14 Tips for sanity and self care during the Coronavirus pandemic, from the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and me
Tip 1: Practice Acceptance
A global pandemic is not a usual occurrence. It makes sense that you are feeling uneasy. Allow for your feelings and allow for the reality of the situation. Also allow for the fact that most of us are not in immediate danger, and that we’re working together to find solutions.
Tip 2: Make a Plan
Our brains get very overwhelmed in situations that are out of our control and have uncertain outcomes. Comfort yourself by controlling what you can. Be sure to wash your hands. Do what you need to feel safe and secure. Check out the Red Cross Safety and Readiness Guide here, and share your readiness plan with your family: http://bit.ly/REDCROSSSARG
Tip 3: Stay in the Present Moment
When we bring our mind into the present, and stop ruminating about the future or the past (what has gone wrong and what could go wrong) we realize that we’re ok. Make sure your mind is where your body is. Use a mantra if that’s helpful – “This too shall pass.”
Tip 4: Don’t Overexpose Yourself to the News
Repeatedly viewing or listening to the same scary story can really push your nervous system into full panic mode. Schedule just a few times a day to turn on the news or look at the internet, for about 20 minutes at a time. Set a timer to keep yourself from fixating on the scary stuff.
Tip 5: Pay Attention to your Body
Our brains and our bodies are intricately connected. We feel better emotionally when we feel physically rested. Make sure you are eating healthy, getting a little exercise, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Apps such as Calm offer guided meditations and “body scans” which allow us to increase awareness of the physical and emotional sensations we hold in our bodies (follow this link for a free 30-day trial with Calm).
Tip 6: Practice Deep, Slow Breathing
When you practice deep, slow breathing, you’ll feel less anxious, because your lungs will send a message through your Vagus nerve to your brain that all is well. Practice breathing ‘In’ for a count of six, and breathing ‘Out’ for a count of six, for one full minute or more.
Tip 7: Stay Connected
We are biologically wired to connect with one another, and there is real healing power in connecting with other people who are struggling in similar ways. Even though you may not be able to spend time in groups or see people in person, make sure you’re not isolating more than necessary.
Tip 8: Keep a Balanced Perspective
Even in the most challenging times, we can find a few aspects of our lives that are going well. It is important to focus on the good in times of struggle. If you realize you haven’t laughed or smiled in a while, watch a funny TV show or call a friend who makes you laugh, and remember that the world isn’t all bad. Sometimes, even in the midst of crisis, we can find silver linings.
More tips from me:
Tip 9. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation and body scans
This is a fundamental, proven relaxation tool that effectively stimulates the body’s relaxation response. The more you practice it, the more effective it becomes. It’s also a great way to ease yourself into sleep. I’ve posted a 12-minute guided relaxation recording to my homepage, where you can stream it directly any time you feel anxious, tense, or having trouble sleeping: https://www.maysietifttherapy.com
See also body scans in Tip 5.
Tip 10: Think about what helps YOU the MOST
In times of ordinary stress, think about what have you found helps YOU the most. Getting outside/ being in nature? Making 8 hours of sleep a top priority? Eating healthy meals at regular intervals? Playing with your kids or your pet? Spending time with friends? Reading a great book? Watching stand-up comedy specials? Meditating? Cuddling with a loved one? Everyone is different, and you know yourself best. The same strategies you rely on in normal times are likely to have even more positive impact right now.
Tip 11. Look for opportunities to help others
In circumstances where we feel highly anxious or traumatized, channeling anxieties into useful action and helping others can be key to restoring our sense of agency and connectedness, while reducing helplessness. Every day we see opportunities to help... click here for some ideas. Aside from these, I bet you someone in your life or your neighborhood who is more isolated or who needs help with errands and so forth, if you have the time and internal resources to help them.
Tip 12. Create routines for the new (but temporary!) normal
Creating some structure and routines for yourself and your family can calm nerves, create a sense of predictability in an otherwise unpredictable time, and help you organize your day. It helps to facilitate acceptance of the changes that are happening, freeing up some energy for you to adapt and creatively rise to the challenge. It may not happen overnight, so go easy on yourself as you implement and revise your schedule as needed! Many parents are trying to loosely follow the rhythms of the school structure their kids are accustomed to.
Many people find it psychologically helpful to shower and groom themselves each morning as they would in normal times. Going days without showers or wearing pjs and holey t-shirts all day can lead to a sense of timelessness, lethargy, and depressed mood.
Tip 13. Connect with others in quarantine
If you’re in quarantine and feeling isolated, you might enjoy the new app QuarantineChat at https://quarantinechat.com/ Here you can talk to others who are in quarantine and understand what you’re going through. Once you sign up, I’m told you'll receive periodic phone calls from others in quarantine, but you don't have to pick up if you’re busy. You can join and leave the line whenever you'd like. You use your phone number to sign up, but others using the app will only ever see your username.
Tip 14. Get outside for some ecotherapy!
Getting outside is one of the most refreshing and mood-supportive activities we can do during this time - especially when we can incorporate some nature (city folks... that includes walking by that neighbor’s house with the amazing rosebushes). Spring is almost here and some flowers are already sprung. If getting outside isn’t accessible for you, trying immersing yourself in beautiful, soothing nature documentary series, such as Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT FROM A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, PLEASE REACH OUT TO ME, OR USE ONE OF THESE RESOURCES TO FIND A THERAPIST NEAR YOU (OR ONLINE)!:
MAYSIE TIFT, LMFT (only offering online therapy during Shelter at Home period)
Maysie Tift is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Master Hypnotist with offices in San Rafael, CA and San Francisco, CA.