In less than a week our lives have been turned upside down. We are making sacrifices for the greater good that have changed our habits, families, and overall socialization. Therapists, doctors, teachers, and more have rapidly been learning technology to provide online services. First responders have been running towards the virus, in the absence of adequate medical supplies. Stress levels are high across ages, nationalities, and cultures. Needless to say this has impacted our mental health in unprecedented ways.
After offering many sessions this week to clients via telehealth platforms, I’ve rapidly learned which strategies seem to be helpful during these uncertain times. It’s been a humbling opportunity to practice being more human with my clients, as no one truly knows where this path is leading us. Here are some of the suggestions that may be of some use during this period of upheaval and fear:
- Develop a schedule/routine and be prepared to balance that with flexibility: Abundant periods of unstructured time can sometimes lead to increased anxiety and low mood. This doesn’t mean you have to plan every hour, it just encourages you to have a regular time you wake up, eat, and go to sleep everyday. Stick with the basics and add if needed. Try to be flexible if last minute demands arise, especially for parents.
- Maintain social support: It’s definitely not the same to text/call/FaceTime our cherished friends and family but it’s better than not connecting at all. There have been remarkably clever ideas out there such as Zoom friend dates and apps like House Party. A dear friend of mine set up a storytelling time for children with cancer via Zoom with the help of her therapy dog, Teddy. We need each other more, not less, to get through this.
- Practice Radical Acceptance: This is a skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy that teaches how to live in the reality of situations we don’t like or want to believe are true. What we know is COVID-19 is here, affecting ALL of us in many different ways. There are social and personal consequences of living in denial or focusing constantly on what isn’t in our ability to change. This is a practice not something that is easily mastered and usually involves going through emotions like sadness, anger, and grief. Here is where you can practice experiencing these emotions with gentleness versus running away from or surpressing them.
- Focus on what’s in your control and let go of what isn’t: This is borrowed from 12 Step Wisdom and the serenity prayer. There’s a whole lot we don’t have control of right now and there are select things that remain within our locus of control. Practice imagining or drawing a circle detailing what’s in your control and what isn’t. If you are having trouble, remember we generally have control of our attitude and actions.
- Collect grounding strategies and use them: It’s normal and not pathological right now to be experiencing heightened stress, anxiety, and/or depression. During intense moments turn to techniques that ground your nervous system. These include, but are not limited to: holding a frozen orange, smelling a candle or essential oil, playing with your pets, taking a walk, getting outside, prayer, meditation, joyful movement, cooking, making art, and listening or creating music. Best to practice and learn these initially when you’re not at peak stress levels if possible.
- Tap into local/governmental resources: There’s a lot of fear and financial insecurity right now. Stay in touch with what’s being offered to assist families and local businesses. Self-care cannot be limited to the personal level at a time like this.
- Stay aware but not overwhelmed: Decide which media sources keep you informed. Consider how long each day you’d like to take in news either via TV, social media, or radio. Learn what signs your body and mind will give you if you’ve overconsumed media.
- Practice self-compassion: we live in an achievement oriented culture. It’s completely OK not to be productive during a public health crisis even if you’re getting messages from school or work to do so. Anxiety and stress take a lot out of us so consider how that will impact your day to day functioning. Additional self-compassion is recommend for parents right now trying to juggle multiple demands. Practice loving kindness meditations on Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer. If that feels arduous, simply put your hand on your heart and breath in and out for a few moments, setting an intention to be kind to yourself and other through this crisis. Challenge perfectionistic demands and thinking.
Lastly, remember that this too shall pass. We’re figuring this out as we go amidst a lot of uncertainty and hardship AND we can do really hard things. We’re a resilient species and this is important to remember at a time when fear and true threat for our most vulnerable is high. If you’re struggling with your mental health right now, please reach out to a qualified professional. We’re here to help and available via telehealth during this challenging time.