And it goes beyond the importance of a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a daily schedule.
As I ended the video call with my online friends, it hit me how stressed we all are. The whole world is facing the likes of something several generations have never seen before.
I know I’m feeling the effects of living with the reality of COVID-19. I began to self-isolate the minute I got home on March 14 from my most recent trip. As luck would have it, I returned from spending twelve days in New York City, the US hotspot for the most viral cases.
My son is still undergoing chemotherapy and is severely immunocompromised. If I hope to visit, I must be assured I’m not infected.
Today is the twelfth day I’ve spent alone in my small one-bedroom apartment. I now find myself sleepy at 6:00 pm, unable to sleep at 11:00 pm, yet wide awake at 5:30 am. I feel restless, want to eat all of my food supplies, and am having trouble concentrating on work projects. I find I cry easily and am irritable. All signs I’m undergoing significant stress.
We all are. You are too.
Healthline.com defines a traumatic event is an “incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. The person experiencing the distressing event may feel threatened, anxious, or frightened as a result. In some cases, they may not know how to respond, or may be in denial about the effect such an event has had.”
That certainly seems to describe what we, the world, are facing.
Many of us are concerned for the well-being of our loved ones and ourselves, we may be facing possible job uncertainty, and there’s financial instability everywhere we look — personally, nationally, and internationally. We are no longer in control, and the deadline for this situation is a moving target, leaving us in limbo. None of us know when we will be able to resume a more normal routine. Or even what that will look like.
COVID-19 is affecting our physical, emotional, and psychological condition, which is very distressing, thus this is an officially traumatizing event.
Limited options isn’t the same as out of options
So, what are we to do?
It’s not like we can get away from COVID-19. And many, if not most of us, are under orders of “Shelter-in-Place,” so our choices are limited. Whatever we do, it needs to be restricted to our residences.
Of course, we all have heard or read the importance of maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting regular exercise. All of this probably seems like common sense. We might find doing some of these things hard to do consistently, although we know the wisdom of these habits.
But, what else can we be doing to improve our circumstance?
Chronic stress is a common presenting complaint in private therapy practices. Communities facing massive layoffs, (remember Detroit after 2008?), people with chronic disease undergoing treatment, and veterans adjusting to civilian life are all such examples of groups or people living with chronic stress.
Although this pandemic is new, stress is not. We can use what has worked before.
Seven practical tips
So, here are seven highly effective tried-and-true self-care tips we can safely practice as we continue our social isolation.
- Set a timer so that you take frequent breaks from computer or phone screen time to avoid possible eyestrain or headache, and muscular stiffness.
- Step outside, even if it is limited to your balcony, deck, porch, or backyard. Getting out in nature has a normalizing effect. It is also a nice change in scenery, which will lift your mood.
- Schedule a video call or Face time so can you connect with friends and family. There’s strong evidence for the positive effect of social support on our mental health.
- Make time for play. Maybe now is an opportunity to teach the children in your home the games we played growing up. Red Rover, Red Rover, Mother May I?, Tag, Kick the Can, and Hop Scotch come to mind. Family activities can break up the monotony, create camaraderie, and act as a nice distraction.
- For those of you who are alone, you might want to pull out those art supplies, knitting needles, or embroidery. Now you have a chance to pursue a hobby you haven’t gotten around to learn.
- Pick up a book or audiobook you’ve been interested in but have been putting off listening to or reading — another way you can engage your imagination.
- Journaling or writing can be a great way to express yourself, another effective stress reliever.
We will get through this. All of us and all together.
You don’t have to suck it up
There will be a day when we will exit our homes and re-enter the world at large. In the meantime, we should heed the advice Glennon Doyle received at her first AA Meeting:
“Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you’re doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes.”
Further on, she explains, “I thought that pain was weakness and that I was supposed to suck it up. But the thing was that the more I sucked it up, the more food and booze I had to suck down.”¹
Don’t suck it up, alright? You don’t have to nor is it good for you.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel while you take the best care of yourself possible in a less than optimal situation.