Things are really hard right now. Full stop. There is an incredible amount of uncertainty and fear as we navigate the far-reaching impacts of a generational disaster. We are all adjusting on the fly to nearly daily changes and disruptions to our entire way of life. It’s pretty scary. I know that my own mood and anxiety have been all over the place.
One of the major impacts of COVID-19 is routines and habits have been thrown completely out the window. So many places are closed. The shift to remote work was sudden and difficult. We have been told to practise social distancing at all times. We are isolated from our friends and family. We have no routines, have lost many of our good habits, and even gained some bad ones. We feel helpless, anxious, frustrated, and scared.
Be kind to ourselves and others
First and foremost, I think we need to find a little kindness for ourselves and others. None of this is normal. There can be no normal response. Many of us are drowning while still trying to do our jobs (if they still exist) and take care of our families and friends. Many of us are working from home; Some with partners, some alone, and some with kids, all of which bring their own challenges. Add in all the blaring noise of the news and social media and it is no surprise that many people are struggling.
I think the most important thing everyone can do is give themselves, and everyone else, a bit of space for the sustained stress we are all under. This entire situation is traumatic. It’s exhausting. Our expectations for what we can achieve every day can’t be the same as what they were before this pandemic started. Let’s be kind as we take this one day at a time.
Reflect on your routines and habits
The list of challenges to our mental and physical health as COVID-19 spreads are harrowing:
- The risk of illness and worry for our loved-ones.
- The loss and risk to our livelihoods.
- The long term impacts on the economy and our futures
- The immediate impact on our day-to-day.
Of these things, aside from taking all the appropriate measures recommended by the health authorities, we have most control over the last one. One of the ways to wrestle back some sanity and structure to our lives is to manage the immediate impact on our day-to-day. We can do that by setting some new habits and routines that work in the ‘new normal’ we are experiencing.
The following are all things we are aware of as part of a healthy life, but are perhaps not thinking through in a cohesive way right now. Everything was so quickly thrown into disarray. People, in general, are not equipped to deal with this much change, this fast. But it’s ok. Let’s think them through:
Note 1: This is a big list, pick one or two things that you feel like you can manage right now.
Note 2: I don’t talk about managing having kids at home because I do not have kids. I think many of these still apply but I realize that things are infinitely more complicated as many of you try to work and/or educate/entertain children.
Stress and anxiety are not great for sleeping. It can be hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, some people are having nightmares. Everyone is tired. Keeping a standard sleep routine can help manage some of the fall out of sleeping poorly.
- Go to bed and get up around the same time. This sets a rhythm for your body, instead of having it be all over the place.
- Limit nap taking. I know, this sounds terrible. But hear me out. On one hand, our bodies are under stress and we need to listen to them when they need rest. On the other, naps can mess with our sleep cycles. I am a big fan of the ol’ afternoon sunbeam nap, so try just taking small, 15-20 minute brain breaks instead of long stretches of time.
- Keep your caffeine intake to before lunch. Caffeine = no sleep.
- Set a regular bedtime routine. Think about the steps you take every night in the 15-20 minutes before you go to bed. Try to make it the same every night. Having a set routine that you do every night helps prime your body for going to sleep.
- Stop reading social media/news sites before bed. Reading or watching the news or scrolling through social media right before bed is a good way to ramp up your anxiety. Don’t do that. :)
Eating and hydration
There are memes everywhere about eating all your ‘pandemic snacks’ 3 days into isolation. While sort of funny, what we eat has a huge effect on how we feel. When our energy levels are already pretty low, it is a good idea to try to keep a reasonably balanced diet. (Note: not saying NO snacks or treats, I’m not a monster. Just not all day everyday).
- Stick to a normal eating routine. Both stress eating and boredom eating are pretty common right now. Your routine doesn’t have to be the usual 3 times a day, but, try to make it not 12 times a day.
- Plan simple meals. Pick a few staple meals you can throw into the rotation that have simple ingredients and are easy to make. Rotini, onions, and sliced up sausage with a jar of pasta sauce is popular at my house.
- Limit the number of bad snacks in the house. This also sounds terrible, but you can’t eat it if it isn’t there.
- Pick one time each day that you can eat something bad. It’s kind of like getting a treat for getting through the day.
- Remember to drink lots of water. This can have a big impact on your energy levels. For example, I try to drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee I have.
There are also jokes about the ‘quarantine 15’ which may carry a grain (or boulder) of truth for many. You can’t go to the gym right now, may not have in the first place, and are likely struggling to find the energy to be active. So what can you do?
- Signup for a local gym/fitness studio online class. This is a good way to support a local business and keep up with your gym time.
- Try an at-home workout video on YouTube. These are free and you can do them at any time of day. I do yoga at home via Yoga with Adrienne.
- Go for a walk at least once a day. Get out of the house, move your legs, get some fresh air. (While continuing to practice physical distancing)
This is the one that I am struggling with the most. I want to be informed but there is so much terrible news that it cranks my anxiety pretty high. Social media is a way to stay connected to the outside world, but there is so much garbage. I think it’s a balance.
- Only check a few times a day - I am trying to limit myself to twice a day. The challenge is also having business reasons to post so it is a bit more than that in reality. The idea is to not sit and aimlessly scroll for several hours each day.
- Only check at certain times a day - Think about when you have the mental resources to deal with the noise. I do once in the morning and once around dinner. Right before bed is likely not a good time.
- Be kind - If you are reading and posting, there are a lot of scared people out there. Try to be kind, or at least don’t contribute to the garbage.
So much TV/Netflix/Prime/Crave etc. Also, video games. With many of our schedules clear and being stuck at home, naturally our screen time will go up.
- Think about how what you are watching makes you feel. Are you watching Contagion? (WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF?). Some shows make my anxiety worse, while others are a nice distraction. Just notice.
- Try to limit binge-watching/playing. Just think about how it is making you feel. Could you limit yourself to watching 2 shows in a row and going for a walk? Or set a timeframe each day for you to freely watch/game?
Liquor and cannabis
Liquor and cannabis sales are up. I suspect many of you feel like you could use a stiff drink or relaxing smoke at the end of each day (or, you know, after breakfast). Alcohol and cannabis, in particular, can seem like good ‘in the moment’ remedies to stress, but we need to be cautious about relying on them long term. They impact our sleep and focus and can have a cascading effect in making us feel even worse over time. No judgement, just a reminder for moderation.
Think about the things you can do to help stave off boredom and take a break from all the bad news that isn't in front of a screen. Is there something you have always wanted to try but have never had time for? What might be a good brain break? Things like:
- Artistic endeavors like painting or drawing, or even colouring for relaxation.
- Puzzles, sudoku, crosswords, or board games with the family.
- Picking up an instrument you haven’t played in a long time.
- Meditation or yoga
Establish new connection habits
Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, the phone (I know, crazy talk)...we can’t go out and see our family and friends in person but we can still stay connected. Set up some new regular connection habits.
- Phone your parents and grandparents every day.
- FaceTime and wine with friends.
- Have a virtual coffee with a colleague.
- Set up a WhatsApp group to share whatever is on your mind.
Taking some time to reflect on our habits and work on making healthier choices is going to have a huge impact on our ability to weather this crisis over the long run. That said, I know that it is exhausting. I know that it is hard to do many of these things when we are looking for quick comforts. See if you can pick one or two of the things listed. Most of all, out of everything, try to be kind to yourself and others as we try to get through this together.