People across the world are learning to adjust to a new way of life as we implement physical distancing to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19. For many of us this means working from home, homeschooling our children, and staying away from friends and family. It also means that our usual coping strategies may no longer be available to us. Maintaining awareness of our mental health is essential during periods of upheaval and change. Here are some tips for navigating this challenging time.
1. Routine - When life feels upside down it is important to maintain some sense of normalcy. Implement a consistent daily routine that includes time for work/projects, leisure, meals, and self-care. Write it down if it helps you. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. When you wake up in the morning get ready as if you were going out for the day. Here is an example of a routine one mother implements for her family.
2. Take care of the basics - Make sure you are eating well, drinking enough water, moving your body, and getting enough sleep. Though these suggestions may seem obvious, taking care of your body has a profound impact on mental health.
3. Stay connected- Human beings are social creatures. It is crucial to maintain social connection even with physical distancing. Talk to your loved ones on the phone or by using videochat. Start a group text or email a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Make sure you are talking to others every day. Get creative and find new ways to stay connected.
4. Go outside - If you are not sick, ensure that you are spending time outside every day while maintaining physical distance from others. Spending time in nature and getting fresh air is vital to overall well-being and it will help you feel less trapped. If you are sick try stepping out onto your balcony or porch to get some air.
5. Help others - If you are feeling anxious or restless consider helping others in your community. It is a great way to get out of your own head while making a difference. If you are able to, consider picking up groceries for an elderly neighbour or donating food to a local shelter. You could also try using British Columbia's new 211 service that connects vulnerable seniors with volunteers. Simply picking up the phone to check in with someone who lives alone is another good option. Your phone call could end up being the be the bright spot of someone's day.
6. Limit your news intake - This includes social media. The volume of information available and the pace at which the news is changing can feel overwhelming. Decide on an amount of time you want to spend checking the news (no more than an hour) and choose a few reputable sources to get your information from. Make sure one of your sources is a local source so you can stay informed of changes going on in your community.
7. Define space in your home - If you are working from home, try to define a space in your home that you use only for work so it feels like there is more of a separation between your work life and your home life.
8. Have compassion - Be kind to others during this time. They have never been through anything like this either and most people are feeling vulnerable. Give others the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
9. Be creative - Take this as an opportunity to do things you usually don't have time for. Work on household projects you have been putting on the back burner, take on a new creative endeavor, or learn how to do something new. Many museums are now offering online virtual tours and universities are holding free online courses. Read a book you have been meaning to read or finish a puzzle. Find things to do that make you feel joy.
10. Find something you can control - The current situation has many people feeling powerless. Find something you can control and take charge: organize your junk drawer, make a to-do list and check off completed items, or engage in activities that you know you do well.
11. Reach out for help - If you are feeling overwhelmed, lonely, scared, or sad, try being honest about your feelings to a trusted friend. Doing this will help you feel less alone. Ask for help from others if you are sick and cannot get your own supplies. Consider getting the help of a counsellor if you feel like you need more support. Many mental health professionals have made the switch to seeing clients remotely, which can be just as effective as in-person counselling.
12. Lower your expectations - Some days you are not going to be as productive as you want to be. These are not normal times. It is important to practice radical acceptance of yourself and your current situation. Be kind to yourself and treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend.
13. Grounding exercises - If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, try practicing some grounding exercises that can help you focus on the "here and now." Anxiety worsens when we are focus on the past or the future. Meditation, breathing exercises or taking a mindful walk are just a few suggestions.
14. Empower yourself with knowledge - A lot of the anxiety people are experiencing right now is related to feelings of powerlessness. Many people do not have basic information about the virus or how to protect themselves. This video of Dr. David Price, an ICU doctor working in one of New York City's COVID-19 hospitals, gives information about the virus and how it spreads, as well as simple and practical advice for protecting yourself and your family. He emphasizes that you do not need to be afraid of people or of going outside if you take the necessary safety precautions.
15. Gratitude - Research shows that practicing gratitude improves mood and helps shift your perspective. Try writing a gratitude list (a simple list of 5 things you are grateful for) every night before you go to bed and see what it does for your mood. Try to include the little things that happen throughout the day. Doing this regularly makes it easier to notice the positive, beautiful moments of your day.