Fear and anxiety about the spread of COVID-19 can be overwhelming these days. Between the 24/7 media coverage, and worries shared in phone or social media conversations with family and friends, it’s easy to feel lots of stress. However, chronic stress really wreaks havoc on our mental or physical well-being. Therefore, one of the most important things you can do in the coming weeks is to find ways to cope with the increased anxiety and to engage in on-going stress management. This allows our minds and bodies the opportunity to unwind and “exhale”.
Don’t know where to start? Try these five stress-reducing strategies.
In a world of social distancing, it can be easy to feel isolated or lonely. Even if you can’t be in the same physical space as loved ones, reach out to them anyway. Stay connected via phone calls, text messages (set up group chats!), Facetime, Skype, and social media channels. And though it’s tempting to let the conversation stray towards COVID-19, try to switch up your conversation topics. Set a goal to make someone laugh, or simply know that they are loved. They will respond in kind.
It is important to be aware of public health updates and containment strategies of your local area. However, filling your brain with “everything COVID-19” will quickly turn you from being informed, to being overwhelmed. This happens to everyone! Be mindful of the content that you take in. Before you automatically switch on CNN, check-in with yourself. Are you approaching information-overload? If so, take a break from the news. Instead, use your downtime to read a book, or reach out to a friend. Allow your brain time to rest and reflect on your day before you fill it with any new information.
To combat “cabin fever”, try to add soothing elements to your home, to the extent that you can. Scented candles are a great addition to any atmosphere, as are warmly lit light fixtures. String the perimeter of your windows with twinkle lights to produce a pretty, tranquil effect. Arrange indoor plants in spaces where you tend to spend your time. Try to add elements throughout your home that make it feel more like a sanctuary to you.
Prioritize your physical wellbeing. This is especially important if you are a caregiver of someone recovering from stroke or brain injury, or living with dementia or other chronic brain diseases. Adjusting to public health guidelines may mean altering your typical daily schedule. However, try your best to maintain some normalcy in your daily routine. Emphasize things that qualify as self-care. Take a morning walk to stretch your legs. Wear a nice shirt or style your hair. Cook a healthy meal. Take a long shower to help you relax. Invest in yourself and your wellness, and this will benefit those you are caring for. If it is a morning routine, you’ll feel better prepared to take on the day. If it is an evening routine, your body will appreciate the opportunity to decompress.
A helpful way to stop “racing thoughts” is to redirect your focus to good things that are present in your life. Take a second to make a mental or written list of three things that bring you joy. Start with something simple, like feeling sunshine on your face. Let the warmth that you associate with that experience diffuse any tension you may feel. Gradually move towards deeper gratitude, like the relief you get speaking to a loved one. Take a few deep breaths, and note how you feel in the wake of your gratitude practice. Pausing to take inventory of the positive in every day is really important. It helps counteract the negative feelings associated with these strange times.
Although our current situation certainly gives rise to uncomfortable levels of uncertainty and stress, it’s important not to underestimate human resilience. Historically, we’ve been through significant global upheavals before. We are adaptable. We are innovative. We are facing this together. By taking steps to manage our individual anxieties, we are more effective in helping others. And those connections, those positive waves, will carry us through this time.
PLEASE NOTE: These strategies are all efforts to integrate restful breaks into an otherwise chaotic period. It is important to note, if you are experiencing depressive symptoms or intense anxiety, please contact your primary care provider.