary.

5. Take care of your ADL’s (activities of daily living). Our brains are accustomed to the routine of bathing, getting dressed for the day, brushing our teeth. Maintaining these simple routines sends a message that our lives are safe and predictable. Also, it is good hygiene for your roommates 😉

6. Try to remain focused on the hour to hour, the day to day, rather than overwhelming yourself with the uncertainty of the long-term. Allow yourself to break your day down into smaller pieces, so you can have a sense of achievement, something to look forward to, and maintain structure.

7. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the changes and increased demands, evaluate your expectations of yourself. The demands of maintaining a household, working remotely or working in a risky environment, caring for our families, homeschooling, are a LOT to manage. Give yourself permission to let things go – let go of some of the expectations for a perfectly clean home, let go of your child having to complete every subject without issue, let go of needing to respond to everyone that contacts you, etc.

8. Utilize the opportunity to take on projects or learn something new. Something that you were wishing you “had the time to do.”

9. Monitor your media/information consumption. There are information sources, galore. Some of us feel soothed by consuming information, while others experience increased stress/anxiety when faced with a lot of information. Identify which “camp” you lean towards and respond accordingly. Set boundaries for yourself with how much information you will consume and audit the resources that you are receiving information from – we all know there is a mix of reliable/unreliable information. Remember, media leans towards sensationalizing information and will often highlight the more “scary, dramatic” information, rather than give a balanced report.

11. With respect to managing the kids at home, focus on “connection before correction.” This is as much of a change for the children as it is or the adults. They will respond to the changes, similar to how you respond (e.g., if you are frantic, stressed, and losing your temper, they will experience this as an unpredictable, scary time and display similar loss of control). Connecting with our kids through conversation, creative time, reading, etc., is good for both the adult and the child. It will provide comfort and anxiety reduction, all around.

12. Find something that gives you a sense of purpose and devote energy towards it. Whether it is in a helping fashion towards a community member/agency, if it is re-organizing a closet, or accomplishing work-related tasks. . . if it gives you a sense of agency and accomplishment, that is a good place to devote some energy.

13. Find time to meditate or focus on your breath, daily. Something as simple as a 10-15 min window of “belly breathing” or meditation, can go a long way to reducing our body’s physical tension. There are plenty of apps that offer quick meditations. Put in your headphones, find a quiet space, and allow yourself to focus on just your breath.

14. Find humor anywhere you can – seek it out!

15. Lastly, remember that “this too shall pass.” Follow the recommended guidelines for reducing risk of getting the virus and focus on all the “silver linings” (e.g., more family time, reduced “fear of missing out,” less activities to take up your weekend, etc.). This is a “new normal,” but it is temporary.

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