I put together as what I hope to be a resource for families that are continuing to follow strict sheltering in place. Get a sandwich though; this is long.
First and foremost, take it easy on the news if it results in you feeling stressed or sad. I promise if there is something super important, someone will tell you. Find 1 maybe 2 news/information sources that you believe are credible (based on science), and provide efforts to build hope vs fear mongering.
OK, let’s start.
Instead of looking at all sources of information, seek the good in the world, the helpers. Spend time on that if you must be online. There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also lots stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.
Next, here is what I believe are important points to consider on how to get yourself and your family through social distancing. This list is compiled from efforts of mine to seek out direction from experts in resilience, stability, and thriving. I would like to give credit to Dr. Margie Donlon PsyD, Brene Brown PhD, Tara Brach Phd, and Bessel van der Kolk. It has my own twist and focus (of course on the brain:).
Basics of Self Care:
1.) Focus on structure. It is very easy to lose the sense of work week and weekend even if you are working. Make sure that you are sleeping on a schedule and building in "work time", self care time, and time to connect. Then take "breaks" from the structure so you can really feel indulgence/rest vs just going from one day to another.
2.) Make sure you are getting dressed for the day. Ideally, getting dressed as if you are leaving the house and going to see others, but at the bare minimum change from your night time PJ's to your day time PJ's. Bonus points for keeping the routine of brushing your teeth, skin care, and showers:) Just kidding. Feeling gross is an easy way to feel like you are not in control of things.
3.) Try to leave the house every day. Go for a drive or get out to exercise. At the bare minimum open the windows or spend time near a window looking outside at the weather. Fresh air is essential for us to remember that there is a world outside.
4.) Make time to be active - outside, yoga, aerobics, home gyms, whatever. There is so much on the Internet for free in regards to exercise. Remember stress hormones don't just disappear, they will either sit in your system and make you feel junky (yes that is the sciencey word) or keep refiring. Activity also stimulates your brain in ways that results in positive mood.
5.) Make sure to stimulate your senses. For example, play music while you are doing normal daily activities. The more brain activity the better you will feel. Music is a great passive way to make that happen. Or get smells going in your house. This is another way to build more brain activity that is the opposite of sadness, anxiety, and nothing. Our sense of smell is the only one that immediately changes how our brain is working.
6.) Get apps that connect you easily with people, ideally visual. I just learned about the app "houseparty" where you can even play games with people. Make sure you set aside time to play, watch movies, talk about anything but COVID etc.
7.) Make sure you drink lots of water. Not only is this Sickness Prevention 101, but it is Feel Good 101. This can have a positive effect on the "quarantine 15" that people have called the weight gain that has been happening. Increasing your water intake reduces urges to eat and helps you drop weight. Of course I send this after characterizing the bowl of candy in my house as "salad" because it has so many colors.
8.) Start new eating habits. While each meal reminds us of episodes of "Chopped". Learn new recipes; try baking; become a meal planner! If meals are a burden, then get into a rhythm (Mondays pasta, Tuesdays Tacos, Wednesdays soup etc. etc.) Give yourself a break (btw, if case you wonder, this the camp I am in)
9.) Make sure you get a good idea of what makes you feel taken care of. If you are stuck, think, "How do I take care of myself when I have the flu?" Or, "What would the person who loves me most want to do for me when I am stressed or in pain?". It can help to think about what to do when taking care of sickness or from the perspective of someone who loves us. Try a lot of things and see what works. Try using your senses, starting a hobby etc.
10.) Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others, leave a card for the mail man, leave candy for the UPS person—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
11.) Take this as an opportunity to reset any pessimism about others. Give people a wide berth emotionally and physically:) Many people are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. We tend to express anxiety in one of those modes, but of course we aren’t given the opportunity to choose.
12.) Lower your expectations of others and practice radical self-acceptance. We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. Radical Acceptance is about being able to “hold” our experiences, and cope with what comes up for us in reference to something. This is new so we cannot be bad at it. Make sure you remain focused on understanding what you are feeling and learning vs attacking. Visit Tara Brach's website for more information on this: www.tarabrach.com
13.) If you have kids, make sure you put in the schedule to play and to give them time. The kids will probably try to process what is going on in play. Make sure you help them explore. Kids will likely bring it up spontaneously, but if you ask them regularly where they are at, they know they can bring things up.
14.) If the kids are stressed, try to put them in the helper position to see what they need or think is happening. Don't be afraid to play things out in worst case scenarios like people having tantrums etc. Teach them that play and fantasy is safe way to try things out. If you have pets involve them too. But you know how cats are. - just kidding - spend time with your cats and dogs:) It's good for your brain and your soul.
15.) Make sure kids can have some private time as well as adults. Forts are great! Remember no company in the house means the fort can stay up for a while:) It is important to let the kids take some space, and if needed close your eyes. There is a reason that Man Caves and She Dens are sought-after spaces by adults.
16.) Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently. We are all struggling with disruption in routine, and none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, needing help with things they don't normally do along with meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.
17.) Focus on safety and attachment. We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children. Focus on strengthening the connection with them through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, and through therapeutic books. Provide them with via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time. This will be a big deal to kids because their worlds are small. They do not have the context of other life experiences.
18.) Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it. In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
19.) Find a long-term project to dive into. Something that can give you a sense of mastery, challenging enough to make you practice, but attainable enough to keep you interested. Learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-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 breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
20.) Get into repetitive movements and left-right movements. Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.
21.) Find an expressive art and go for it. Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling. Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all. See how relieved you can feel. It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!
22.) 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 shows on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
23.) Reach out for help—your team is there for you. Use this as a time to practice depending on people.
24.) Find the lesson. This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable. When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through their trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction. What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?
25.) “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment. We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now. Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry. Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. Our brains think because we don't know the date then it is indefinite. Make sure you continually remind yourself that even though we don't know when, it will happen.
26.) Use comparisons to help you gain perspective, but not to be cruel to yourself. When you compare your circumstances to other people that are in what you believe are worse situations, the point of that exercise is to make you feel like your difficult circumstance is approachable and you can do it. It is not to make yourself feel guilt and shame.
27.) Find people who have the narrative that you want and become their regular audience. My picks are: Tara Brach, Brene Brown, and comedians.
28.) Practice gratitude. If we have talked about this then you know I am thinking about getting more activity in the frontal lobe vs the limbic system. But it is the right thing to do for yourself and others. Gratitude is inherently the opposite of a negative mood.
29.) LAST BUT NOT LEAST.
This metaphor from Brene Brown is spot on. Empathy is not finite! It is not like a pizza with only 8 slices, and if you give yourself empathy then there is less pizza for the front line workers and families in refugee camps going through this. Empathy grows when it is used, both for yourself and others. The doctor who has moved out of the house to protect their loved one is not going to get more empathy because you are not giving yourself any. This is a skill, so do a lot of training at home with yourself and family.
OK, This was a big list. So, just pick 3 things to work on a week.
For example, 1.) Drink more water,
2.) Talk a walk no matter what (no matter how long)
3.) Put oils in an infuser every day.
I know this is a lot, but I am sure you also know after the first five minutes of talking to me that I am long winded. The quote that I love for times like this comes from a movie that I have never seen, but trailers are my favorite part of going to the theater:)
"It will be OK in the end, and if it is not OK, then it is not the end"
I truly believe that it will be OK, and we will work this through together.
Tracy Torelli, LCSW-R, CASAC