It’s stunning how fast things can change.
Just a few weeks ago, we were reading the news about a new virus on the other side of the world. Full-fledged hospitals were being constructed in mere days to handle the incoming patients. It was scary, but it was very far away and didn’t seem like something we needed to worry about…
Then, we got our first few cases of COVID-19 North America. Then more. And within a single week, all of our lives changed.
With countless businesses temporarily closed, no gatherings of over 50 people allowed, the stock market plummeting, and social distancing being practiced all over the world, even a therapist can feel helpless. However, as a mental health professional, you know that you must take steps to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy. Staying mindful is one of the ways we can all get through this time.
As a therapist, psychologist, or social worker, you probably advise your clients about self care. Now is a good time to also check-in with yourself to make sure that you’re practicing healthy habits that will take you through this time of crisis. It doesn’t matter whether you’re feeling stressed now or you’ve been able to fend off most of the worry—having a self care plan in place will help remove the guesswork if you become overwhelmed later.
Here are some suggestions about how to practice self care and mindfulness during a difficult period.
Take Breaks from the News
Being regularly fed a stream of stressful news at a time of crisis is a surefire way to negatively impact your mental health.
Even if you love watching the news, it’s important that you take breaks. If you’re continually seeing scary stories about COVID-19 or are watching the stock market decline, it’s going to take a toll on your mental wellbeing.
If you want to stay informed, rather than leaving the news on all day, do periodic check-ins at set times during the day. Consider limiting your news consumption to just twice a day; in the morning and again in the evening. This will help you digest the news in more reasonable pieces, rather than obsessing over it and becoming quickly overwhelmed by all of the “breaking news” headlines.
If you’ve never tried meditating, now is a great time to incorporate the practice into your daily life. With all of the disturbing and distracting news out there, taking the time to breathe, centre yourself, and quiet your thoughts can be very powerful.
In many ways, meditation does for the mind and spirit what physical fitness does for the body. Rather than building physical muscles, meditation builds mindfulness and relaxation habits to strengthen the spirit.
Doing yoga at home, perhaps through the help of a video or an app, is a wonderful intersection between meditation for the mind and physical flexibility and strength for the body. There are many different types of yoga; choose something more relaxing, geared towards flexibility, or a more invigorating practice. The poses are designed to help the nervous system. Focusing on each pose fits in nicely with the mindfulness practices of meditation.
Just because you may be spending (a lot) more time at home right now doesn’t mean that your sleeping schedule should be allowed to fall off-course. Your sleep can have a huge impact on your emotional state as well as your physical health.
Stress during a time of crisis can make it hard to sleep, as can staying up late to watch the news or consume social media. That’s why maintaining a nighttime routine is so important.
Try to stick to the same approximate “bedtime” every night. Turn off electronics well before bed and consider meditating or reading (an actual book or on a device that is soft on the eyes) before bed to help quiet the mind. If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, check your consumption of caffeine and sugar. This may be a good time to reduce the amounts you consume if you’re feeling overstimulated. Also, be careful about eating too soon before bed.
Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep. Check your bedroom for distracting blue light on clock radios and other devices that could be keeping you up at night. Consider charging your phone in a different room while you sleep so you aren’t tempted to check it if you do wake up.
Check Your Diet
Did you stock up on chips and cookies before starting social distancing? While a little indulgence every now and then is okay, overindulging could be wreaking havoc on your body and the way you feel. Taking care of your gut can have a big impact on your overall well being. Try to keep as normal of a diet as possible so you aren’t taking your body on a rollercoaster ride during isolation.
Eating fruits and vegetables as well as other nutrient-rich foods can really help boost your mood. If it’s hard to access fresh fruits and veggies, consider stocking up on frozen items on your next grocery run or delivery.
Luckily, spring really is here and better weather is on its way. Try to get some fresh air every day. Whether you go for a walk in the neighbourhood or sit in the backyard or the front porch, take some deep, mindful breaths of the crisp spring air. And, by the way, opening your windows to let in some fresh air is a good habit and feels especially great in the spring!
Walking during these trying times is definitely a great form of exercise and can help you shake off feelings of claustrophobia from too much time spent indoors. And though you might not want to get too close to your neighbours, it can feel good to see other people (from a distance) and wave hello.
Keep a Schedule
Along with keeping an evening routine, it’s a good idea to have some sort of schedule to give structure to your day. Schedule time for exercise, whether it’s yoga at home, a walk outdoors, or both.
Try to wake up at a reasonable time in the morning and make a no-pyjama rule after a certain time, especially for any work that you have to do for the day. With Owl Practice, you can work from anywhere, and while it’s great to be able to work remotely, working in your pyjamas can start to have a negative effect on your psyche and productivity. Get showered and dressed and give your day some structure. You’ll feel so much better!
Don’t Feel Too Alone
We’re very lucky to have so many virtual tools at our disposal to allow for video calls and ways to connect with family and friends. Whether you use Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, or another tool, you can “see” your friends while social distancing. Even therapists aren’t immune to feelings of loneliness. Don’t let yourself feel too isolated. Stay connected!
Self Care Matters
This is a difficult time for all of us. None of us are unaffected. As someone who is always caring for others, please also remember to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing.
As we mentioned in our COVID-19 update on March 13th, as a team of co-workers at Owl, we’re trying to do our part to help flatten the epidemic curve in Canada. Specifically, we’re working remotely and choosing to postpone non-essential get-togethers. More broadly, we’re challenging each other to stay positive and be kind to family, friends, and neighbours. Together we can get through this.