How to Practice Self-Care during the Pandemic, Part 2: Re-Create & Recreate
It’s so crazy – just getting through the day now seems like a full-time job. As I wrote yesterday, acknowledging the uncertainty and misery of this pandemic era is valid and even useful. But dwelling in that “it sucks” space leads to feeling more and more exhaustion, anger, and inertia, and worry. There has to be a better way to “struggle well” (1). I have a plan for that:
Control What You Can
One of the worst parts of this pandemic has been the loss of control. When will you finally get vaccinated? When will schools and workplaces finally be reliably open? External reality is so out of control –which makes it all the more imperative to be in control of our responses to that reality in ways that reframe the situation in a way that seems manageable, if not sane. This is a time to find new other energy sources and outlets How do you do that? Here are some suggestions –
Remember how at first it seemed pretty nice not to have to make that 7:12 am train or get the kids to school by 8:30 sharp? That still may be nice, but the lack of a routine has led to many people feeling lethargic and disorganized. It’s certainly difficult for most kids to adjust to dramatic changes in routine.
In this regard, there is an upside to the pandemic: because nighttime outings like concerts and games have been curtailed, it’s easier to get yourself to sleep at the same time every night. Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every day is absolutely conducive to better sleep. You cannot train your brain and body to need less sleep – you just need what you need. Inadequate sleep first worsens your mood, then your cognitive function, and then your immune system – and no one can afford any of that right now – so do your best to be in a good sleep routine.
Perhaps consider turning off Netflix an hour earlier? And, God knows, turn off the news earlier – which brings me to the effect of anxiety on sleep. Many people are dealing with insomnia right now. The time to approach anxiety-associated insomnia is during the day. Many people find meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness/relaxation measures to be fantastic ways to calm, soothe, and focus their brains. Another fabulous way to prevent insomnia at night is to be physically active during the day –
I know you know that physical exercise is important, but that’s never been more true than now. Physical activity is not just body therapy – it’s also brain therapy. It improves comprehension, mood, and even creative thinking. Equally important, exercise helps both treat and prevent depression, in both children (2) and adults (3).
I have concerns about the safety of gyms if you haven’t beenl vaccinated, but outdoor activities and home exercises with YouTube or resistance bands or whatever works for you are great. This may be another benefit of the pandemic for many families: since work, school, and extra-curricular schedules may be more flexible or even curtailed, there are more opportunities for many families to spend more time together outdoors – and outdoor exercise is, for most people, a more potent mood elevator than is indoor (4). The added benefit is that being exposed to more daylight helps your circadian rhythm support a healthy sleep cycle.
At a time when we’re all physically distant, being socially connected is more important than ever. By that, I do not mean going down a Twitter rabbit hole for hours. But do call, FaceTime, Zoom, email, text, or whatever people do to stay in touch. Share photos of your kids and yard and your out-of-control hair. Whatever feels safe and smile-inducing for yourself and others.For me, socially-distant, double-masked walks with friends have been an absolute lifesaver.
Recognize & Create New Opportunities
On the one hand, the pandemic presents an opportunity for many people to spend more time preparing healthier food, new recipes, etc. But yesterday, I urged you to expect less of yourself. Order in and do takeout if you like (and you’re supporting local restaurants when you do this, so it’s a good thing) or subscribe to a meal service. Whatever you need to do.
I can’t say enough about the value of the Family Dinner. Actually, I can say enough about it and have said enough about it in a separate posts, both the family dinner in its own right and as a potential upside of the pandemic. If you have kids, I urge you to consider choosing, prepping, and cooking food together. I have several posts about this in The Family Kitchen section of my website – and feel free to email me for suggestions.
Perhaps this will be the spring that you’ll want to grow some food in your garden or deck – it’s a rewarding activity with or without kids. Last year was the first time I grew food in containers in my “Victory Garden.” It was fantastic.
Is this the time for an even larger reboot? A career with more meaning? A special trip? A new consuming interest? Perhaps this is the time to create a design for a new future.
Write it down
Yesterday, I talked about Expressive Writing (5), the act of writing about negative thoughts and feelings. Gratitude writing, on the other hand, may be equally – or in the case of at least one study (6) – even more effective than expressive writing with regard to improved mental health. My personal variation on this theme, especially if I’m having trouble falling asleep, is to think about three good things that happened on that day. These items may range from the garbage being picked up to my not killing someone who really had it coming – whatever I want to think of that was a good thing.
Get outside yourself
Helping other people even when – or perhaps especially when –we’re feeling depleted ourselves is a blessing all around. The pandemic has created a sense of loss and isolation in all of us. Look for opportunities – for yourself and your kids – whether it’s chatting on the phone with &/or dropping off a meal or groceries for a stay-at-home caregiver, working outdoors at a local food bank, participating in voter issues – just something that helps others and that helps get you out of yourself.
One Last Thing
If you’re suffering way too much – having trouble getting out of bed, feeling hopeless about the future, or thinking really, really dark thoughts – please, please seek out professional help. That’s very difficult to do right now in terms of social distancing and strained finances. You may want to call your health insurer to find out what options are available. Consider on-line counseling. For example, one resource I’ve heard good things about is BetterHelp.
I’d love to hear other ideas and suggestions from you –
(2)Kandola A, Lewis G, Osborn DPJ, Stubbs B, Hayes JF. Depressive symptoms and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behaviour throughout adolescence: a prospective cohort study. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020 Mar;7(3):262-271. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30034-1. Epub 2020 Feb 11. PMID: 32059797; PMCID: PMC7033559.
(3)Choi KW, Chen CY, Stein MB, Klimentidis YC, Wang MJ, Koenen KC, Smoller JW; Major Depressive Disorder Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults: A 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Apr 1;76(4):399-408. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175. PMID: 30673066; PMCID: PMC6450288.
(4)Turner TL, Stevinson C. Affective outcomes during and after high-intensity intensity exercise in outdoor green and indoor gym settings. Int J Environ Health Res 2017; 27(2):106-16.
(5)Pennebaker JW, et al. “Expressive Writing and Its Links to Mental and Physical Health,” in Friedman HS, ed., Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology (Oxford University Press, in press).
(6)Wong YJ, Owen J, Gabana NT, Brown JW, McInnis S, Toth P, Gilman L. Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Psychother Res. 2018 Mar;28(2):192-202. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332. Epub 2016 May 3. PMID: 27139595.