“What day is it?” is a question we seem to ask ourselves a lot lately. For many of us stuck inside, the last few weeks of quarantine have seemed to blend together into one long day that never ends. This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has been a period of prolonged stress, not just for those quarantined, but of course for the essential workers out in the field and their friends and family who stay home and worry about them. This prolonged stress, more so than regular-everyday stress, wreaks havoc on our nervous systems. It impacts every aspect of our lives, from our cognitive abilities to our immune system. Many have lost family members and are concerned for healthcare workers. Many are feeling the financial burden of being unemployed or losing significant revenue in their business. This stress is coming from all directions.
In times of prolonged stress like this, we often have to keep things very simple and return to the fundamentals of stress management. While the list of tools we can access to maintain our stress response is extensive, we can also break these fundamentals into 3 important priorities. Move, Connect & Nurture.
Getting yourself moving can have a profound effect on your mental health. You don’t have to stay in your home so long as you practice social distancing and make sure to stay at least six feet away from any other person not of your household. Even a short walk or light aerobic exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Walk around your yard, walk around the block, go for a run, or even hike through nature. In general, a combination of light exercise, natural sunlight, and mindfulness of the serenity and stillness of nature can work wonders for a stressed and troubled mind.
Social distancing makes it all but impossible to see our friends and loved ones the way we are used to, especially the elderly and immuno-compromised who must remain completely isolated. It’s important for our mental health to stay connected, whether it be by a phone call, text or some other digital means like organizing Zoom gatherings with your friends and family, or even coworkers. If you typically attend a self-help group, many like AA and NA are now being offered online. Don’t let the walls of your home stop you from making emotional connections with others!
Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Our bodies are under a tremendous amount of stress and we need to let ourselves recharge. Be mindful to give yourself the essentials: adequate sleep, daily rest, healthy food, and connection with others. Limit your reading of negative news stories and read something positive instead. Create a meditation practice. Whatever you need to do to keep yourself well, do it! This is not the time to be critical and harsh with ourselves for not “doing more”. This is, however, the perfect time to practice being gentle with ourselves.
This too shall pass. This pandemic will pass like every struggle in life does, hopefully leaving all of us more mindful and grateful for the things we often overlook and take for granted. Stay well, and be good to yourself.