The Basics to Taking Good Care of Your Mental Health & Physical Well-Being During the Pandemic
1. Nutrition: One of the basics of self-care is to nourish yourself. Even outside of a global pandemic, I'd never recommend striving for perfection in pretty much any aspect of your life. When it comes to nourishing yourself during a pandemic, I'm definitely going to advise against any type of perfect pandemic diet! It can be very normal for emotional eating to occur during this stressful time. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Food can have ties to feeling comfort whether it is seeking food that is warm and soothing, food that is associated with a happy memory, or food that reminds you of someone who nourished you with food and love. The important thing here is to try to eat regularly throughout the day and to try to find some balance in your diet. That's it. Skipping meals can make you vulnerable to overeating and binge eating, it can increase anxiety and generally it's just very hard on the body when you deprive the body of food.
2. Movement: Move your body in ways that feel good to you! It can be yoga, stretching, walking, doing jumping jacks, or having a dance party in your bedroom! Moving your body and getting your heart rate up has been shown to help with stress, anxiety, and depression. It's also just generally good for your health and helps with sleep as well.
3. Sleep: Sleep is critical for our well-being. When we sleep, our bodies heal and repair. Bad sleep can lead to a compromised immune system, poor decision making, difficulty concentrating, increased hunger and difficulty reading fullness cues, poor emotion regulation, increased anxiety, and increased irritability. As adults, we need a bedtime routine and schedule like children do. Pick a standard rising time to make your internal circadian rhythm clock happy. Pick a winding down time, turn off devices, and engage in relaxing activities. Get into bed and go to sleep when you're naturally tired and dozing off. People are doing all kinds of things in bed these days including working, reading, watching tv, and eating! The bed is for sleeping only! Do everything else somewhere else. You want the association with your mind and the bed to be strong such that when your head hits the pillow, your mind only knows to do one thing: sleep!
4. Connection: We are hard-wired to be connected to others. Being lonely actually stresses the body out and weakens the immune system! Think about things from an evolutionary perspective. You were more likely to survive and not be eaten by a lion if you were part of group vs. out on your own. So during this time when we do need to be socially distant, it's important to find creative and safe ways to stay connected. If you're depressed, you may be tempted to avoid people in general. Don't do this. It's bad for your depression! Of course, be selective with who you reach out to. Make sure they're someone who is supportive, nonjudgemental, someone who will lift your spirits, make you laugh, or distract you. Pick Facetime, Zoom, or Skype over phone calls. It helps to feel more connected to see someone's face vs. just their voice. If your local government and public health officials approve and of course if you feel safe, take a socially distanced walk outside with a friend or loved one. If you're feeling like you don't have anyone to connect with, there are LOTS of hotlines that have counselors that are available to talk to you. Check out some of them on our low cost/free resources tab here.
5. Engage in Pleasurable Activities: It can be hard to find fun ways to entertain yourself during a pandemic. Get creative. Youtube a new skill or hobby, learn some dance moves, pick up a new instrument, learn a new language, cook, bake, read, be active, go hiking, seek out comedy or something else that makes you laugh, draw, paint, sing, etc. And, yes, it's perfectly fine to binge watch Netflix, Hulu, or whatever right now if you find it to be enjoyable and it doesn't make you feel worse.
6. Mindfulness, Acceptance, & Intentional Behavior: I have written a separate blog post on this topic specifically because there's a lot involved and this is an important aspect of self-care. Essentially though, it's important to be aware of what thoughts, feelings, and emotions arise inside of you and to fully accept them as they are. Adopt a stance of all thoughts, feelings, and emotions are welcome to come and go because really we don't have control over that. Then act from a place of self compassion. Validate yourself in what you're experiencing is okay. We don't need to judge the thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Instead, what becomes critical is deciding, no matter what arises within you, how you'll move through your day anyway. Align your behaviors with who you want to be in your day. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are often going to cause reactive behavior that can make mental health worse if we're not careful. Be intentional about your actions and how you're living your life.
7. Find meaning and purpose: This is a stretch during these tough times. But if you've ever read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, you know why I included this one! Viktor Frankl is a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Frankl created logotherapy which is essentially therapy about finding meaning and purpose. "You do not have to suffer to learn. But if you don't learn from suffering, over which you have no control, then your life becomes truly meaningless." - Victor Frankl.
As hard as it may be, try to turn inward and see where there might be opportunity to grow and learn through the hardships we are facing today. If it's hard to find it within you, are you able to find ways in which we might learn and grow as a country? As a world?
What behaviors can you engage in that might provide you with meaning and purpose? Could you help another? Perhaps find a way to volunteer? Could you take this time to work on something personal for yourself? Something you've been wanting to focus and work through internally?
It's never a bad time to find meaning and purpose... including in the midst of a pandemic. Happy meaning making! :)