People are having a wide variety of reactions to Covid-19, which vary tremendously depending on their personal circumstances. However, everyone is affected in some way. You may have ongoing, even constant, anxiety, or sudden rushes of fear and panic. You may be sad, down, or unmotivated to do much of anything. Are you having trouble sleeping, or maybe sleeping too much? Is it difficult to finish a meal, or do you find yourself eating lots of “comfort food,” even when you’re not hungry? You may find yourself irritable and cranky, lashing out at other over the smallest things. Perhaps you are turning to alcohol or drugs to help you cope. You may find yourself a victim or new or worsening domestic violence.*
The following are some ways to manage or handle our new way of life.
EXPOSURE TO NEWS
We are bombarded constantly with ongoing information from news sources. Some of it is inaccurate, and some of it seems to change from moment to moment. Limit exposure to the news. Listen to or read one or two reputable news sources, and limit yourself to once or twice a day – perhaps first thing in the morning and once again in the evening. Avoid getting pulled into discussions on social media; if possible, completely avoid or skip over social media posts related to COVID-19. Do not engage in politically leaning discussions- it is perfectly fine to excuse yourself from the conversation, or politely ask someone to stop.
ISOLATION FROM OTHERS
One of the most challenging parts of the quarantine is a lack of contact with others. Stay connected with friends and family in any way you can. This may be by phone call, an online meeting, or a walk around the block with a neighbor, (while maintaining appropriate social distance). Know that this contact will not be the same as an in person visit- you cannot hug someone through a Zoom meeting. It is okay to feel sad about this lack of face-to-face connection, and remind yourself that it will not last forever. The time will come when you are able to once again gather with your family, and go out to dinner with friends.
IMPORTANCE OF ROUTINE
Have you felt like the days are all blurring together, and sometimes you aren’t even sure what day it is? Keep a consistent schedule. Try to mirror your former schedule as much as possible. If you’re working from home create a specific workstation area in your house, preferably in a room where you usually do not spend much time. Get up in the morning at your usual time, take a shower, and get dressed. Start and end your workday at your usual time. If you are using a computer for working remotely, if possible, use it for work only. Use another device in your nonworking hours to browse the internet and send personal emails. Most importantly, end your workday at your usual time- do not work into the evening. The more you can partition your work life from your home life, the better.
If you are a stay at home parent, you probably now have the additional responsibility of helping your children with their schoolwork throughout the day. It is also important that you keep to your routine as much as possible. Recognize that there may be an increased need for help with child care and household chores during this time, so try to get other family members to help if possible. Try not to worry if you fall behind on housework – the laundry may pile up, and there may be dishes in the sink. Do you what you can, and don’t beat yourself up if the house isn’t as clean as it usually is.Don’t expect that you will be able to do as much as you could when your kids were in school. It is okay to allow increased screen time, with a reminder that this is temporary and may change in the future.
If you have been laid off or furloughed from your job, you may have to create your own structure. If you are looking for another job, schedule specific blocks of time during the day when you will work on this- do you your job search during those specific hours only. If you expect to return to your job, do not spend the entire day watching television or browsing the internet. Schedule time for something that engages your brain – reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or working on a household project.
Do not spend your day pouring over your bank statements and bills. Concerns about finances are real, and should not be ignored- but repeatedly ruminating over numbers will only increase your anxiety. Create a budget based on your anticipated finances for the next two to three months. If you think that you will have difficulty paying your bills get ahead of this by contacting companies now, before you get into trouble. Ask them about any assistance they can offer. Finally, get in contact with local community resources. Financial help may be available.
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDDOS?
Kids need structure too. As much as possible, try to keep them on their usual schedules as well. Also plan for time for them to be outside of the house Younger children can play in the backyard or an uncrowded park. Teenagers can go on walks or bike rides, or do some of their schoolwork outside.
Your kids may begin to show behavioral problems, or existing behavioral problems may worsen. Kids of all ages are thrown off when routine is interrupted, and this often manifests in problematic behavior. Talk with your children in an age-appropriate manner about what is happening, and validate their feelings. Emphasize that is normal and okay to be angry, sad, or scared, and encourage them to talk about their concerns and fears. Remind them that while we don’t know how long this will last, it will end.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
People like to know what to expect. We want to feel that we have control over our environment. One of the most upsetting things about the current situation is that we have been ordered to change our daily lives, often in ways that makes things more difficult or inconvenient. We are told to stay at home, and only go out for necessities. In some states we are mandated, to wear a mask to enter a store. We can go outside for exercise, but are told to stay six feet away from other people. Businesses have been ordered to close, often with little to no guidance as to when they will be allowed to re-open.
We tend to push back against attempts to control us. If this does not work, we may begin to feel depressed, anxious, angry, or hopeless. Try not to fight this, but rather work on accepting it as an expected, albeit unpleasant, emotion. Concentrate on things that are in your control. It may be something as small as scheduling outside times for the day. While seemingly minor, focusing on the things in our environments that we can influence and change can increase a sense of predictability, and lessen feelings of anxiety.
If you do not have a mindfulness practice, this is a great time to start one. Several mindfulness apps offer a limited number of free sessions, and some have offered short-term access to the full program for free. Innumerable videos are posted online – search for terms such as “mindfulness practice,” “guided meditation,” “guided breathing,” or “progressive muscle relaxation.” Some of the videos are short, other may run over an hour- pick several that work for you. Even a three-minute practice at the beginning or end of your day can have beneficial effects.
Know that you may not be aware of any change when you begin, and that you may not feel “very good” at your practice. This is normal- that is why it is called a practice. Your thoughts will jump around and it will be difficult to focus. You may get frustrated and think that the exercise is pointless. Keep practicing! Even though you may not feel it right away, every time you practice, it benefits your mind and body. Over time, with consistent sessions, you will start to feel the positive effects.
CARING FOR YOURSELF
Looking out for yourself is even more critical during this time, but can be difficult. If you have kids that are stuck at home, this is even more challenging. It is incredibly important to block out time for yourself, even 10 minutes a day, to do something that you enjoy. It could be reading a book, watching a favorite television show, or simply sitting outside in the fresh air. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you take that time for yourself and only yourself.
CALL TO ACTION
So what should you do? Try to balance out all of your competing needs as much as possible- and remember to include yourself. Remember that this is an extraordinary and unique time in our lives. Most people are experiencing some degree of anxiety, depression or anger. Tempers are short, and frustration levels are high. None of the coping mechanisms discussed here will necessarily solve problems. However, they can help us tolerate the current situation until we are able to return to our usual lives. Unfortunately, we will experience unpleasant emotions because of the increased stress., and because we do not know when this will end. Know that this is normal and even expected. Do not fight back against or bury your feelings. Talk with a friend, write things down, cry- do whatever you need to express and experience your feelings. If you try to suppress them, they will only worsen, and can eventually have detrimental effects on both your mental and physical health.
Most importantly, remember to be kind- to yourself, and to each other. A single act of kindness can go far in helping yourself and others tolerate and survive this difficult period of time.
If this was helpful and you feel like you can use more help managing these uncertain times, please Contact Me.
• If you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available. If you are safely able to do so, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233, (TTY 1−800−787−3224). Call 911 for immediate help.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms, especially thoughts of suicide, please call the National suicide crisis lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY 1-800-799-4889).
* This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.