Washing your hands and practicing social distancing are great practical ways to take care of your physical health during this time. However, it is also important to take care of your mental health.
Be gentle with yourself, and with those around you.
Times of high stress can bring out both the best and the worst in people — it’s wonderful when it brings out the best, but it’s completely natural and understandable when it brings out the worst. It’s OK if you cry in the shower, it’s OK if you’re short to a loved one, it’s OK if you overeat. Try to be mindful of how you’re feeling and acting on a given day, and forgive yourself for the times when you might not be at your best. Recognize that this is also the case for those around you, and work to forgive them too.
Try to be a source of calmness for your loved ones, especially in front of those who may be looking to you during this difficult time (such as your children or close partners). Using techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and breathing deeply can be helpful. The Anxiety Wellness Center has created a Feeling Thermometer that can be useful for gauging how you are feeling in the present moment.
Limit your social media and COVID-19 coverage intake.
There is no shortage of COVID-19 coverage to consume, and it changes moment by moment. Instead of constantly refreshing your social media feeds or staying glued to news coverage, find a few trusted sources that you can check consistently (such as the CDC or the WHO) and set limits on your consumption (once a day, or no more than one hour a day, etc.).
Do your best to contain the anxiety that COVID-19 brings.
This can be done by limiting your news intake (see above), setting up a check-in time with the family, sharing journal entries, etc.
Set a routine for you and your loved ones to help build consistency.
Create expectations for yourself and your family by involving them in daily activities (cleaning, learning, school work). Make sure this routine involves space for fun and/or relaxing activities too! Take breaks and allow yourself to do things you enjoy.
Reach out to your support networks.
Strengthen relationships with loved ones and important groups (such as your professional colleagues, spiritual groups, etc.) using technology — FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, Google Hangouts, and others are all great options.
Focus on controlling the things that you can.
It is natural to worry about the future, especially when it seems so uncertain. The key is to not get swept by our thoughts and feeling of anxiety. We cannot control the future, nor should we let uncertainty drive us to hopelessness. We can fight this by concentrating on what is within our control — deep-clean your living space, re-organize your closet, start a new creative project, etcetera.
Do not ignore your thoughts and feelings.
It is important to recognize our feelings, and to realize where we stand in the Feeling Thermometer. It might be helpful to approach your feelings as if you were a curious scientist — for example, notice “I am having thoughts about getting COVID-19; interesting!” After noticing, do some exercises that allow you to move out of your head and back into your body (like deep breathing, shrugging your shoulders, pushing your feet into the ground), and remain engaged in the physicality of those exercises.
Stick to (or create new) healthy habits.
Exercise, good nutrition, and quality sleep are all helpful things for both your mental and physical health.
- For exercise, taking walks or runs outside can be a nice way to move your body and get some fresh air. Just be sure to keep six feet between yourself and the people around you to the best of your ability! If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, or if not — pump up your favorite jams and have a dance party!
- Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and maybe challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new. Food can be a nice source of comfort during stressful times — allow yourself to enjoy it.
- Try to stick to as regular a sleep schedule as possible. Even if you’re not going to sleep and waking up at the same time you normally would, try to standardize it — aim to get to bed by a certain time each night, and wake up by a certain time each morning. This will be especially helpful when we are on the other end of this and you have to get back to your normal routine!
Weather permitting, try to get outside at least once a day.
Go outside, even if it’s just a walk around your backyard or spending some time sitting on your front steps. If you are at a high risk (e.g., are elderly, immunocompromised, etc.), or living with someone who is at a high risk, instead try opening the windows. Fresh air always feels nice, in whatever form it comes!
Develop a self-care toolkit.
This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell), so a good task might be coming up with at least one thing for each:
- For touch, a soft blanket or stuffed animal.
- For taste, a favorite snack or drink.
- For sight, a picture of loved ones or from a fun vacation.
- For hearing, make a playlist of your favorite songs.
- For smell, a scented candle or essential oil diffuser.
- Some things can engage more than one sense, like putting on a nice-smelling lotion (touch and smell) or coloring in a coloring book (touch and sight).
Find at least one thing to feel positive or grateful about every day.
A lot of what we hear and see these days is scary and troubling. It can be helpful to therefore seek out the opposite, just like we do in our OCD treatment. Start with finding one thing that makes you smile, laugh, or feel good each day, such as a funny YouTube video, a heartwarming story, or a song with a hopeful message. To double the impact, share your positivity with others — maybe your happy moment can turn into someone else’s happy moment, too!
Figure out a way to help others.
A lot of research shows that helping others is a great way to help yourself. Even with social distancing, there are still many ways to help others in your community:
- Make a donation of money, supplies, or time to a cause you care about.
- If you’re going to the grocery store, pick up some items for a high-risk neighbor who might not be able to leave their home. If you do this, be especially mindful of practicing recommended hand hygiene steps during your shopping trip.
- Write a supportive response to someone on HealthUnlocked.
Remember — this is a new normal, but it is a temporary normal.
It can sometimes seem like these COVID-19 protective measures will last forever — it’s a scary thought to think that we might always have to live like this! Remind yourself that it will end, even if we might not have a clear end date. Just like the seasons pass every year, this COVID-19 season will also pass. We will return to our regular lives in the days ahead.
This is not the end of this list, and there is no “right way” to take care of yourself. What self-care strategies have been working for you? Let us know at email@example.com!