After Covid-19 is all over, we will never want to hear the words “unprecedented” and “social distancing” ever again! But in the meantime, we are still living in strange times, and the longer we are in self-isolation/lockdown, the more difficult it becomes to our mental health.
Here are some things that will help keep your mental health in awesome check.
NOTE: Please do keep in mind that it’s important to have realistic expectations. Not every day will be a good day, and not everyone will feel they have the energy to use this time to be productive – and that’s okay! You don’t have to come out of this pandemic having written a novel, learned a new language or taken an online university course! There is no need to push yourself to do any of these things, but adding some structure and things-to-do to your day can help tremendously.
How to Keep Your Mental Health in Awesome Check
Stick to a routine.
Try to stick to a regular schedule when possible, even if it’s during the week only. Maintaining structure and routine may be helpful especially during a time when everything feels out of control. You don’t have to follow a strict hourly schedule but setting blocks of time for certain tasks can help make you feel better.
“Many people think that completely free, unstructured time sounds like paradise, but the reality is that the boundaries around our lives help us function most effectively. If every regular task (e.g., meals, showers, brushing your teeth, when to work, when to go to sleep) suddenly becomes something you need to think about or make a choice about, it can be very draining,” says Jon Reeves, clinical psychologist in Seattle, WA. “Having a fence around a playground actually helps kids play more freely, because they know where they can and can’t go. We adults aren’t so different. This may be especially true for mothers trying to make choices for their kids too.”
Get enough sleep.
It may be tempting to stay up late watching movies every night and sleeping in. But try to maintain a regular sleep schedule as you would pre-Covid 19. “Working toward going to bed at the same time you would when kids were going to school and the life we were accustomed to, is a great way to get back to some form of normalcy,” says Bill Fish, Managing Editor of SleepFoundation.org.
“Each adult needs between seven and nine hours of quality sleep on a nightly basis, and our bodies crave consistency. Each of us are equipped with a 24 hour internal body clock known as our circadian rhythm. It tells us when to rest and when to be alert, but it demands a routine.”
Yes it’s tempting to stay in pajamas all day, and there are some days that you absolutely should and will. But for the most part, try to get up, shower and get dressed as you normally would pre-pandemic. Dr. Michael Carollo, PsyD Psychological Fellow & Outpatient Therapist in Manhattan warns not to neglect Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). “It’s so easy to become lax around our basic hygiene when we don’t have the social pressure that comes with leaving our homes. While this can be okay for a random day off (think snow day), given the current plan to remain at home for extended periods, it’s important to be intentional about ADLs. This means continuing to complete basic hygiene tasks such as waking up at your usual time, showering and changing clothes daily.”
The simple act of washing your face and brushing your teeth, and putting one some clothes will help to give you purpose. It’s quite amazing how little things like putting on makeup and doing your hair can impact our mood.
Stress eating is likely at an all-time high but try not to throw self-discipline out the window. Indulge once in a while but avoid over-indulging all the time. The last thing you want is to develop bad eating habits and feel crappy once the lockdown is lifted. “Steer clear of sugary drinks, sugary foods, and too much caffeine. Fluctuations in blood sugar and adrenaline can add to a sense of anxiety,” says Dr. Carla Manly, Clinical Psychologist and author of Joy from Fear.
Go for a walk every day.
If you are concerned of physical distancing, go out earlier in the morning or later in the evening. Find less-travelled streets or open trails to walk through; spending even 20 minutes on nature walk can offer so many benefits. I find my neighbourhood’s side streets are best because I can easily move onto the curbside if someone is using the sidewalk.
Take up yoga.
The daily practice of yoga and meditation are beneficial to keeping your mind and body centered. Yes, regular exercise such as jogging, home workout videos and other physical workouts are great to keep the body moving. But yoga and meditation benefits also help ease stress, reduce anxiety too.
“Mindfulness meditation has been repeatedly shown to lead to stress reduction and long-term mental health benefits, so use your extra free time as an opportunity to start or refine your mindfulness practice,” says Dr. Patricia Celan, a Psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.
Focus on self-care.
Take some time to be gentle and pamper yourself by taking naps, watching movies, reading books, and taking long baths. “Now is NOT the time to scrimp on little luxuries that make you feel great. Soothing essential oils such as lavender are wonderful for calming frayed nerves. And upbeat, citrusy essential oils are wonderful mood boosters,” says Dr. Manley.
“Try bubble baths, reading books you’ve been putting off, download a couple meditation/mindfulness apps, and listen to your favourite music,” says Celan.
Begin a new activity or revive an old hobby.
While we feel a sense of loss and lack of control during these times, find something that you CAN control. Organize your office, clean out closets, deep-clean the house. “Focus on the things you can control in your life at this time, rather than obsessing about the uncontrollable state of the pandemic. For example, focus on your hobbies or exercise that you can do at home,” says Celan.
You may not have the energy to find something new to enjoy but now would be an opportune time to pick up the guitar, paint on canvas, or garden. Find something that you enjoy, whether it’s a physical activity or a creative outlet; it will help keep you occupied and your mind distracted and engaged.
“Make consistent, concerted efforts to take up old hobbies that you have not had the time to do in years. This can help you to feel productive, engaged, artistic, and happy. Activities could include painting, knitting, reading, musical instruments, baking/cooking, jewelry making,” says Alexandra Grundleger, PhD, psychologist at Grundlegertherapy.com.
I found the physical act of painting walls to be soothing; plus two weeks of small home renovations lasted a few weeks, keeping my mind occupied and physically moving.
Do things with your family.
Try to take advantage of the positives of being home with family by doing activities you would not otherwise be able to do if you were working outside the home. “Encourage the family to take small hikes in the woods together, do art projects together, plant flowers, watch movies–anything that gets the family together increasing endorphins and positive emotions,” says Grundleger.
Keep in touch with friends.
Now is the time to stay in touch with your family and friends. Pick up the phone, or do a video call via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime so that you can see each other as well. Connect with others to support one another. Your kids already have this skill down pat! They’ve been having virtual playdates with friends on SnapChat and TikTok; ask them for help to set you up on your device, if you’re not sure how.
“People are scared, bored, lonely, and stressed out as a result of nationwide closures, social-distancing measures, grief, and even job loss, so people are struggling with their mental health at unprecedented rates. Staying connected to your friends and family not only helps you, but it will help others as well,” says Dr. Brian Wind Ph.D., co-chair of the American Psychological Association, and Chief Clinical Executive at JourneyPure.
“When we are engaged with our loved ones and are encouraging healthy relationships, we tend to be happier and more fulfilled ourselves. Staying in constant contact with your support group will help hold you accountable, provide an outlet to discuss challenging emotions with, and keep you grounded during this time.”
Hug your kids.
Physical touch including hugging and cuddling can boost overall health, reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Plus, who doesn’t love snuggles with loved ones?
Be kind and gentle to yourself and others.
Being cooped up indoors for the most part can cause anyone – including your children – to feel irritable and short-fused. Be kind to yourself and your family members during this time, and take deep breaths before you feel you’re going to become snappy. Reeves suggests that you over-communicate with those who are closest to you.
“Ask them what they need, share what you need, and remain open to new information. One of your kids may really need time with you one hour and want to completely avoid you the next. You might need time hugging your kids or shutting them out behind a locked door! Pay attention and communicate. Use this weird time as an opportunity to develop self-monitoring and communication among you, your family, and whoever else you find yourself quarantined with.”
Limit social media.
Don’t keep the radio or TV on in the background all day. Check the news once or twice a day to get the latest update. Watching CNN or CBC all day long is only going to make you feel worse as the news is regurgitated to fill the time. Instead, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit on how much you’ll consume.
“Most of the population is likely reading too much of the news right now, and that contributes to anxiety. Remind yourself that you cannot control what is going on and you can’t change anything by obsessing, so block out all sources of news until a particular time every day or every other day, and plan to de-stress afterwards with something calming like a movie, music, or meditation,” says Celan. “You can be responsible and keep up to date with the news without allowing this pandemic rule your life with the constant bombardment of updates.”
Dr. Manly suggests watching the news in the morning, and not in the evening, as the news can trigger stress and increase anxiety and you wouldn’t want that to interrupt your sleep. “When possible, obtain your news from the radio or in print due to the less explosive, less emotionally triggering aspects of written or audio-only news.”
Also, be mindful of where you’re getting your news from. “Choose your news provider carefully, taking care to select a news service that tends to be less reactive and more pragmatic in nature,” says Dr. Manly.
Every morning before you get out of bed, give thanks to three things that you’re grateful for. I tend to thank even the act of waking up and being alive as the first thing. I then thank the universe and/or God for my health, my family and their health.
Pay attention to the things in your life that are good. “The truth is, there are still a lot of things that are going pretty well. For most of us, our feet are still working, our eyes are still working, we can walk and talk. We have food in the refrigerator, a roof over our heads, and shoes on our feet,” says Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C of Baltimore Therapy Center.
“We can choose to focus on what’s going wrong, or we can choose to focus on what’s going right. Try it out – spend a few minutes a day thinking about how great it is to have feet. You may find you feel a little bit better. Keep yourself sane by focusing on the good in your life.”
Practicing gratitude can also help us shift our emotions from the negative that we know is happening around us, to the positive that is present in our current bubble. “Gratitude helps us to build resilience and improve our health as well,” says Rachel Eddins, Licensed Professional Counselor/Therapist.
Notice the good in the world.
While much of the world right now is negative and frightening, there are also so much good! Focus on the stories of people who are helping, donating, and supporting others in tremendous ways. If you’re able, curate your social media feed so that you’re following good news stories. Counter-balance the negative stories with ones that are filled with love, charity and hope.
Help if you can.
If you’re feeling helpless in your current situation, find little ways to give back to others. Participate in applauding medical workers with your neighbours, make a Thank You sign for your front yard, learn how to sew masks, check in on your friends and elderly family members, shop locally, and order take-out from your favourite family restaurant. These little things can make a big impact to others, and to your own mental health.
“Send care packages. Write handwritten letters. Send food to a loved one’s house,” says Nicole Arzt, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, serves on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast. “Research continues to highlight that volunteering/giving back helps people feel happier – and it can make them less depressed and anxious overall.”
Reach out to a professional.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and depression, reach out to a professional. Many mental health providers have the ability connect with their clients via telephone or video chat. Call your family doctor and ask for a referral.