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The outbreak of COVID-19 is causing an increase in emotional distress including anxiety, depression, and feelings of powerlessness. Here are some actions that you can take to take care of your mental health during this time of uncertainty:
I see you there...on your couch...for the upteenth hour this week. This tip is for YOU! When you exercise, the brain releases feel good chemicals called endorphins. Who doesn't want more feel good chemicals??? Research has proved that exercise reduces depression and anxiety, improves self-esteem, and serves as stress relief. It's freaking science people! Get moving and feel better!
You don't have to run a marathon of buy a state-of-the-art home gym. Do something you enjoy. Take a long walk with Fido, stretch while listening to your favorite tunes, jump on the trampoline with the kids, or challenge your best friend to a virtual competition of who can do the most body weight squats in three minutes. Get creative and have fun!
Most of us have more free time now than usual. Use that time to virtually connect with friends. Schedule a virtual happy hour with cocktails and appetizers or spend some time in the kitchen teaching one another new recipes. Bonus - you don't have to change out of your pajamas!
If you're like me, you have a long list of interests but don't have (or prioritize) the time to invest in learning something new. Now is the perfect time! Interested in knitting? YouTube has an endless supply of how-to videos. Intrigued by the benefits of yoga? Connect with a yogi and take some virtual classes. Bought that DSL-R camera and it's still in the box? Unpack it and join a Facebook group of other amateur photographers. Or make some extra money by selling items on Ebay or another online market place. The options are endless.
It doesn't have to be a novel. Pick up a magazine from that stack you have on the end table and read an article. Pull that dusty book of poetry off the shelf and read a poem. Go online and read a blog. If you find your new read interesting, be sure to recommend it to friends.
Research indicates that the act of doing for others can lower blood pressure, combat depression and loneliness, and reduce chronic pain and stress, all of which help to boost the immune system, fight of disease, and promote longer life. "Helpers High" is a term used for the uplifting feeling that people get after doing a good deed or act of kindness. So, doing for others feels good and is good for you. Get the whole family involved in brainstorming ways to help others while practicing social distancing. Surprise your neighbor by raking their leaves. Cook an extra dozen muffins and leave them on your friend's porch. Support a local restaurant and have a meal delivered to essential personnel who are still working. Have each member of your family or social group come up with an idea each month and keep this action going after COVID-19.
Stay with me here...clean out your closet, your pantry, your garage with the intention of donating things you don't or rarely use to someone in need. Get the kids involved - have them clean out their closets and toy boxes. This is a good opportunity to teach them about both decluttering and donating to those who have less.
Look, let's be honest. It's an anxiety provoking time. A lot of us are worried not just about our physical health but also our financial health. The news seems full of negativity. One way to counter all the negativity is with gratitude. Make a gratitude list and keep adding to it. Or, my favorite, take a meditative gratitude walk. Create a mental gratitude list while walking (Yay! 2-for-1....exercise and gratitude). From a psychologist perspective, the efficacy of gratitude practices lie in the ability to retrain the brain. By intentionally thinking grateful thoughts, even and especially when you aren't feeling particularly positive, you have the power to change your emotions. So, you shift from identifying good things to be grateful for to realizing that the act of being grateful makes things good.
Each day pick a person and write them an old fashioned letter. In your letter, express your appreciation for that person. Identify what it is that you like and love about them. Recall a happy or funny memory you have with them. This is also a great activity for children and teens. Have fun with pretty stationary, stickers, and colored pens. Think outside the box. It doesn't have to be just friends and family. How about a letter to the helpful office staff at your doctors office or the veterinary technician who helps calm your pet during routine visits? For the cost of a stamp (or less), you have the ability to make someone's day.
Self-care isn’t just about pedicures and massages. Self-care is anything you do to “fill up your gas tank.” Daily tasks require gas from our human (emotional and physical) gas tank. Like a car, if you don’t refuel, you’ll stall out. Self-care is subjective. What you do to refuel could be very different from what I do. And self-care doesn’t have to cost money. A long walk, a nap, or reading a book are forms of self-care. Self-care is also about what you do not do. Do not watch an excessive amount of television, don't spend hours at a time on social media, and don't drink too many Quarantinis.
Depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug and alcohol use are currently increasing. There are many therapists who are offering teletherapy (psychotherapy by video or even phone). More insurance providers are covering this form of treatment. Don't have insurance? There are some therapists who are offering reduced priced services. Don't hesitate to ask.
If you found this blog post helpful, I suggest these blog posts, also written by yours truly: Yet Another Blog Post about Gratitude (Read this One), I Don't Have Time for Therapy...And Other Reasons to Consider Online Therapy, and What is Psychotherapy?