Develop a stay at home routine
Many of us find ourselves “working from home” for the very first time and for some this also includes the added challenge of being a “stay at home” parent. Without the opportunity for day trips, social outings, and community events, this predicament can be monotonous and somewhat stressful. Combine this with the uncertainty of present day events and increasing financial pressure and you have a recipe for mental health overload.
Formulating a daily agenda can be extremely helpful. It adds structure, purpose, and a predictable rhythm to the day which can have a calming effect during periods of disruption. Try writing a schedule that includes a wake-up time, meals, snacks, work/chores, physical activity and breaks to increase the quality of your time at home. This will be especially beneficial for students who are missing the structure of their school day. Allowing children to participate in the design of their own daily schedule often alleviates anxiety and helps motivate them to accomplish necessary tasks. Adults also benefit from a set routine and will notice an increase in productivity and efficiency.
Don’t skip the shower!
While dry shampoo is indeed a miracle, don’t let it replace your daily shower (or bath with Epsom salts and relaxing scents). It’s not uncommon, when telecommuting or staying home to care for children, to think “what’s the point in showering if I’m not seeing anyone today?” However, research has shown that humans show improvement in mental health when they have access to bathing facilities. This applies more than ever to people living under quarantine. Bathing can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, breath invigorating scents, and absorb calming heat and soothing sounds. If you are feeling trapped in your home and the sensation is sapping your motivation and energy, don’t skip this vital step in your daily routine. It can help ease depression, anxiety, and boost energy levels.
Be kind to yourself and others
Constant social media and news coverage of the pandemic and the risk of personal exposure has anxiety and depression levels skyrocketing in people of all ages. Caretakers are feeling the effects of financial stress, the unknown concerning school and jobs, and fear for the safety and health of their immediate and extended families. When anxiety spikes, people can become irritable and act in ways they regret later on. Over time, this may lead to a “shame spiral” that will sometimes push people further into depression.
This applies to children as well. Children, especially the very young, are unable to process what is going on in their current world and lack the ability to verbalize what they are feeling. They are more likely to react behaviorally to the disruption in routine that has kept them feeling safe and secure up until now. Watch for attempts to control their environment and others around them through emotional meltdowns in the form of crying, anger, or both. Try to respond with empathy rather than anger. Our children’s feelings can trigger our own emotions in unexpected ways so it’s important to stay neutral. Try putting words to children’s feelings for them with phrases like “It must be hard having your whole life change overnight, can you tell me about it?” or “I see you’re having a lot of big scary feelings right now, let’s find a way to help you calm down.” For tweens and teenagers, especially seniors who are feeling unsure of graduation and post graduation plans, anxiety can be especially high. Give them opportunities to share what their worries for their futures are and try not to minimalize their concerns or compare them to your own burdens. More than likely they are not looking for someone to “fix” the problem but instead are wanting a safe environment to “vent” and have their emotions validated.
When stress levels are high, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything that is going on in our lives and the world. This puts us in “fight or flight” mode, keeps us feeling on edge, and can potentially lower our immune system function. Finding things, even small things, to be thankful for can shift our mental state enough to give us fuel to keep going during tough times. Try taking ten minutes to write about three things you are thankful for every morning before you start your day. For example: “I am thankful for this cup of tea, the cherry trees blooming, and for having three people who care about me.” The fear center of the brain feels calmer when it sees things written down, so speaking these aloud will not necessarily have the same effect. This is an amazing activity to do alone, with your partner or with children of any age and it can boost positivity and open up meaningful conversations. Lists can be made on cheery paper and kids can add fun, adorable drawings to represent what they are thankful for. The lists will also serve as a positive reminder of your resilience and gratitude during a very difficult time.
Utilize your support network
Remember, we are all in this together, but we can easily lose sight of this when restricted from socializing in the ways we are accustomed to. Talking to others regularly, even if it’s just a video chat or phone call, can reduce feelings of isolation and help us feel connected. If you need more than your existing support network is providing, or you feel you could benefit from the support of a non-judgmental professional to help you navigate life, engaging in counseling might be beneficial. Seeing a counselor is helpful for all people, and does not mean there’s something “wrong” with you. Here at HorizonView Health, we offer both in person and online counseling services five days a week. Seeing a counselor is a wonderful source of support and can help ease stress, calm anxiety, and increase healthy intimacy in your existing relationships. To learn more about our counselors, visit the “services” and “staff” tabs on our website.
Best of Health to you and yours!
Stephanie Perceful, LMHC