The Incomplete COVID-19 Survival Guide

It’s a pandemic out there and we are all trying to figure this out. Between social distancing, working from home, and constantly having to sanitize, it can feel like having any sort of control of our lives feels just out of reach. In continuing to work with my clients, I noticed some common themes around the things that they are struggling with. Heck, I’ve found myself struggling with the same things! Navigating the world around us through our screens has become quite a challenge for us. Our daily routines have been thrown off, our socialization has been limited, and the activities we used to enjoy are now paused. In speaking with my clients about what they can do to incorporate some sense of normalcy, I’ve put together some of the suggestions they’ve found helpful. Now, I’m not saying go out and try all of them at once, nor am I saying do them every day. Pick some of the tips you think work for you and try incorporating them into your routine at least a couple times a week. (For those of you who know me, you’ll know I love me a good S.M.A.R.T goal!)

Here is the incomplete guide on how to deal with social distancing;

1) Make a routine for yourself. Create new rituals for your day, like finally making yourself a good breakfast and sitting down to eat it! Sit down with those you live with, if you’re alone, invite friends via video-chat for breakfast dates! I recommend beginning structuring the start and end of your day. Structuring your mornings will set the tone. Structuring the end of your day will help you wind down after everything that occurs in the middle. Remember to include breaks and meals. This is the time to focus on listening to your body and actually making time to get in your basic needs! Avoid working during your meals.

2) Make a designated workspace. For those of you still working from home, find a space where you can sit for work and also walk away from when you are done for the day. If you have a small home space and tend to do work on the couch, try to make one side of that couch the “work side”, and the other your actual couch spot to watch some Netflix on! Avoid working on your bed if possible. It’s important to separate the space that is meant to relax and unwind with the space you are meant to work from.

3) Take stretch breaks. This is one is especially for those of you working from home. Many of you may be spending hours on uncomfortable chairs with little support for your hips and back. Sitting for long periods of time can also tighten some of your muscles and add to aches and pains, along with other issues. I recommend taking a quick break every 30-45 minutes to just stand up and have a good ole’ stretch! (Also, stepping away from your computer and phone will also give your eyes time to rest from staring at a screen for so long.)

4) Virtual Fitness! For those of you who were used to getting into some sort of daily activity, try to find some live virtual classes. Many instructors are turning to zoom or live on social media to set up online group classes to keep us active. Joining a virtual class can help you add to a routine in your day, offer some consistency, as well as helping you join a community. Other benefits include boosts in mood, better sleep, and an overall increase in physical health. I’ve seen ads for classes that range from dance to yoga to HIITs. Many of these classes are being offered for free or at a significantly reduced price!

5) Breath. No seriously, breath! As some of my clients during sessions discuss what has been affecting them and the frustrations they are feeling with the sudden changes, I notice that they are working themselves up, their breaths are quick and rapid, and their sentences become run-on. As they speak without pause, I notice that my breathing begins to mimic theirs and suddenly, I feel out of breath! This is when I remind them to breath. I remind them that when we work ourselves up, we increase our heart rate, we limit the amount of oxygen that is entering our body, and fatigue and headaches begin to settle in. This keeps our bodies in a state of stress. I encourage them to take deep diaphragmatic breaths. This helps with decreasing that stress, lowering our heart rate, and allowing us to see/think clearer. Honestly, this is what Bruce Banner does to control the “Hulk”, and if he can do it, so can you!

6) Limit information flow from your feeds. With everything and everyone become more virtual than ever, our social media feeds are being flooded with information, conspiracy theories, and scary statistics. I want to clarify that it is important to stay up to date with the latest policies and orders being put in place for our safety. What I want to recommend is limiting how often you are looking up or getting the information. Constantly being flooded with the “bad” news can increase anxiety and panic. This can all lead to what we call secondary traumatic stress, which is caused by indirect exposure to traumatic events happening to other people. Pain and suffering are common life experiences and we as humans have the strong ability to sympathize with those feelings when they are felt by others. Sympathizing can often lead to exhaustion, fatigue, as well as other unintended consequences. Sympathy is felt in our bodies and hearts and can add to the stress we are feeling during these times. I urge you to fill your feeds with information on some of the good things that are happening in the world…or just funny memes!

7) Video-Chat Dates. Although we must maintain social distancing, staying connect to our natural supports is critical. It’s easy to lose motivation to much outside of what we must do but making sure we stay connected will make this experience feel less lonely. When we connect with others, our feelings are validated. Maintaining these relationships when we feel good and active are important so that when we enter times when we feel low and isolated, our communities and supports show up for us.

8) Feel your feelings. None of this is easy and most of it is draining. Some of you may be trying to make sense of everything going on and trying to find the silver lining, trying to see the glass half full only to find yourself frustrated at not being able to. You may feel “ok” one minute and find yourself crying the next. That’s ok! Some of you may have loved ones who are ill and can’t visit, some of you caretakers for health-compromised individuals who are at high risk. It’s ok to say that this situation “just sucks”, because it does. Don’t set yourself up for the unreal expectation of “being fine” through all of this. The fact is we are all in one way or another affected by this pandemic. Allow yourself to experience the different emotions as they come because the alternatives are bottling them up and invalidating yourself. What you are feeling is true and valid.

9) Try Therapy! If you are struggling with managing the array of emotions and moods that are coming at you, I suggest finding a therapist. If you have a mental health provider, see if they offer Telehealth services (aka video-sessions). If you don’t have a therapist, call your insurance and see what providers are accepting new clients. Living through this pandemic and enforced isolation isn’t something that comes with a “How To” manual. Like I stated above, your emotions and moods may be taking you on a roller-coaster ride and that’s ok. Mental health professionals are here to help you, especially during these times. You are not alone in this.

10) Be kind to yourself. Be the person you’d want to be stuck with. The reality of all of this is, some folks are stuck alone, stuck with unsupportive others, or just overwhelmed. And it. Is. Hard. Social distancing, even for introverts, can increase feelings of loneliness. It’s easy to be critical of yourself during these times, becoming frustrated at the lack of motivation to keep a routine every day, or finding the motivation to get out of your sweats. I urge you to practice compassion, grace, and kindness with yourself. Be someone who is on your side.

And remember to wash your hands!

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