Mental Health

Self care during a pandemic

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As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, it’s easy to get so caught up in what’s happening around the world that we can forget to take care of ourselves, making it harder to cope with an already difficult situation. If the stress of the pandemic is taking a toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. Nearly half of adults in the United States feel the same, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Maybe you’re working from home or out doing essential work. Maybe you’re taking care of family or you live alone. Maybe you’re facing unemployment or stuck indoors in a situation that’s less than ideal. No matter who or where you are, life has changed. Taking care of ourselves is one way to maintain a sense of calm and stability. We’re here to guide you through self care tips that can take you through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

Self care goes beyond simply treating yourself. It’s more than a one-time coping mechanism like doing a face mask to relax or eating your favorite food when you’re sad. Self care entails being intentional in how you take care of your body’s needs. It’s a holistic approach to managing your physical, emotional, and mental health.

When asked about how people should approach their mental health during the pandemic, Dr. Jacobson, Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “One thing that’s important is for people to keep a routine. I think that is very important for mental health.”

Maintaining a routine creates structure in our uncertain reality, which can boost mental health. Now that many of us are restricted from leaving home, we’ve lost many of the daily activities we’re used to: morning commutes, working out at the gym, eating out, picking up children from school, going to shows and concerts. It makes sense that we’re craving structure. We want something that gives us some sense of control. In this way, a routine is empowering.

Here’s what a routine can look like: Start your day with a morning ritual – one that does not involve checking your phone first thing in the morning. Maybe some stretching or light exercise. Eat breakfast. Make your bed. Do whatever it takes to prepare you for a fulfilling and focused day.

For those working from home, Dr. J recommends creating an intentional workspace.

“Work from a designated area from your home and not in your bed,” she said. “If you work or live with other people, develop some framework. If you need your own space for x amount of hours or you have to rotate spaces depending upon your living situation, I think that would be really helpful too.”

Having a daily routine is a good way to manage your health and hold yourself accountable to your goals at this time, including your mental health goals.

Remember to schedule breaks and do things that you enjoy. You don’t have to wait until you’re tired to take a break. Taking frequent breaks can keep you energized throughout the day, without reaching the point of exhaustion.

“I’ve seen a number of people consumed by work,” Dr. J said, which is why having work-life balance is important. Structuring time for work, hobbies, exercise and rest helps create this balance.

At night, cultivate a healthy sleep routine. Getting sleep is one of the best things we can do for our overall health. If you’re feeling stressed and burdened at the end of the day, chances are you’ll feel better and more energized after a good night’s rest.

Healthy sleep habits include going to bed at roughly the same time each night, sleeping for the same number of hours, turning off the lights and creating a comfortable sleep environment. Try not to over-stimulate your body or mind too close to bedtime. Instead, limit your technology use and opt for calming activities like reading or meditation.

Also check in with your inner self as part of your self care routine. Carve out a time when you can focus inward, even for a couple minutes. Deep breathing and meditation can help you get into that calm mind space that lets you block out the world and assess how you’re feeling.

Some questions you can ask yourself as you reflect: How am I doing? How am I feeling? What am I grateful for? What’s working for me, and what isn’t? Be open to change. Having a routine and taking care of yourself is about finding what works for you and meets your needs.

And don’t forget the basics. Taking care of our physical health is another important element of self care. These include getting enough sleep, keeping up with healthy diet and exercise habits and staying hydrated. Sometimes these can be the first to slip when we’re stressed, so don’t forget to pay attention to what your body needs.

If you’re feeling down – or even if you’re okay – check in with yourself: Have I eaten a proper meal today? Am I getting enough sleep? When last did I exercise? Did I drink enough water today? Physical health and mental health are tied, so getting a handle on physical health leaves us better equipped to manage difficult times.

Give yourself space to feel whatever you’re feeling and adjust to changes. Stress and anxiety are normal reactions to what’s happening. You might feel a sense of grief, too. The world is collectively grieving the loss of thousands of lives along with the loss of our normal way of life.

Recognizing and naming your grief - or whatever emotions you might be feeling - is an important step to healthy coping. There’s no ‘normal’ way to feel amidst all this, so let your emotions flow and be kind to yourself in the process.

Self-compassion is key to mental health. If you stray from your routine or have a bad day or feel extra emotional sometimes, that’s okay. You’re human, not a robot. The important thing is that you give yourself time and space to weather the stormy days. Treat yourself with the same kindness, comfort and understanding that you would extend to a friend. Your mental health will thank you.

Above all, know that some level of stress and anxiety are a part of daily life, maybe more now than ever before. Taking care of yourself and your mental health can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and continue functioning even with the added burden of the pandemic. Besides, you’re not alone.

“Realize there’s a lot of support out there if you're struggling with mental health issues,” Dr. J said. There’s no shame and no harm in reaching out to family or friends in your circle. Staying connected with people you trust can help you feel better.

And if your stress or anxiety feels unmanageable and begins to impede your daily life, you can seek mental health treatment. Alpha’s team of experts can support you through whatever you’re experiencing, and connect you to treatment tailored to your needs. As always, we’re here to help.

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