The world we’re living in right now during the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming and scary which makes it extra important to focus on protecting your mental health. Here’s some practical advice on how to cope and how to decrease your chances of slipping into depression.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
Without a routine, it’s so easy to slip into a social media sinkhole and spend 4 hours on your couch scrolling or watch an entire season of RuPaul’s Drag Race until the sun comes up. Sure this might happen every once in a while but it’s super important to come back to a structured 24-hour schedule. Following a daily regiment and experiencing a flow to your day will instill good habits, break bad ones, save time, increase productivity, build momentum, reduce procrastination, and reduce the need for willpower. For a lot of people, myself included, it doesn’t take much for depression to start to creep in so it’s very important to stick to a routine and/or amp your existing routine up a notch.
Keep bedtime and wake-up times reasonable and consistent. If you’re used to a 7am wake up to work for 8 hours, continue to wake up at 7am 5 days a week even if your work has changed or temporarily ceased. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine free of electronic devices (or at least use a blue light blocking app on your phone) and avoid consuming caffeine too late in the afternoon.
Shower, wash your face, do skincare routine, brush your teeth, deep condition your hair every Sunday- whatever it is you do, keep doing it! Just because your social interactions are limited or non-existent doesn’t mean you can skimp on basic hygiene. For real, it’s so easy to slip into barely showering and forgetting to brush your teeth if your life is starting to feel monotonous but keeping up with personal care really has a big impact on your mood and overall wellbeing.
It can start to wear on you both mentally and physically when your days consist of sitting down, laying down, and occasionally walking to your bathroom. If you’re used to being physically challenged at your job or if you’re used to hitting the gym 3x/week you might start to feel your body get weaker and less flexible which can bring your mood down. Get outside and walk around your backyard 50 times or walk up and down your street or around your block for 20 minutes each day. Even better, find some yoga sessions or workouts on YouTube and incorporate them into your weekly schedule. Or if you’re more of a free-spirit kind- dance! Dance every morning in the sunlight and feel yourself start to feel energized and ready to take on the day.
Fueling Your Body
It’s incredibly easy to allow yourself to start to eat way more or less often than what you’re used to. I know with me, I tend to eat when I’m bored, and that will eventually start to make me feel like crap. Stick to your regular eating patterns (if they’re working for you) or chose to improve them. I’m not going to lecture you on how to eat healthy as everyone’s body is different, nor do I need to remind you that eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water every day will not only energize you but it’ll also make you feel better and can ward off unwanted weight gain.
Being lazy is so easy and can be super tempting but giving in to it every day can start to snowball until you realize it’s been 2 weeks and your garbage cans are overflowing and there are dust bunny tumbleweeds floating in the sunlight. Stick to your daily tidying routine or your Sunday full house clean up- whatever it is, keep at it.
Everyone’s personal preferences come into play with this one- you might be the type that gets energized being around people or you might be the type to quickly feel drained while engaging in social activities. Whatever your style is, remember to still reach out to other humans. It’s pretty easy and important to remain social while being physically distant (they should have called it “physical distancing”). Here are some ways you can continue to keep in touch with those you care about:
1. Video chat- FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger call, Zoom, Houseparty- there’s so many ways to connect nowadays. Take advantage!
2. Spend extra time with your children (if you have them) by playing, building things together, learning new things, chatting about what’s happening in the world right now. Remember, your children miss their friends too!
3. Check in on those friends who you feel might need that extra bit of care via phone or text
4. Join online AA meetings or Sober City virtual hangouts (message me on any of my socials for details or join the private Facebook group Sober City Chat)
5. Feeling guilty because you still haven’t made plans to hang out with that friend you both keep saying should happen? Message them to see how they’re doing!
KEEP STRESS LEVELS DOWN
Limit COVID-19 Updates
News, regulations, and information on COVID-19 is changing every day and most sources tend to sensationalize, exaggerate, and employ scare tactics when delivering information to us. Try not to spend all your time consuming this information. Maybe only watch the prime minister’s daily address every few days rather than every day and find one source you trust and only check in on their updates once a day to stay informed.
Things are super serious and scary right now but there are still millions of funny cat videos on the internet waiting for you to click play. YouTube and Netflix have stand-up comedy, funny movies, and playful videos to lighten your mood and get those happy chemicals pumping through your veins. Or round up your roommates/children/family for a board game night- chances are that there’ll be at least a little bit of laughter and good feelings.
Are you like me and have a stack of empty canvases and a bunch of empty notebooks stashed away? Dig them out and start painting, drawing, or writing. Michaels (the craft store) is doing curbside pickups so maybe start a new art project! Sitting alone or with others also creating art can be very cathartic and meditative. The finished product doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to document it on social media, just the act of creating and focusing on that is enough to destress.
Self-care looks different for everyone and self-care doesn’t necessarily mean having a spa day (thankfully since they’re all closed). Engaging in self-care is practising loving yourself and making yourself feel good and grounded and relaxed. Here are some ideas:
1. Bubble baths with a good book or soothing Spotify playlist
2. Walking around your yard in bare feet to feel the grass and cold soil
3. Indulging in a home facial and/or hair mask
4. Writing in a gratitude journal every night before bed
5. Sip tea as you watch the trees or cars or birds without looking at your phone
6. “Waste” time binging on Netflix or TikTok
7. Give your pet a massage
8. Hug yourself and tell yourself “I love you and you’re awesome” every day in the mirror
9. Let yourself cry
10. Clean out your closet
Take it ODAAT
It can be too overwhelming to try and figure out what things will look like a month from now or even a week from now. Just like in early recovery, take things one day at a time and when things are extra scary and you’re feeling super anxious, take things one minute at a time. Remind yourself often that this situation we’re all in is temporary. You will feel free and safe again.
FOCUS ON THE GOOD & BE THE GOOD
Find yourself only reading articles with scary and alarmist headlines and scrolling past the “feel good” stories surrounding the pandemic? Switch it up! There are so many people sacrificing, donating, supporting, and helping. It’s important to recognize that and remember there is still a lot of good in this world and a lot of genuinely caring people.
While reading about nice people doing admirable things can make you feel good, actually doing the nice things yourself can make you feel even better. Support local businesses doing deliveries or curbside pickups, offer to grocery shop for someone, offer support to someone having a tougher time than you, anything to help others.
This pandemic can bring out the worst in people, but you can choose how you react. Give people the benefit of the doubt, try to show more understanding, and try not to allow negative emotions get the best of you too. Practise patience with people online, people who live with, and with your own self. We’re all doing the best we can with the information we’re given. Spread positivity.
GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT
If you have a therapist there’s a good chance they’re doing online or phone sessions so ask them. If you don’t have a therapist but still need to talk reach out to friends and family or find online support. Seek help from people in your community or other people in recovery and remember that most people really do want to help. And if you’re experiencing crisis you can call the Mental Health Crisis Line which is still available 24/7 at (toll-free) 1-888-429-8167.