Whether you are working or not, whether you live alone or live with others, whether you are struggling with new feelings or issues or these emotions feel very familiar, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Whatever the reason is for reading this blog, here are some tips to cope and get through this time:
1. Develop a schedule or some type of structure. First, develop a routine when you start your day and before you go to sleep. Try going to bed and waking up around the same time every day so your body gets on a schedule for itself, allowing your body to start feeling tired on its own. This will help with sleep issues. Second, find activities to anchor your day. Identify at least two things in addition to your morning and nighttime routines that you will do around the same time or in the same order. For example, after you have your morning coffee maybe you do a daily crossword puzzle; after you eat lunch maybe you go for a walk outside or continue working on the craft or house project you started.
2. Create things to look forward to. Schedule a virtual game night with friends, watch that new TV series or movie that just came out on a streaming service, or plan to use that new recipe you found earlier this week. Whatever it may be, write it down on a calendar so you can see it and feel the excitement when you think about it.
3. Engage in mindfulness. We can be dealing with heightened anxiety and stress right now, and rumination (thinking about the same thing over and over) may have become our most common activity we do at times. To decrease rumination, engage in a mindfulness activity. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment and observing without judgement. Our brains like to wander and they like to judge things so it’s not easy, and practice is needed. Start with focusing on your breath, and if a thought arises or your mind wanders that’s okay – just notice and bring yourself back to focusing on the breath. There are apps that are entirely free or have some parts that are free: UCLA Mindful, insight timer, calm.com, headspace. Or you can check out UCLA’s free guided meditations at this website: https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations
4. Get outside if possible. Getting outside can help with the feeling of being trapped indoors. Be mindful to participate in social distancing guidelines while you do. The other beneficial part to getting outside is being exposed to sunlight. This helps with sleep and mood. If you can’t get outside, or accessing the sunlight outside is not possible, consider obtaining an artificial lightbox that mimics sunlight. You’ll want to use the lightbox first thing in the morning and start with using it for 20 minutes. If you are not familiar with the use of a lightbox, please contact your doctor for more information about this or talk to your therapist.
5. Practice gratitude and savoring. During this time, we can be very aware of what is missing and what we have lost. While it’s important to acknowledge and honor those emotions, it can be harmful for us to focus on that all day. Savoring and the practice of gratitude can be helpful. In fact, these two practices have both been scientifically connected to experiencing increased joy and well-being. Savoring is the act of being fully present, taking in the positive emotions associated with the moment, and trying to extend the moment and feelings. Try to savor one thing a day, whether that’s the sound of the birds chirping outside, the relaxed moment you feel after taking a deep breath, or your favorite piece of chocolate. For practicing gratitude, write down at least 3 things a day that you are grateful for.
6. Connect with others. The purpose of loneliness is to send us a signal and a drive to reach out to others. We can connect with others in many ways. Spend time with others in your household. Connect with others using technology, whether that’s texting, phone calls, video calls, video games, online chats or forums. Join an online support, therapy, or social group.
7. Get Moving. Movement is extra important during this time as our bodies are activating the fight and flight response more often in response to the increased stress we are experiencing. Unfortunately, we cannot act on our fight or flight responses because we cannot flee anywhere. To help our bodies work through this fight or flight response, we need to do something. You don’t have to start running 5 miles a day or do 100 sit-ups if that’s not a good fit for you. Instead movement can be going for a walk, stretching, doing yardwork, yoga, or engaging in small mindful movements. To learn more and try some mindful movements you can check out this YouTube video by Mindful Moments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZr5bdvjZ1Y
8. Set an intention or goal for the day. We might be feeling a lack of purpose or wondering what we are going to do to fill the time during our day. Identify an intention to keep on your mind as you move through the day. Examples include being mindful, coming from a place of kindness, focusing on your breath, and making sure to move. Set a goal to keep yourself motivated and to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s to read a chapter of a book, reach out to one person, try a new meditation, or organize your bookshelf. Maybe you set a goal that you continue to track overtime, such as keeping a gratitude journal, working up to holding plank pose for 1 minute, working towards being able to touch your toes when you stretch, or watching a plant to grow.
9. Limit numbing behaviors. To deal with difficult times we can often go to what is called numbing behaviors, which is when we engage in an activity or consume something to help us tune out and disconnect from the present moment, stress, and discomfort we are feeling. Common ways people numb are through alcohol, drugs, eating, and TV watching. Notice when you are overeating, engaging in emotional or stress eating, or eating out of boredom. Do something calming for yourself when you notice this, or when you have a thought to reach for alcohol and drugs.
10. Limit news. We live in a time where we can be easily overwhelmed by all the information and news out there. This constant reading of, listening to, talking about, and thinking about what is going on in the world right now can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, anger, grief, sadness, and overwhelm. The more we engage with what is going on and ruminate on it, the more we feed into these emotions. However, we don’t want to totally avoid being informed, as this can lead to misinformation and potential safety issues. To help with this, it’s important we take breaks from it and be mindful of our news consumption. Identify where you want to obtain your information and limit the number of sources. Identify the length of time and how often you want to engage with the news, being mindful to space out when you are checking the news or going on social media. Set boundaries with others if it’s not a good time for you to talk about everything that is going on.
11. Do things you can control and that have an ending point. There are always things that are out of our control; uncertainty is part of life. However, we are dealing with this more than ever now. Identify what you can control and seek out activities that have an ending point or resolution. For example, complete a jigsaw puzzle, organize a closet in your home, engage in the tips discussed on this blog. If you are someone who deals with control through food or tend to engage in obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviors, you may find that seeking mental health services can be beneficial and therapeutic at this time to find other ways to deal with the feelings of uncertainty and limited or no control.
12. Seek support and help. This is an unprecedented time and something we had not prepared for, so it is normal and natural to struggle with this big adjustment. Talk to someone you know. Seek counsel from a religious or spiritual leader. Join an online support group. Contact a therapist. A good place to start when looking for a therapist can be on psychologytoday.com. Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And there are people out there who want to help and are available to help.
Written by: Sam Franklin, MA, LMFT