This article was published by TorStar on March 26, 2020: https://www.toronto.com/opinion-story/9911710-taking-back-control-during-an-uncertain-time/
COVID-19. Coronavirus. Social distancing. Terms that most of us had never heard until recently, but which can now immediately trigger stress reactions. And no one knows when this might end. The only thing that is certain right now is…uncertainty. How can we get through the next few weeks and months ahead?
Some general strategies:
- Limit exposure to media. We want to stay up-to-date, but we don’t need to spend 10 hours a day online to keep up. Try to limit your media consumption (including social media) to once or twice a day – max 15 mins each time.
- Keep connected. Social connection & a sense of community are crucial to our health. Keep in touch with others in whatever ways you can: video calls, text, group chat, or we can even re-discover the old-school method of talking on the telephone!
- Routine. All of our routines have been thrown up in the air which is exactly why we need to keep as much of a routine as we can. For example, waking up, eating meals, and going to bed around the same times each day. If you normally go to the gym at a certain time, go for a walk in a park or do some exercises at home.
- Get creative or learn/teach new skills. Use this time at home as an opportunity to get creative! Help kids to discover their creative side: building a blanket or box fort, teach them woodworking or how to cook (to their developmental level). Apps can help you learn a new language, how to change your car’s oil, or dust off that old guitar and learn how to play.
- Down-regulate your body. Worry triggers your body’s fight-flight-freeze stress response. Try deep breathing (four seconds into your belly, pause, four seconds out). Google ‘progressive muscle relaxation’. Bring your mind back to the present (what do you notice through your senses? What do you see, feel, hear, smell, taste?)
- Feel what you feel.Sounds obvious, right? Not always! No one likes to feel weak or scared. That’s okay. Acknowledge it. Sit with it until it’s less overwhelming. Talk it out. Breathe. Problem-solve. You’re allowed to feel what you feel.
Some of us have a harder time coping, whether you were already experiencing mental health difficulties, chronic pain, or health or financial problems. Additional recommendations:
- Adapt your coping strategies. Many of our healthy strategies are more difficult due to e.g., gym shutdown or little alone time. Adapt. For example, have your kids engage in their own parallel exercise while you work out (e.g., jumping jacks contest, skipping rope).
- Build in self-care. It can be difficult when isolated at home with family. Build in decompression time; for example, 30-60 mins alone in another room. For this to work however, what will be crucial is…
- Communication. If you know you need alone time, communicate this ahead of time so that others don’t take it personally. Problem-solve with each other on how you can give each other some alone time.
- Answer the “what-if”s. If you feel anxious and find your mind spiralling through never-ending “what if”s, sit down and answer some of them. This can help you to see that (a) the results may not be as catastrophic as we’re imagining, and (b) that you canget through it and make a game plan. Example: “What if my kid gets COVID19?”. Then what? “I’ll take them to the hospital.” Then what? “The doctor will tell me what to do or they will admit them.” Then what? “I’ll have to ask my mom to take the other kids to her house.”, etc.
To get through this period of uncertainty it’s crucial to take care of yourself if you want to help others. We’re all in this together.
For additional help, many psychologists are offering video sessions. Distress lines continue to operate, including:
- Crisis Services Canada (phone/text) https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/
- Kids Help phone (phone/text) https://kidshelpphone.ca/
- Some domestic violence shelters continue to operate. E.g., The Redwood in Toronto has a 24-hour crisis line. https://www.theredwood.com/