***Disclaimer: This blog is written by a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend etc. who also happens to be a licensed clinician. It is not a substitute for seeking professional advice from your own therapist. Advice from this blog does not equate informed consent and does not establish a therapeutic relationship with the writer***
Quarantine Day….I’m not even sure at this point. I’m willing to bet that many of you are feeling stuck just like me. Stuck in this perpetual weekend that isn’t much fun since we can’t go anywhere. I don’t know about you, but my family would have started planning day trips to the beach or even taken an evening or two to stop by the local park to let our six year old play. Even those of us who are deemed “essential” probably aren’t able to follow our regular routines and schedules either, especially if we have kids who we suddenly have to home-school!
There’s a lot out of our control right now. And for a lot of us, to put it bluntly, it just SUCKS! The good news is that you’re not in this boat alone. Even mental health providers are feeling the effects of social distancing, increased isolation, and all of the other changes in our everyday lives. The other good news is, there are a lot of different and creative ways that you can cope with this very unpredictable time. The following list is by no means “all inclusive”, however you may find it helpful in getting yourself back to feeling more in control!
- ROUTINES and SCHEDULES
Let’s be real. If you’re anything like me, the concept of a schedule has gone right out of the window. Really the only thing holding me to any type of schedule right now is appointments with clients and a 9 month old that is definitely NOT going to wait when she wants to eat. Other than that, it’s been a free-for-all which is very atypical for my life. Many people (*self-disclosure* ME INCLUDED) struggle to maintain when there isn’t a schedule. Humans thrive off of predictability. So why does our work or the daily grind have to dictate that schedule? The short answer is that it doesn’t! We may have to cope by means of developing a temporary routine that can easily be tossed to the side when we are back to “normal”. Or even some of you may find that parts of your new routine can stay implemented afterward. One thing I always suggest to clients, and is widely recommended in the mental health community is the idea of Sleep Hygiene. Sleep hygiene is traditionally used to help individuals who suffer from mild to moderate insomnia. Here’s a great handout on Sleep Hygiene if you want to know more! I like to expand this idea to the morning as well. Having a set time that we wake up or a set time we go to sleep not only gives us that necessary structure, but also keeps our circadian rhythm in check.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
There is a ton of research out there listing the various benefits of physical activity. Not only for our physical health, but also for our mental health. The problem is that right now, given the closure of all “non-essential”businesses, gyms and other similar facilities are closed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t access some kind of physical activity. Depending on your TV provider you may have access to several work-out videos for free on demand, or see what is available on YouTube. If you’re itching to get out of the house, even taking a 20 minute walk in the fresh air will help substantially. Maybe exercise wasn’t in your schedule before, but this is an example of something that you can add now and maybe even keep later! Physical activity doesn’t have to be traditional exercise either. This may be the time to tackle some yard projects and gardening. The point is to get moving!
- BE CREATIVE (TRY SOMETHING NEW)
Maybe a sudden increase in down time isn’t all bad when it comes to projects you’ve been wanting to do. Several clients I have spoken to over the last few weeks have taken the opportunity to finally try out those Pinterest pins they saved years ago. This is easily something you can get the kids in on as well. Although, I would definitely encourage all parents to make sure they’re not making it all about the kids. I know this is easier said than done, but setting aside the time for just YOU is very important. My favorite “go-to” idea is trying out new recipes. This is something I can easily do alone or have the kids help out too.
- NETFLIX AND CHILL
Netflix and other streaming platforms have been a lifesaver in my house. Even though my husband and I are both “essential” and working, we have still increased our downtime due to canceled sports for our daughter and eliminating any eating out for us. We have been able to incorporate shows we have been wanting to see into a night time routine or even a “veg” day where we binge watch. Ultimately it’s about the new quality time where we all as a family, or just my husband and I as a couple, can have a common interest for a period of time. As we all know, series such as Tiger King gives us the mental break from stressors we are currently facing. It’s not to say that we should completely ignore those stressors, but taking a necessary break from them in the form of any of the above mentioned activities, or by getting temporarily immersed into a show, can significantly help all of us cope with the changes and uncertainty we are dealing with.
- DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Does your hair look crazy? What about your nails? Have your favorite restaurants closed completely? Yep,same here! We have been inconvenienced a lot by this virus. And it’s hard when something interferes with our routines and schedules (see above). Most of us have to wear masks when we go out, that is IF we can get out. In my family, we agreed that only one of us would do all of the shopping to limit potential exposures. So that means I haven’t been in ANY stores for more than a month. But really, I cannot control any of this. And if I’m being totally honest and direct (you’ll find this is my style) these are total “First World Problems”. At the sake of sounding dismissive, which is absolutely never the intent, there are bigger issues at hand. So long story short, don’t sweat the small stuff!!
The key to all of the other tips and tricks circles right back to this one here. Not too much or too little of anything. Sounds easy right? Not necessarily. In my experience as a clinician, many people struggle to even define what balance is or what it looks like for them. Afterall, it is different for everyone. I like to think of it related to diet. There’s a reason why a “balanced diet” is recommended. Because clearly if all we ate was bread and cheese (aka pizza haha), we are missing out on a ton of nutrients from other foods. This is not to say we cannot EVER have pizza, but it cannot be the only thing we eat. The same is true to things related to our mental health. It does not mean ignoring the realities of current life (avoidance), but it also doesn’t mean dwell on them so much that we create higher levels of stress.
We all know that with limited things to do each day (aside from being essential) that getting up early as if we were going to work isn’t necessary. And being strict to the point of inflexibility is also not necessary. So if you want to set your goal wake-up time for 10am, that is fine. If you set that goal for 10 and don’t get up until 11, well that is fine too. The idea is that the more consistent you are, not strict but CONSISTENT, the more you’ll maintain a sense of stability and routine. There’s the balance. Make sense?
This is also true when it comes to aspects of physical activity and watching favorite shows. We aren’t talking about suddenly running a marathon but we also aren’t talking just being a couch potato indefinitely. We aren’t talking about spending 5 days straight watching an entire series, or depriving yourself of TV altogether either. An idea I usually encourage clients to do is balancing out chores or work with a show or other fun activity. Almost like a reward for the work. Throw in a load of laundry and watch a show while you fold it. Wash the dishes while listening to your favorite playlist. Take the kids for a walk after they finish one of their assignments.
Ultimately, we have to seek to control what we can and subsequently, let go of what we cannot. It would be important to determine what things you can control. I’ll give you a hint, it’s only you. Your thoughts, your actions, your reactions. We cannot control a LONG list of other things, and although it’s not ideal, it is okay!