Coping with COVID: Mindfulness and Self-Care

We are still in a pandemic, and it is a challenging time for all of us. We’re feeling the strain of months of stress, and at this point we might be feeling discouraged. Natural disasters have predictable impacts on our behavioral health, and it’s normal to not feel ok right now.

The good news is that as humans, we are resilient and can bounce back in the face of disasters. And there are things we can actively do to make it easier to cope. Mindfulness and self-care are simple approaches we can use to address the stress and anxiety we’re carrying right now.

In this episode of the Washington State Department of Health behavioral health podcast on coping with COVID-19, Kira Mauseth, PhD and Doug Dicharry, MD discuss how we can practice mindfulness and self-care to reduce stress and anxiety.

Get in the moment with mindfulness

Mindfulness is a simple strategy that can reduce stress and anxiety. It is a type of meditation where we practice being in the present moment. Using mindfulness, we can tune in to what is currently going on with the body and brain. We can notice where we are — mentally and physically — and sit with those feelings or sensations without judgement.

Most of the worry and anxiety we experience is related to things that have already happened in the past or things in the future that haven’t happened yet. But usually, in the “now,” we are doing ok. Mindfulness helps us feel grounded in our current realities, instead of worrying about the past or the future.

Mindfulness is a popular tool because it is a simple way to improve health. Regularly practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, depression, and burnout. It can also help with pain management, reduce high blood pressure, and promote better sleep.

Take a few minutes for mindfulness

Mindfulness is an easy but effective strategy that anyone can practice. You should aim to practice mindfulness for about twenty minutes a day, but even 5–10 minutes can make a big difference. There are some smartphone apps that can guide you, but you can also practice on your own with some simple techniques:

  • Pay attention to the here and now. Notice what is going on around you — things you see, hear, or feel.
  • Live in the moment. When practicing mindfulness, thoughts about the past or future might come up. This is normal. Acknowledge those thoughts, let them pass, and gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
  • Accept yourself. Allow your thoughts and feelings to just be. Acknowledge any difficult or uncomfortable feelings that come up, accept that they are there, and let them go without judgement.
  • Focus on your breathing to anchor yourself to the present moment. Keep your attention on the way each breath moves through the body, following every inhale and exhale. If you want, place a hand on your belly or chest to feel your breath moving in and out.

Try to set aside time for mindfulness once or twice a day. You can also practice mindfulness when taking a walk by focusing on what you see, hear, or feel in the moment.

Make a plan for self-care

Creating and using a self-care plan is another way to manage stress and anxiety, especially during disasters like a pandemic. A self-care plan lays out specific things you can do to take care of yourself, like reading, going outside, engaging in a hobby, or connecting with others. Just making a self-care plan can help you feel better, even before putting it in action, because it helps identify your needs and values.

A self-care plan works best when it is tailored just for you. Only you can know what fits in best with your lifestyle and schedule. When creating a personalized self-care plan, include goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. For example, a SMART goal may be “Every morning at 7 a.m., I will take a one-mile walk.” Using SMART goals sets you up for success and means you are more likely to stick with your self-care plan.

Self-care plans can change over time, and that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to update your plan to fit in with changes to the weather or your schedule. The best plan is one that is realistic for you.

It’s ok to ask for help

Mindfulness and self-care help us to control and reduce stress and anxiety, especially during difficult situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. They aren’t just good ideas — they are important for our survival.

You can find other resources to help with stress and anxiety at coronavirus.wa.gov/wellbeing. You can also call Washington Listens at 1–833–681–0211 to talk through issues you’re dealing with and connect with resources in your area.

More information

Information in this blog changes rapidly. Sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.

For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org. Check the vaccine locator tool to find out if it’s your turn for the vaccine and see a list of places where you can get it. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

Transcript

- [Announcer] Welcome to a Washington State Department of Health podcast on coping with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now your host for the show, Disaster Psychologist, Kira Mauseth and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Doug Dicharry.

- Welcome to our show today, I’m Kira Mauseth.

- And I’m Doug Dicharry. Today, we’re discussing mindfulness and self-care plans.

- The first thing to keep in mind with all of this is that, you know, we’re in a pandemic and it’s a challenging time for everybody. So there’s some things we can do that are going to help us feel a little bit more normal in these uncertain times. But it really is okay to not feel normal. And we’re going to discuss, today, sort of what that looks like, and then how to create some active coping strategies around mindfulness and self-care to help us get through it.

- So right now, we’re kind of in a disillusionment phase when we’re really feeling the strain and months of stress. So we’re feeling discouragement, that’s true, but the good news is, is as human beings, our tendency is to, is to bounce back, our tendency is to be resilient. And there’re things that we can actively do to increase our ability to cope in these difficult times. So self-care plans and mindfulness are approaches that we can use to control or reduce the stress and anxiety that we’re carrying.

- Yeah, I really like mindfulness and I’m glad we’re talking about that today. There’s a lot of research and I’ve worked with a lot of people, clients and just, you know, friends and colleagues too, who use mindfulness on a regular basis because it makes them feel so much better and it is so effective. There’s some interesting studies that show, you know, you can see brain scans from people who practice even just five or 10 minutes a day of being mindful and being sort of present in the moment. And their brains are showing decreased areas where depression and anxiety tend to show up on these on these particular scans. So it’s an incredibly effective technique, but it doesn’t, you know, it’s not rocket science in order to do it. It’s something that we can all start to practice. You may have heard of it before. There’s lots of information on the internet that’s available about mindfulness. There are lots of extensive training programs and sort of one-page tip sheets that you can get that explain the pieces that are involved with it. But basically what mindfulness does is, it gets us to attend to the present moment. It’s about really tuning in our body and our brain to what’s going on right now. Most of the worries that we experience and the anxiety that we go through is caused by thinking about things that are in the past that have already happened and we can’t change, or that are in the future and haven’t happened yet. But right now in this current moment, we’re actually doing okay. And recognizing that the anxiety tends to come from either the past or the future prevents us from being fully sort of engaged and noticing and committed to our attention in that present moment. And that’s what mindfulness is designed to do, is connecting us to that present moment without judgment, just sort of acknowledging where we are, sitting with where we are, and learning how to be okay with that. So it’s really an incredible sort of strategy and it does reduce stress, it reduces depression, it can help with pain management. There are certain studies that have shown that it reduces high blood pressure and has a variety of really great physiological effects. Engaging in mindfulness, even for five to 10 minutes a day like I mentioned, can help with insomnia, it can help with sleep hygiene in general, and it decreases burnout for people at work. It just gets us feeling better so it’s a really powerful tool.

- Right, and it’s a very simple tool too, because all it takes is just finding a few minutes every day, I mean, usually 15 or 20 minutes. But as you said, Kira, even five or 10 minutes can make a big difference, just some time where you can sit quietly, focus on your breathing, just pay attention to your breathing. You may notice feelings or sensations or thoughts come up. Just, just let them, let them come up and pass. Just pay attention, notice them, let go of them and try to live in the moment and accept yourself. These are things that, if you take this approach, it can make a big difference. You start to see changes in your daily life where you feel calmer, as Kira mentioned, a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression. And if you can do it once or twice a day or sometimes people do it even just out for a walk, they actively focus on what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, what they’re thinking about. There are also smartphone apps that you can use on our website, on the wellbeing website. It’s Coronavirus.wa.gov/wellbeing. So the other thing that you can do is a self-care plan. And with a self-care plan, you’re really trying to focus on specifics of things that you can do each day to take care of yourself, to reduce your anxiety, reduce the distractions in your life can use as the smart objectives that are often used in business and in other areas. But make your plan specific, make it measurable, make it attainable, make it relevant, make it time-based. And it, it might be as simple, for example, as saying every morning at 7 a.m., I’ll take a one mile walk and when I’m finished, I’ll come home and have breakfast. You could start with that or start with, or or make it as elaborate as, as you feel necessary. But some way that you can take care of yourself whether it’s reading, doing a hobby. It’s been found, for example, that with medical residents, there was a study on reducing burnout. And medical residents that practice a hobby, which is really a form of self-care, had a much lower rate of burnout. So these are things that you can actively do to care for yourself, to reduce that kind of stress and anxiety.

- Yeah, I really love the smart goals. Like you said, they’re applied in business settings all the time. And there’s a reason why they’re smart, right? It’s not just a good acronym. It makes it much more likely that people are going to follow through, and that you’re going to experience success. And when it comes to mindfulness and self-care, and all these things, you know, these are necessary things. These aren’t just good ideas. They’re kind of important for our survival, right now. So having smart goals and applying smart goals into your self-care plan and to the regular practice of mindfulness is really going to be a way to make it more effective in your life. So again, just for people who might not be as familiar, the acronym for smart, for smart goals is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. So any goal that you set, ideally, should include those characteristics. And the reason why it’s important to have an individualized self-care plan is that unless you’re the one that comes up with the things that are on it, it’s much less likely to be effective for you. You know, you can go on Google and find a variety of sort of generic self-care plans, but the things that are going to actually work are the things that you know are going to fit in your own life. And so making these smart goals and applying them to something that you — that works for your schedule, and that works for all of the things that you’re juggling, is going to be the thing that really matters for you, and it’s going to be effective for you. So self-care plans really are a benefit to all of us, but they need to be personal. I recommend them sort of being tailored to your specific circumstances. It’s a good idea for anybody to have one. There is some research that shows that just making a plan, even if you don’t actually do it, just making the plan actually helps people feel better. That can increase resilience kind of in its own right. So going through that process and recognizing, and valuing, you know, the things that are important to you, is a healthy thing to do.

- Right, and I would add too, you’re more likely to complete your plan if you write it down. And you’re also more likely to complete it if you share it with someone.

- So let someone know —

- A little accountability?

- Right, this is your plan. And it may change over time. So as we get into the, you know, into the winter months, getting outside when it’s raining, for example, you may have to adapt your plan, you may have to change it a bit, but try to figure out ways that you can get outside. It might mean, you know, getting new rain gear or whatever, but that’s just one example of how you can adapt.

- Yeah, the accountability piece is huge for this because there’s a reason why people are more likely to workout or go for a walk when there’s someone else, when there’s somebody else that is expecting you rather than you having to be the only one who does it. So, you know, if you put it on the refrigerator, stick it up there, when you reach for that tub of ice cream, your self-care plan will be right there to remind you that there’s something different maybe, I don’t know.

- Okay, I think less ice cream goes into my self-care plan these days.

- Right, exactly.

- So we’ve touched on a number of things about how self-care plans and mindfulness can help you control and reduce stress and anxiety. We also have some resources that can help. I mentioned before, Coronavirus.wa.gov/wellbeing. That website has resources and strategies you can use to develop self-care plans and to practice mindfulness.

- Yeah, you can also call the Washington Listens line and that’s just a professionally staffed line. It’s not professional clinical resources, but these are people who are highly trained to, you know, to talk to you, to answer your questions, and to connect you with other things in the area that are available. And that number is +1 833–681–0211.

- Right, and as always, talk to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about the mental health or behavioral health of yourself or your children.

- Yeah, if there are some, you know, big red flag concerns or if you noticed sort of issues that aren’t just kind of ebbing and flowing as we’re normally going through these things, but you’re seeing bigger concerns over a longer period of time, that’s definitely an opportunity to reach out, ask for help, get some professional advice about what to do next, because you’re definitely not experiencing these things on your own, and there are resources to help you.

- Right.

- Yeah, I think that’s it for our show today. So thank you for joining us and we’ll see you next time for the Department of Health behavioral health podcast on coping with COVID.

Public Health Connection

From the Washington State Department of Health

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