The pandemic experience creates new stressors in daily life that many people are not prepared to cope with. Here are some helpful tips from health care professionals.
Keep a routine
Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean your schedule can, or should change. “Wake up at your regular time,” said Geisinger clinical psychologist Dr. Shahida Fareed. And stick with the same sleep schedule you had pre-pandemic. Not having a routine or structure produces the negative side effects of unpredictability and well as physical fatigue. However, “There are things that are under our control,” she said. “What we do within our home is under our control. We should not lose sight of that.”
Take in less news
Evangelical psychologist Dr. Anthony Ragusea said it might be necessary to take a break from news and media coverage about the virus, “or about other stressful things that are in the news right now.” Adds Fareed, exposure to the news “increases the unpredictability and flood of information”, adding that “You can listen to the news in 30 minutes a day and get all the information you need. Let’s not make it a 24-hour thing”. And turn off those regular updates on your smartphone.
Stay active. With less to do for many, or fewer places to go, it’s easy to become too sedentary. And that leads to increased fatigue. Even if you have to wear a mask, go for a short, quiet walk with your family, Fareed said, and “maintain that physical activity level.” Thankfully, the weather is nice and being outside is relatively safe, and a good “stress management tool,” added Ragusea.
“Put something in the schedule that is relaxing,” Fareed said. “Have dinner with family and don’t talk about COVID or other sensitive issues. Talk about things that boost your morale and will lift your spirit. And make it mandatory for each member so that you are making sure you are not only taking care of yourself, but you are taking care of your family.” Ragusea adds that other healthy ways of self-care can include meditation, deep breathing, and maintaining a healthy diet and appropriate levels of sleep. “Force yourself up and out,” he added. “Do things that make you feel good.”
Takes steps to minimize, not eliminate, the risk
“Most of us can, and need, to accept a certain level of risk as we go out and deal with the world,” Ragusea said. “We need to acknowledge and validate that people need to get out and do things and socialize and interact. It’s just unreasonable to expect otherwise.” He suggests approaching life with the goal of “harm reduction”, or minimizing risk by following simple, consistent guidelines on what is known for sure. For example, the primary vector of the virus is respiration, so wear a mask and worry less about sanitizing surfaces. Avoid indoor gatherings, but don’t be “hyper vigilant about everyone we come in contact with.”
Focus on the positive
“We don’t just have to focus on what a drag this all is,” Ragusea said. “This can be and has been a positive change for some people in a variety of ways. It’s important to understand that even those people who are suffering the most at this time…that there is positive growth that can come from terrible situations. For most, while it is nevertheless stressful, the struggle has been mostly with the inconvenience of minor restrictions. Look at the silver lining, he said: “We are maybe working less, which might help us to appreciate working at a slower pace and doing less.” Pursue hobbies or interests, he said, or simply do nothing at all. “It’s ok to do nothing and to enjoy that leisure time,” he said, adding, “Strike a better balance between work and self-care.” And maybe even allow this time to help you consider a change in perspective and look for new opportunities. For example, Ragusea said, if we were laid off from a job that we never really liked anyway, it might give us the motivation to try a different career we had been thinking of doing anyway but never took the risk.
See a doctor
Sometimes, our own efforts at self-care may not be enough, and we might benefit from more professional help, such as psychotherapy or medication. “Despite everything you are doing to take care of yourself and your family, and you are still struggling, reach out to your doctor,” Fareed said. “Get the help that you deserve.”