We are living through a stressful time and it’s easy to get caught up in the anxiety of the moment. These are perfectly normal feelings and they actually help to keep us safe when we can carry them without being overwhelmed. An important part of learning to carry these emotions better is self-care. The goal is not to get rid of stress or anxiety, which is basically impossible, but instead to carry them and to add some positivity to our day. Let’s look at a few self-care ideas, keeping in mind that we are all unique and will have some differences in how we care for ourselves.
1. First and foremost, take care of those basic needs: eating, sleeping, and moving.
Try to eat at regular times and maintain a well-balanced diet. Under stress, some people eat more, some people eat less, and some crave sweets even more than usual. Keep an eye on how you’re feeling, get in those healthy meals and allow yourself a treat. For sleeping, as well, try to keep a regular routine. Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day and try your best to get those recommended hours of sleep (7-9 hours for adults, 8-10 hours for adolescents, 9-11 hours for children). Movement is especially important since we may be more likely to spend large portions of the day sitting when we cannot go out to the mall, the cinema, etc. Try to move for 30 minutes per day (1 hour for children), either by taking a walk, dancing, or even following an exercise class on YouTube. There’s a lot to choose from! You don’t have to follow an intense regime; any movement is good movement.
2. Next, bring some fun and joy to your day.
In times of crisis, we can feel that we shouldn’t be happy, or laugh, or take a break from the news. Actually, it’s the opposite! Information can be reassuring, and we need to be up-to-date on the latest regulations, but we don’t have to spend extended hours reading or watching the news. Find something fun to do, like drawing, writing, painting, listening to music, reading, making a puzzle, learning a new language, going through that closet that’s been neglected, watching your favorite movie, learning how to do a card trick… you get the idea.
3. Also important is communicating with others.
We may be physically distancing, but we can still connect with others. There are a host of video chat platforms to choose from, along with just a regular phone call. Take the time to check-in with others and tell them how you’re feeling as well. If you are living with someone, strive for clear and open communication. Do fun activities together, like board games, or putting on a play, or staring contests… however you like to spend time together. Also important when living with others is having time alone. Give each other space, make alone time part of the daily routine. In close quarters for extended periods of time, we can sometimes focus on all of the things that annoy us about the other person, so just be aware of how you are feeling and voice your needs for alone time.
4. While taking your alone time, you may wish to try out a relaxation exercise.
There are different breathing exercises to try (ex. Breathe like you are blowing bubbles, putting a hand on your stomach to feel it expand and contract with each inhale and exhale), or trying out progressive muscle relaxation (comfortably tensing and releasing the muscle groups from your forehead down to your toes). On YouTube or with other applications, try out meditation or mindfulness. Not everything works for everyone, so experiment and see what works for you!
5. Finally, take time to look at the good things.
Acknowledge the challenges and the very real difficulties we are collectively facing, but don’t neglect the good things. Think about keeping a gratitude journal, writing one thing that day that you are grateful for or that was positive. For example, gratitude for our amazing front line healthcare workers, or that we had a nice sunny day, or seeing a cardinal in your backyard. Small good things are still good things!
In sum, be kind to others, and to yourselves. Create a daily or even weekly routine/schedule. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the professional services available to you and remember that it’s okay to have good days and bad days. McGill recently hosted a webinar with two Canadian astronauts (David Saint-Jacques and Dafydd Williams) about braving COVID-19. Whenever they felt down or stressed, one of the things that helped them get through those tough days on the International Space Station was this: remember the mission. We are staying home, temporarily closing stores, and postponing events to take care of the most vulnerable members of our society and to help our essential workers. We will get through this, together.
Written by: Jessica Schiff, Counselor at Friends for Mental Health
CTRI Free Webinar “Mental Health and Resilience During COVID-19”
McGill Checks In Alumni Webcasts “Lessons From Space: An Astronaut’s Guide to Braving COVID-19”