Stay sane, stay healthy, stay fit (and stay safer at home)
By Betty McCluskey, MS, LPC
Outpatient Psychotherapist/Owner, Psychological Resource Center, LLC
Social Distancing is a difficult thing to do; so is social isolation. Most of us love to be around friends and family. We like to get together and share a meal or an activity. Without that contact, we can begin to feel lonely, maybe like we don’t matter anymore.
While Safer at Home is better for everyone during the COVID-19 crisis, it can be hard to endure. There are ways to make it easier and healthier for you and your loved ones. Here are some tips:
Find a routine. Try to stick to your regular bedtime and wake up. Keep meals at regular times.
Begin your day as you always have. Exercise, shower, have breakfast, feed the pets, feed the kids, get school supplies together for the school day.
Get out at least once a day, for at least thirty minutes. If you are practicing social distancing, get outside first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and walk, run, or cycle less traveled streets and avenues. If you are high-risk or living with those who are high-risk, open the windows and let in some fresh air. If you don’t go outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes or dance videos.
Reach out to others daily. Video visits are easy. FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype are still free, and so are phone calls and texting. It is important to reach out to other people to seek and provide support. Remember do this for your children as well. You can even set up virtual play dates with their friends.
Spend time playing with your children; they communicate through play. You may see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation in their games. Play helps them make sense of their world and allows you to see what they are thinking and feeling. Then, talk with them about their concerns.
Stay hydrated and eat well. This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often don’t mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food. Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!
Everyone needs their own private space for work and for relaxation. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You might use blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts.” Set a time limit on how long your child can stay in their fort. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns and try to respond gently. Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children—they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.
Notice the good in the world, notice the helpers, and try to be one. Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Encourage your children to become helpers too. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of control when things seem out of control.
Now is the time to learn how to do something new. Play the keyboard, begin painting, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15-hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an eight-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing. Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take short-term breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie, a family game—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
Reach out for help—your team is there for you: Your therapist or psychiatrist, your friends and family, even those at a distance. Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help, maybe for the first time. There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis. Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents who are now expected to be a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges. Seek support groups of fellow homeschoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected. There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.
We are all doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress: teaching, working from home, caring for others, working in dangerous situations. Lower your expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. What psychologists call “radical self-acceptance” is accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life, without question, blame, or pushback. You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation. Mistakes will happen, when you know better, then you can do better.
Remember that this situation is temporary. During this quarantine, it might that it will never end. Take some time to remind yourself that, although this is very scary and difficult, and we don’t know how long it will last, it will end eventually. We will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead. The personal trauma we each experience through the COVID-19 crisis can seem overwhelming. When therapists work with people who experience trauma, we try to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can see. We encourage our patients to think about what they can learn from the crisis, in big and small ways. What can we change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world to continue the positive changes we experience while staying safer at home.