I wrote the following guide for my individual therapy clients, but thought I'd share it here for anyone who might find it useful. Wishing you all have good health, both physical and mental.
We're dealing with a lot. Disruptions to our daily routines. Social isolation. And heaps of uncertainty about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s normal to feel heightened stress and anxiety right now. Here are some suggestions for how to cope through this challenging time.
1) Come back to the present - Our mind is built to worry and imagine worst case scenarios. The worry serves the purpose of motivating you to take action (ie: stay home, wash your hands…). But there’s nothing else you can do to prepare, so now the worry is no longer productive worry. Thank your mind for trying to keep you safe and then remind yourself what is actually happening
IN THIS MOMENT. Yes, Right this minute. At this moment are you safe? At this moment are you healthy? At this moment do you have enough toilet paper? Good. Now when your mind takes you back into your imagined future (which it will a thousand times a day), thank your mind for trying to keep you safe, press your heels into the ground to feel your feet on the earth below you, and bring your awareness back to the present moment.
2) Maintain some routine - Your brain craves structure and predictability in times of uncertainty. Try to maintain some semblance of your normal routine. Wake up around the same time each day even if your schedule just got a lot more flexible. Change out of your pajamas even if you won’t see another human all day (yes - changing into a DIFFERENT pair of sweatpants counts). This will help you feel more in control when everything else feels out of your control.
3) Self-care!! - Right now it’s more important than ever to take at least (bare minimum) 10 minutes every day to do something that brings you a sense of calm. Anxiety and stress activates our “fight-or-flight” nervous system. Over time this leads to inflammation in the body and lowered immune functioning. We need to manually switch it over to the “rest-and-digest” mode by doing self-soothing activities.
4) Consider the source - get your information from credible sources, such as cdc.gov or who.int. Limit your consumption of the news. Read and watch enough to stay informed and no more. There’s no reason to be watching for more than an hour a day. Coronavirus is contagious, but so is anxiety!
5) Find ways to connect - Research consistently shows that social support and feeling connected to others helps combat anxiety, depression, and stress. During this time of social distancing and quarantine, we need to get creative and find other ways to connect. Facetime. Call. Text. Talk about the Coronavirus, but don’t ONLY talk about the Coronavirus, you know?
6) Find ways to DISCONNECT - wait what? Didn’t you just say to find ways to connect? Yes, yes I did. But you also need to disconnect. Take some time for yourself. Stop hitting refresh on your feed every 30 seconds. Stop checking email. Turn off the news. Go for a walk. Find a private space in your home (mamas - you may need to lock yourself in a bathroom). Take some deep breaths. Feel your lungs expand and contract with each breath. Place your hand over your heart. Feel your heart beating.
7) Lower expectations - these are not normal times people!!! Cut yourself some MAJOR slack. Your quality of work may go down for a while. Productivity may go down for a while. Your kids are going to watch way more TV and screens than you’re comfortable with. It’s okay. It’s all okay. Lower your bar. They will be okay. You will be okay. If you find yourself suddenly homeschooling two children while also working from home, you’re not gonna do it all perfectly. And on the flip side, cut other people some slack too. We’re all just doing our best.
8) Keep perspective - Yes, this is serious and we need to take it seriously. We need to be following "safer at home" orders and doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our community. But remember that the majority of people who contract the virus will have mild symptoms and even the majority of those who have more serious cases WILL recover - especially if we are all doing our part to “flatten the curve”. Yes, the economy will take a hit, but it will recover. Life may get a bit more difficult for awhile, especially if you are laid off or your business is majorly impacted right now, but you will find a way. You will.
(Read this article about how to cope with financial hardships if you're struggling to make ends meet).
9) Practice gratitude - research shows that regularly listing the things you are thankful for can combat depression, even if it feels silly or forced at first. Find small gifts in this struggle. Think of three things you are grateful for. Write them down or say them out loud. I’ll start. I’m grateful that I am breathing and my heart is beating right now. I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, food in my pantry and clean water to drink. Most of all, I’m grateful for Hulu and Netflix.
10) Movement and fresh air - every day - doesn’t have to be a 45-minute cardio kickboxing video on YouTube. Just go for a walk around the block, staying 6 feet away from other people. Or do some gentle stretching while you’re on a conference call. Dan from accounting will be none the wiser.
And of course, remember that you are not alone! We are all in this together and we will get through it together. If you are struggling, please reach out. If you need extra support between sessions, you know where to find me. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. And neither are you :)
Stay safe and healthy. I miss seeing you in my office, but I'm grateful for video sessions that allow us to continue our work together from a safe distance.
All my best,
I'm a clinical psychologist and adult psychotherapist based in Los Angeles. I specialize in treating anxiety, trauma, and perinatal mental health using traditional talk therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and EMDR.