I’ve been talking with many clients and families about how to cope with the COVID19 / coronavirus situation and the self-isolation or quarantine that many of us are experiencing. The CDC and state and local health departments have a lot of information about the medical/health issues, but not so much about how to keep ourselves healthy mentally and emotionally. While I can’t do much to change or control what is happening, what I can do is share my thoughts in hopes it might be helpful to others. So here are my suggestions - let me know what you think!
Make a plan for the day in the morning, and in the evening, evaluate your day and whether you did what you wanted and needed to do.
Write out a weekly schedule and set goals for yourself.
Wake up and go to bed consistently, at reasonable times.
Dress and keep clean like usual – shower, wear comfortable clothes, brush your teeth.
Take your meds and look after your health – if it’s hard to keep track of what day it is, use a pillbox/medi-set or list it on your weekly schedule and daily task list.
Eat well and drink plenty of fluids. Under stress, we may forget or overindulge
Make time every day for work or “have to” tasks as well as self-care and “want to” tasks. If possible, have separate spaces for different activities.
Get out at least once a day for fresh air. To limit contact with others, try going out early in the morning or later in the evening, go on less-traveled streets. If you’re high-risk or not able to get out, open the windows for fresh air.
Get some physical exercise each day. There are programs on TV and lots of free videos online, or you can just exercise or dance to your favorite music.
Connect with others to support each other: family, friends, colleagues, neighbors – by phone, text, or email. Set up virtual get-togethers to play games or do activities together via video calls such as FaceTime, Skype, Hangouts, etc.
Have an accessible collection of things you love and enjoy and that help you feel better when times are hard. Everyone’s toolbox will look different. One strategy is to be “sensory diverse” – include various things you can see, touch, taste, smell, etc. (there are lots of suggestions online). Make a bin or box that you can keep these items in to use as for first-aid when you’re feeling overwhelmed (or even just bored).
To prevent feeling overwhelmed, do one “chunk” at a time – do whatever task or activity feels manageable for now. We don’t know how long this situation will last, or what it will look like next week or next month. Give yourself permission to not worry about things until after that chunk is done.
Pick a long-term project: learn to play an instrument (free videos online), do a big puzzle, read a book series or watch a whole season of a new show, knit – something that will keep your focus and attention on something that’s a break from everything else. Again, do it in chunks to not get overwhelmed.
Learn how to cook something new with whatever you have available in your home – try apps or websites like SuperCook, AllRecipes DinnerSpinner, Big Oven, Epicurious, etc.
Help others as you are able. If finances are tight, find ways to give back that don’t involve spending money – send thank you notes, forward inspiring stories, or even share funny pictures. If you can, check in with neighbors and offer to help grocery shop. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose when so many things are out of our control.
Control what you can: organize your books, clean out your closet, file your paperwork. When bigger things are out of reach, something we can do helps us stay grounded.
Movements that are repetitive (coloring, painting, crochet) and left/right (walking, biking, drumming) can help us better regulate ourselves in response to stress.
Creative expressive art (drawing, dancing, playing music, singing, sculpting, knitting) help us to connect to emotions and relieve stress.
Limit news media and social media and even conversation around COVID, especially around children or people who are anxious. We are being overwhelmed with information that changes constantly and is often sensational or alarmist. Limit yourself to a maximum amount of time each day or week for checking a few trusted sources.
Focus on the positive. Mr Rogers said “Look for the helpers” – notice what is good and how people are supporting each other. Balance the heavy news with hopeful stories.
Keep your sense of humor. When there is so much stress and worry, it’s important to find something funny each day (and share it with others). Laugh at the absurdities in your day, or find lots of laughs online: cat videos, stand-up comedy, etc.
Give others a break. This situation can bring out the worst in people. If someone seems rude, keep in mind they may actually be very anxious and not realize how they are coming across. “You don’t have to show up to every argument you are invited to.” We’re all doing the best we can to survive this.
Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. Don’t expect to declutter the whole house or get the entire “to do” list done. We all are experiencing too many things, along with stress and fear. A psychological approach called “radical self acceptance” – without question, simply accept everything about yourself and your current situation. We cannot fail at this – we haven’t experienced anything like this before, we have no manual or map to guide us, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.
Remember this is all temporary. While it seems like this might never end, and the road ahead is unknown, remind yourself that this situation is one that will eventually pass and we will return to feeling free and safe in the future.
Learn your lessons. Times like these can feel senseless and sad – the same feelings that are common responses to trauma. Some key approaches to healing from trauma are to find your “agency” or what you can control and what positive outcomes you can work toward, and find the meaning and areas of growth that come out of the negative experiences. We can each look at what we can learn about ourselves and what changes we want to make, as well as decide how we want to relate to our loved ones, our communities, and the world.
Have kids make a self-care comfort box in a shoe-box or bin they can decorate.
Spend extra time playing. Kids rarely say how they feel, but they’ll communicate through play. Play may involve pretend doctor visits, questions about illness, etc. – keep in mind that play is how children process information and solve problems. You don’t have to “fix it” but you can model how to cope.
Expect kids to act up and prepare yourself to respond gently to problem behaviors. Everyone is struggling with our routines being disrupted, and this hugely impacts children, whose routines help them feel safe. Kids are having increased anxiety, nightmares, trouble sleeping, difficulty dealing with others or being alone. Focus on connecting with them emotionally and keeping things as stable as possible.
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