12 Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity During the Coronavirus
Many of us are reeling with how the recent coronavirus is affecting our everyday lives. Schools are closed, stores are picked over, and an unsettled feeling is sinking in throughout our communities. If you were already struggling with anxiety, OCD, or depression, you might find your symptoms really flaring up and feeling out of your control.
What makes this type of situation so difficult to handle emotionally? A few things:
It’s simply hard to accept forced change.
Every day this past week, new restrictions have rolled out. First large gatherings had to be cancelled. Then visitation restrictions in hospitals and nursing homes. Then schools closed. Then community institutions like libraries and museums closed. Then a travel advisory was issued. Each of these forced changes is necessary for public health, but requires a big mental and lifestyle adjustment.
It’s difficult to grasp the unknown.
There’s a lot of research being done about the implications of this public health crisis, but the truth is, we really don’t know exactly how things will play out and the extent of how our lives will be affected. Uncertainty is difficult to tolerate, especially for an extended period of time.
We are very uncomfortable with feeling out of control.
Let’s face it, as Americans, most of us live very comfortably and we are able to control most aspects our lives. We often have choices about where we live, what we do for work, what we buy. If we want to make more money or change professions or live in a different location, many of us can make a plan to do so. Natural disasters or pandemics are a painful reminder that we are actually not in control of our lives.
We are inundated with information.
You can’t open social media or your email without being bombarded by information about the coronavirus and its fallout. Our brains aren’t getting a break from all the bad news being thrown at us.
How to prioritize your mental health during the Coronavirus:
1) Keep a routine.
Your normal daily routine is probably very disrupted right now. It might be fun for a day or two to stay in your pjs and snack all day, but over the long haul this could add to lethargy and apathy. Instead, take charge of the pieces that are still within your control. Wake up at a consistent time, take a shower, wear real clothes, stick to your normal mealtimes.
2) Exercise every day.
Research has long supported the link between regular exercise and mental health. You might have to get creative right now, but it is possible to get the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week. There are a million options on YouTube (try Popsugar Fitness for a variety of classes, or Cosmic Kids or GoNoodle for kids), or just get outside to take a walk.
3) Get outside as much as possible.
This is absolutely crucial right now. Humans need fresh air and Vitamin D to keep mentally healthy. Even if it’s chilly, bundle up and take a walk. If you find that the walls are closing in and the gray atmosphere is troubling you, consider light therapy.
4) Keep a gratitude journal or list.
Regardless of how hopeless or discouraged you feel about he news right now, there are good things happening in the world. There’s a link between our thoughts and emotions— choosing to focus on the positives will help you feel better. Keep a written list or post on social media (everyone will thank you for putting something positive out there!). When you’re feeling anxious, reread your list while taking lots of deep breaths.
5) Think of others.
Anxiety and depression are, by nature, self-focused. This is a great time to be reaching out to neighbors, friends, and family members who might have a physical or emotional need. If you are healthy, offer to run to the store for an elderly neighbor. Step up your texts or phone calls to family members (the emotional support will be good for both of you.) Thinking about how you can play a role in helping others helps you feel better and takes your mind off of some of your own problems.
6) Social distancing ≠ isolation.
Isolating is the worst thing you can do right now. Even though there are lots of restrictions and advisories about physically going places and being in contact with people, you don’t have to feel alone. Although technology and social media can exacerbate our anxiety because of so much access to bad news, we can use that same technology in a positive way by using it to stay connected to others. Texting, emailing, social media, video chats… never before in history have we had so many ways to stay connected with other humans. Get creative and reach out.
Every time I’ve picked up my phone in the past week, I’ve seen new notifications of bad news. It’s easy to feel flooded with all of the negativity. Although you’ll want and need to stay on your technology to keep in touch with the rest of society, also take some intentional time each day to unplug and give your mind a break. You need some time to digest everything you’ve taken in throughout the day and focus on other topics. Leave your phone at home as you take a walk around the neighborhood, or actually implement the “no technology during family meals” rule you’ve been meaning to get around to.
8) Employ the “92 Rule.”
When you are 92 years old, reminiscing with your other nonagenarian friends about the “Great Coronoavirus of 2020,” what will you be proud to look back on? This health crisis is not going to last forever. While you can’t control what’s going on in the world, you can control your response. In 50 years, will you be glad you used the time to… slow down and connect with your kids? Recharge your devotional time? Made time to reconnect with neglected extended family relationships? Deep clean your house? Zooming out and taking a long-term view will help you be more intentional with how you respond right now.
9) Declutter one area.
Many of us are going to be spending a lot of time at home, and a lot of time with our kids at home. Research has shown a correlation between a chaotic environment and anxiety (living in cluttered environments can lead to poor concentration, stress, anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and can be connected with poor eating habits). Take charge of your environment by keeping at least one designated area picked up and clean. Choose a room or closet and make sure that area is consistently organized. When the rest of your house is stressing you out, go to that space for a few minutes to recharge. It might also help to institute a family-wide pick-up time before bed each night so you wake up each morning to a relatively-decluttered house.
10) Acknowledge the grief.
Forced change results in loss. Right now we have the loss of some freedoms. Many people are experiencing financial and employment loss. There’s the loss of innocence and the illusion of control. All of these losses need to be grieved on some level, which can involve feelings of sadness, anger, shock, and disbelief. As with anything else we lose and grieve, we’ll experience ups and downs, good moments of acceptance and hard moments of discouragement. Many of my clients who have experienced any sort of grief (loss of a loved one, a job, etc), have found it helpful to incorporate letter-writing into their healing process. This might sound like an odd suggestion, but try writing a “Dear Coronavirus” letter and express all the ways it has impacted your life. Even though it might seem strange, this type of activity can be a good outlet for otherwise difficult-to-express emotions.
11) Take it day by day.
My favorite quote about anxiety is “Try to worry without thinking about the past and the future.” It’s really hard! If you’re fully in the present moment and not thinking ahead or behind, it’s really difficult to feel anxious. When you find yourself feeling anxious about the unknown of the future, remind yourself to take things one day at a time.
12) Remember God’s sovereignty.
The world has always been out of our control; any amount of control we felt we had has always been an illusion. Christians have a huge advantage right now because we’ve already acknowledged our need to surrender and trust something greater than ourselves. We already know that the only way we can find peace is by admitting we need God to be the one stable thing in our lives. During our individual faith journeys, we’ve been developing that trust muscle. We can use that muscle memory now to remind ourselves that God is in control, and share that crucial message with non-believers who are struggling right now.
How can I help? Remember, even though you might feel isolated, you’re not alone. Counseling can help you feel connected, combat negative thinking patterns, and manage anxiety. I’m available for telehealth sessions to help support you during this time of uncertainty. Feel free to contact me to arrange an intake session today.