During this time of uncertainty, it’s important to make sure we are staying safe and sane. As many of us have our work and life routines disrupted, we may find ourselves struggling with confusion, uncertainty and even despair. Whereas we may not be able to change where we can go, we can change how we respond. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we weather the days ahead.
1. Develop a routine:
One of the areas of greatest difficulty with the “new normal” is that our life routines have been thrown off kilter. This cannot be underestimated! Our routines help bring structure and certainty to everyday life. When that routine is gone (however potentially monotonous it may have seemed) we can feel unsettled leading to mild anxiety and even depression—this is true of both kids and adults.
So, even though it can be our habit to drift into doing nothing we do best to place rails on ourselves. This means developing a new routine: Get up, shower, get dressed and plan to do what you can around the house or yard. A simple routine for ourselves and family can be vital in adding necessary structure. Sit down, jot down a schedule, and do your best to stick with it. Start with sleep and wake up times, time with the family, and with yourself, and expand from there.
2. Limit the news:
When we say limit the news we do not mean sticking our head in the sand; however, it can be a habit to try and find as much information as we can to relieve our anxiety—be careful of this! More information often does not limit anxiety, it stokes it. With conflicting reports and media hype, more information can leave us confused and panicked. The same can be said of social media. Set a time for your news watching or reading as well as social media (say 20 minutes) and end it there—go and do something productive.
3. Be objective: Stay away from “if only” and “what if…”.
Along with limiting the news it’s important to remain objective. Keep in mind that there are actually many things out there that can cause us harm that don’t get the media focus of COVID-19; in fact, as many as 600,000 people die each year in the United States from diseases which a diet change can prevent—that’s 50,000 a month or over 1,600 a day! Imagine if the news media had daily stories of such a death toll and then informed us on how to keep from dying! Whereas the Coronavirus is not harmless, it’s also yet another thing behavior change can ward off.
Going along with keeping an objective head means not engaging in the “what if” and “if only” mindset. Remember these two statements are actually fantasies of our mind and haven’t actually happened yet; so, if you are constricted with fear over the idea of “What if my family gets sick?” Take the common-sense and necessary precautions and then live your life—not focusing on what hasn’t happened but taking active steps toward what has. Remember, if our mental real estate is caught up on the “what if’s” then we will have little capacity to make the best of what is.
4. Be careful of the phone:
Our smartphones are useful and powerful tools, but they can also be tremendous time killers—sucking up moments we can use to add to our lives. Many of us use our phones to unwind and blank out from a day of constantly trying to solve problems. Whereas its good to take a break from trying to solve everything, the phone can actually keep us in the part of our brains (the frontal lobe) that we are trying to get a break from. One of the primary questions I ask those suffering from anxiety is, “How much time do you spend on your phone?” Most often those who are burning out and anxious tend to spend goodly chunks of time playing phone games or scrolling through social media. Set a time for your phone habit, replace it with mindfulness or ideas you can come up with to be productive, even put the phone away from you when there is no specific need. If its difficult to do this at first, take heart, the muscle will build itself.
5. Engage in activity:
With all this extra time we have on our hands (with schedule in hand and limits to the news and social media) we can now open up our creativity and pursue activities that truly add to our lives. Many of us will struggle with this given our work, eat, sleep, work again routines that are now in flux. Use this time to discover things you might like: go on walks, pick up a hobby, work in the yard, set up family time or time with your significant other. I’ve been amazed at how many more people I have seen outside these past few weeks. Engaging activity helps us build into ourselves instead of relying on others or things we may be dependent on. Taking time to reflect on who we are and what we can do instead of what we can’t do empowers us to press on no matter what.
If we keep in mind a few simple yet effective ways to turn this uncertain time into a blessing, we will have much greater resilience for any change to come. Simply spending time avoiding what we consider troubling will eventually cause us more trouble in the long run. By meeting the challenge and moving forward in what we can do we will become less aware of what we cannot do. If you are still having trouble snapping out of the funk, remember, Downey Park Counseling Associates is open for in-office and video sessions for your convenience.
Chris Oneth LMFT
Downey Park Counseling Associates