Utilizing Self-Care during the Covid-19 Crisis
Many of our thoughts and prayers have focused on you, our clients, during this global pandemic. A situation like this (where we are receiving "danger cues" from all around us) can trigger anxiety, panic, shut down/dissociation, and everything in between. Understandably, this might feel like the threat is external (the virus, regulations, news, shortages, financial burdens) as well as internal (inside your body).
Below are a few tools and tips that we hope may help you navigate through these days. Please remember that you are the expert of your experience, and we are not! These are only guidelines to experiment with and follow if they help you stay calm, connected, and safe. Please also remember these tools are not a replacement for therapy or medical treatment. Continue to take prescribed medication as directed by your health provider and seek help if needed. If you are not sure whether you can trust yourself or are experiencing thoughts about harming yourself or another person, call 911.
Also, Be kind to yourself and others if you can. If you're struggling to "follow" any of these or other tips, try looking at yourself with curiosity instead of criticism. You're going through a lot right now. In this pandemic, we are living something that most people alive today haven't had to live through before. Take a deep belly breath. Take a break, even right now, if you need one. This blog will still be waiting for you.
1. Establish a routine. Routines don't fix problems, but they do give our bodies and minds a sense of safety and familiarity. Structure can help our bodies feel secure and stable, even if it's flexible structure! This will go a long way in regulating our autonomic nervous systems, which will help immune, digestive, and cardio-pulmonary functioning.
2. Notice your body. Practice deep breathing, journaling, walking outside, physical exercise, playing with your kids, knitting, sitting in stillness -- literally whatever healthy (meaning it doesn't harm you or anyone else) activity makes your body feel calmer and in control. Remember that our bodies usually respond to stimuli before the higher-functioning parts of our brain realize what's happening. For trauma survivors, this disconnect between body and mental awareness is even more prevalent. Any healthy activity that helps you feel more grounded in your physical body in a safe way will be helpful.
3. Get some fresh air (or temporarily change your environment). If you're feeling physical symptoms of anxiety or shutdown (We'll list a few of these below), try stepping outside and breathing in some fresh air for a few minutes. Or if you've been sitting, try standing and walking around for a few minutes. If you've been working, take a break and do something different. Do some jumping jacks!
Common signs that your body is in flight/fight (anxiety lives here):
Increased heart rate
Energy, but not the "nice feeling" kind
Common signs your body is in shutdown (dissociation and perhaps depression live here):
Decreased heart rate
Lack of motivation
A lowered ability to engage with things/people around you
4. Stay connected. One of the features of self-isolation is obviously disconnectedness. We can stay socially connected while still maintaining a healthy physical distance. This is a time to seek out (safe) contact (not in person, obviously) with (safe) people. Facetime/Skype or text with family or friends. Remember, again, only use these tools as needed or as is helpful. At times, you may notice that taking a break from people is necessary (We're looking at you, parents with kids at home!). I will be scheduling game nights with family members to play a card game one night a week, and I'm putting together a group of women from my church to go through a Bible Study on another night. Get creative!
5. Limit your intake of information as needed. All that scrolling the newsfeed and news sites? It can be helpful to keep us informed. But too much information, or any information if we're not feeling grounded, can hurt rather than help. I've spoken many times about the metaphor of the gazelle who sees a cheetah--her muscles tense, her heart rate increases and her digestive system slows down--all in service of helping her escape the threat. Well, imagine that you're the gazelle, and all the information out there about COVID-19 is a million cheetahs! Your body is likely going to go into flight/fight or even shutdown at times in order to protect you from the "threat."
6. Take in the good stuff. Eating well, sleeping enough, and getting exercise are all included here. Try reading or listening to things that encourage and comfort you: guided imagery meditations, songs, biographies, etc. For me, this also includes reading Scripture, praying, and listening to hymns. Humans throughout history have dealt with similar struggles, and have a lot of kindness and wisdom to share.
These tips are not extensive. There are many great resources out there. A few are linked below. We hope this can help you listen to your body and your needs. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you want to schedule a secure online therapy in the coming weeks.
CDC on Mental Health and Coping here.
Eating Recovery Center on Self-care here.
Scholastic's free resource: day-to-day projects and activities for kids of all grade levels, including Pre-K here.
If you need to reach out at any point, don't hesitate to email, or schedule a telehealth session. We are all in this together! Choose from one our our online christian therapists.