2020 has brought with it a host of added stressors to our daily living. We are not just sending our kids to school, we are sending them with masks knowing they could come home with a deadly virus. We are trying to help them learn from home when they are not used to having us as teachers all while we are trying to fit in our work hours. We have more limited time and resources for self care and may be finding the constant sharing of space is creating more conflict in our relationships. We are afraid for our loved ones’ health, our Black friends’ safety, and the fate of our nation. It is no surprise that a new government report found that about 41% of adults surveyed in late June “reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition.” That means that there are 3x the number of Americans reporting anxiety than from 2019 and 4x the number reporting depression. We are not dealing with it well either. 1 in every 10 Americans reported that they started or increased their use of alcohol or illicit drugs during the pandemic and suicide is on the rise.
Although mental illness is a much more complex problem than a simple self care routine can address, there are some daily habits we can make to reduce stress and create calm in the midst of chaos. Start by choosing one area to focus on this week. Understand that because of work schedules, kids, finances, and other responsibilities, not all of the suggestions will be possible at this time for you. Do what you can and give yourself grace for what you cannot do. If you are finding it especially difficult to put these into practice, set some time to talk with a counselor. We can help you reach some understanding of the barriers, assess if there are some underlying mental health concerns that could be addressed with medication and regular therapy, and support you in putting a workable plan into action to reach your goals.
- Create a regular sleep routine. Set yourself a bedtime that will allow for 8 hours of sleep. Limit any screen time or turn your devices to night mode 1-2 hours before bedtime. Create a relaxing routine before bed. This might involve yoga, a bath or shower, calming music, or a time of meditation. Protect the sanctity of your bedroom. Don’t bring work into the area where you sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet and take supplements as recommended by your doctor. Nutritional deficiencies and gut imbalances impact mood and our body’s ability to bounce back from stressful situations. Malnutrition impacts brain function which can lead to negative impacts on our emotion and our relationships. If you are not sure what to include in a healthy diet, set up a time to talk with a dietitian or nutritionist.
- Get movement in your day. We have all heard that chemicals called endorphins are released in our body when we exercise and can create a positive feeling in the body that can last several hours. Create a schedule for yourself that won’t be subject to interruptions. This might mean you wake an hour earlier or set aside part of your lunch break to take a walk. Maybe you don’t have 30-45 minutes for a workout but you can take three 15 minute walks during the day. Get movement that you enjoy. Workout with a friend or while listening to your favorite music or podcast. Creating an exercise routine and pressing on when you want to give up helps to build the internal mental muscle that you need when life gets tough.
- Set aside time for meditation and mindfulness. These simple tools have been proven effective for lowering stress feelings and uplifting mood. Meditation is a focused time of quiet reflection. Mindfulness is a practice of staying present. It is awareness of of our thoughts, feelings, and action. Instead of reacting automatically to the situations around us, we are able to pause and choose how we want to react. Mindfulness involves setting aside judgement in favor of understanding and curiosity. Read more in my blog post from 2018.
- Connect. When we connect with others who show us acceptance and belonging it has an incredible impact on immediately reducing feelings of stress. We can see this so clearly in babies. When they are hungry, cold, scared, in pain, or lonely their bodies exhibit their instinctual stress response. When the caregiver picks the baby up and provides a loving, nurturing response the baby immediately calms down (unless of course they are in physical pain). As adults, we respond the same when we open up to a friend and their response is one of nonjudgmental compassion. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it quite difficult to connect in the ways we have become accustomed to. It is important to become creative in making time for our relationships.
- Set boundaries. Many of our daily stressors and irritations could be eliminated by setting and enforcing boundaries and by limiting our time with those who consistently show that they are not able to respect the boundaries we put in place. I recommend starting by reading this blog post from my colleague and adding the books she suggests to your reading list.
- Plan time for play. The psychologist Jean Piaget said that “Play is the work of childhood” and the beloved Mr. Rogers told us that “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.” Play has been show to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. Lynn Barnett, a professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that playful adults have the ability to transform everyday situations, even stressful ones, into something entertaining. Make time in your day to include something you enjoy. You can learn more about Barnett’s work and a few ideas to try out in this article.
Share in the comments which of these ideas you will try to incorporate this week.
Hannah Lindsay, MSW, LCSW, provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our Sterling, VA offie and virtually to those in the state of Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Hannah!