If you’re a human being on planet earth today, you are probably feeling some level of stress or anxiety about COVID-19, which is likely made worse by social distancing. People are coming up with more positive spins on social distancing—distant socializing and physical distancing, for example—but the fact remains that we are all under increased stress and most of us are feeling distant from the social networks that would normally help us deal with the stress.
Here’s what you should NOT do…
While your natural response may be to eat more junk food, drink more alcohol, and watch more television; all those reactions are likely to set you on a course toward unpleasant outcomes like obesity, alcoholism, and depression. The more we allow anxiety to dictate our habits, the more health issues we will face and the worse our anxiety will become.
So, what SHOULD you do? Here are some ideas:
Focus on things within your control
What has COVID-19 taken from you? Work and pay? Human interaction and comfort? Access to your favorite café or bar? Toilet paper? (of all things!)
Regardless of what or how much COVID-19 has taken from you, you are probably feeling some degree of loss of control. Fortunately, the best remedy for losing control is fairly easy to come by. It’s called taking the reigns on those things you DO control. So, what do you control? Start with your body, since that can be the first to go when people lose footing. Maintain good hygiene, eat well, and exercise to the extent that you’re able. Transfer that to your home by keeping the dishes washed, the bathrooms cleaned, and the floors swept or vacuumed. You can even get some early spring yard work done. Build off of that, maybe moving on to your car or even a project.
Don’t make up stories or catastrophize
This is actually an extension of the prior idea because it requires taking control of your mind. I’m not 100% on board with the idea that “mind creates reality” but there is no question that it heavily influences reality, so don’t let your mind create misery for you.
Our worries about the future are always 100% inaccurate. Nothing ever happens as we think it’s going to happen, so there is no point in imagining scenarios. Live in the moment you’re in. Plan for difficulties but expect the best case. You have food today. You will probably have food tomorrow. If you don’t, you’ll go to the local food bank and get food, or you’ll find another solution. Focus on what you have and what is real today, not on what you fear could happen because it probably won’t.
Social distancing does not have to mean isolation. We are blessed to live in the age of technology. If you’re missing face-to-face communication, get in touch with your friends using video platforms like Facetime (my daughter does this nearly all day long now), WhatsApp, Teams, or Zoom. If you don’t like video technology, the phone works. Email and text can also help you connect. And if social media doesn’t stress you out even more (as it does for many), that could be another good way to connect. Keeping up with your friends will help you feel connected and supported. Depression can make you want to isolate, so if you don’t feel like connecting, do it anyway and trust that you will feel better in the end.
Keep living your life
COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives but that doesn’t mean we have to stop living them. Less social interaction means more time to focus on personal projects, reading, gaining new skills, or refreshing old skills. This may not be ideal for extroverts but attending to your inner world and your own needs is a good practice for all humans. Try it out. And when you get sick of that, refer to the above (Don’t isolate) or check out this blog, which offers a bunch of ideas for the bored extrovert.
Find your go-to stress reducers and use them
We all experience stress in different ways, and we all use different tactics to deal with our stress. I like to run, walk, write, and meditate. But that’s me—the introvert who likes to run and write. Your stress reducers may be very different. Some people like yoga. Some like to play games or watch a great movie. Some listen to comedy. If you don’t already have a go-to stress reducer, try something new and use it the next time you feel overwhelmed. Don’t rely heavily on alcohol or other drugs. As tempting as it is to rely on alcohol and other drugs to get through difficult times, its best to avoid intoxicants as they often cause more problems than they solve.
When things are tough in your own life, it can be empowering to help others. Get in touch with an elderly neighbor (by phone or calling across the street) and ask them if they need help cleaning up their yard now that spring is here. If someone has contracted COVID-19, ask if you can bring them supplies (to be dropped outside their door). Get in touch with a local charity or read through your local listserve to see if there are ways you can help out. Find a way to cheer up a depressed friend. Or seek out your own unique way to pitch in. Making others feel good is a sure-fire way to make you feel good.
Call a helpline
And finally, if anxiety and fear turn to depression, do not face it alone. Call your friends and family and if you have any thoughts about hurting yourself, call for help. Depression is normal in extreme situations like the one we are all faced with right now. Calling for help is a sign that you are strong enough to protect yourself. You can find a list of helpful numbers on the Department of Mental Health website.
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