One of the most common refrains I hear from clients in the time of coronavirus is how abruptly and frequently their moods shift. This is an uncertain, ever-changing time, in which many of our routines have been removed, along with many of our usual methods for stress relief. Increasing your awareness around your mood - like how you feel doing different activities at different times of day - can be a helpful first step in understanding and controlling your feelings. Be kind and curious towards yourself as you notice them change. These are some specific ways to slow down and be intentional with creating emotional balance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Use a 2:1 Self-Care Ratio
Constant COVID-19 news updates and concerned conversations can put us into a regular state of high arousal, or stress, and elevate overall anxiety. Manage your content consumption, and be mindful of the amount of space COVID-19 takes up in your day - you might notice it most in your news intake, social media content, or even in casual talk with coworkers, friends and family. It might feel impossible to limit exposure to a barrage of bad news right now, so look to an easy 2:1 self-care ratio to self-soothe your stress. For every half hour you spend engaged with COVID-19 content, spend an hour afterward on something else - your favorite movie, a virtual game night, a puzzle, an exercise video. Becoming mindful of your thought content, noticing how it impacts your emotions and energy level, and creating re-energizing breaks for yourself, is a great practice in healthy compartmentalization and mood regulation.
Be Mindful of Your Baseline Anxiety
Anxiety is a universal response to potentially harmful stimuli, and is even essential to our survival when something dangerous appears imminent. In our modern age, the things that make us anxious are rarely imminently dangerous or life-threatening, though we sometimes trigger those same fight-of-flight responses in our bodies and require some support and self-soothing to feel safe and secure again. COVID-19 inherently triggers our universal fear response, as it threatens health, livelihood and our basic expectations about our way of life. Be mindful of your typical baseline for anxiety and stress, and notice how it might be heightened right now. This is to be expected at a time like this, and is a human response, so be gentle with yourself! Whatever you might typically do to manage stress - meditating, talking to a friend, watching TV - do extra right now. Indulge in self-compassion. There is no perfect way to manage this situation, and it’s okay and normal to feel some anxiety.
Create a Commute
Setting boundaries between work, play and relaxation was hard enough pre-COVID-19. For people working at home through the pandemic, the kitchen table might now also be the office and “going to work” consists of rolling out of bed and grabbing their phone. As daily routines dissolve, it’s more important than ever to carve out time to unwind and detach from work stress. We often overlook our usual daily commute to and from work and the imperative space it creates from “home time.” Now that work happens at home, look to transitional activities to ease into and out of your work day. Begin your day with your usual morning routine (shower, change of clothes, etc.), spend some time with your morning breakfast or coffee, and engage in commute-typical activities like music, podcasts, reading, or checking in with loved ones. End your day with a ceremonial lap around your home set to your favorite post-work music, engage in a transitional activity like a meditation, yoga, or a call with a friend. Keep these routines consistent every work day. Settle into “home time” - you’ve earned it after a hard day’s work!
In a time of restriction, isolation and uncertainty, we sometimes need to linger on what we have lost, both temporarily and permanently. Grieve gently for your losses, and connect virtually for support however you can. Do not ignore whatever feels important to you right now - passion projects, family, friends, achievements. Let these things be a guide in gratitude, the people and pursuits and parts of yourself that you feel thankful for in a difficult time. Find a time in your day, whether that be while brushing your teeth in the morning or before you go to bed at night, to ponder, write or discuss out loud the things that are keeping you going right now. Be thankful for your sense of humor, your phone calls with Mom, your roommate’s company, or your phone and computer and the way they connect and entertain you.
Engaging in extra intentional self-care and boundary-setting can create some daily relief so you stay emotionally balanced in an uneven time. Be gentle with yourself! And if you require additional support, now is a great time to reach out and engage with virtual therapy.
Jennifer Sperber, LMSW, is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in incorporating self-care into your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.