by Gerard Balan, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Plymouth Psych Group
Many patients and their families are struggling with the isolation & loneliness that come from prolonged quarantine. In doing so, I offer the following tips those who are struggling during this unprecedented time. Stay strong and I hope you find the following helpful.
1. Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day – even weekends. Write a schedule that is varied and includes time for both work and self-care.
2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have. Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Take the time to do a relaxing bath or facial. Put on bright colors. It is amazing how what you wear impacts how you feel.
3. Get out at least once a day for at least thirty minutes. If you are concerned about social distancing, try going first thing in the morning or later in the evening when there will likely be fewer people around. Also, try taking the less traveled streets and avenues. If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan. It is amazing what fresh air can do for your spirit.
4. Find some time to move each day for at least thirty minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free exercise classes. When all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!
5. Reach out to others at least once a day for thirty minutes. Options include FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support. Don’t forget to do this for your children—they miss their friends too!
6. Stay hydrated and eat well. Stress and eating often don’t mix well and we may find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, or avoiding food. Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new! I highly recommend watching Julia Child. As of this writing you can find her videos on Amazon Prime, PBS & YouTube.
7. Develop a self-care toolkit. This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Some ideas include: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket, a journal, or an inspirational or witty book. Having a coloring book and blowing watercolor on paper through a straw is visually appealing and allows you to practice taking controlled breaths. Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, tasting ice packs, and anything cold are also good for anxiety regulation. For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.
8. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in people. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.
10. Everyone should find their own retreat space. Space is at a premium, particularly with city living. It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts.” It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.
11. Expect behavioral issues in children and respond gently. We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.
12. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. This does not make a formula for excellence. Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self acceptance:” accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback. You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap or precedent for this in modern times.
13. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children. One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume. I recommend a maximum of 30 minutes a day. Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children—they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.
14. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it. In moments of big uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, and group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
15. Notice the good in the world: the helpers. There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.