Stay Calm, Safe, and Improve Your Health & Wellbeing During COVID
As COVID rages, as political divides widen, and as we acknowledge the difficulties that so many people experience in having basic needs met, including needs for food, shelter, meaningful work, and dignity, it can be easy to let our own health go. It can be easy to stop exercising, to eat unhealthy foods, to isolate, and to act in ways that put our own health at risk. And yet, no matter what stressors we face individually and as a community, it is important to build resilience by focusing on our own physical and mental health.
When thinking about how to provide support to medical colleagues treating people with COVID, my colleagues and I turned to a model of Psychological First Aid. Psychological First Aid suggests that there are several health-enhancing actions we can take in the face of a crisis.
1. Find ways to feel safer – physically and psychologically.
I think this is why so many people have adopted pets: pets have a way of helping us to feel safe. Here are other ways to find moments of feeling safe:
For some people, prayer or religious readings provide a sense of hope – a sense that there is a greater purpose to our lives.
For many people, having a planned structure to their day helps them to feel grounded and stable.
Stop doomscrolling! Many people find that spending a lot of time watching or reading the news leaves them feeling more anxious rather than less.
Actively look for reasons to be hopeful. Look for examples of love and compassion. Make a regular practice of identifying what you are grateful for – for example, by keeping a daily gratitude journal.
2. It may be useful to cultivate moments of feeling calm, grounded, present, or joyful.
Having a moment like this will not solve all your problems, but it may give you the energy and focus to return to face the problems you need to face.
Try a meditation app, a relaxing yoga class on YouTube, or check out resources at the Brown Mindfulness Center online. Activities like these are practices – the more you do them, the more your practice deepens.
Find an activity that is totally absorbing for you, and set aside some time to do it. This might involve crafts, music, puzzles, reading, or physical activity.
Watch TV shows or movies that make you laugh.
Spend some time outside if you can. Go for a winter hike or a walk at the beach. Watch the waves, look at the trees. Soon, you can start to look for buds on trees.
3. Think about the positive things you can do to improve your own health and well-being, or to help your family or community.
Set a healthy goal for yourself. The goal could be around exercise, healthy eating, cutting back on smoking or drinking, volunteering for a cause in your community, or spending time playing games with your kids. Start with a small goal, and then gradually increase.
When you set a goal, think about why the goal is important to you, and write that down. Read it frequently to remind yourself of what you want to do and why. Engage family or friends to support you in meeting this goal. Keep track of when you meet your goal. Practice self-compassion when you cannot meet a goal.
Look for things that you do have control over, rather than trying to control the things you cannot control. Focus on doing what you can do for yourself and your family members. Your mind will wander to what you can’t do; that’s okay, just return your focus and your energies to the things you can do.
If you notice your mind wandering to the future, wondering how long this will last, when it will end, gently try to return your attention to the present moment. What healthy behaviors can you do to get through TODAY?
Reach out to your primary care doctor with health questions or for referrals for mental health treatment if you are worried or overwhelmed.
Throughout this pandemic and time of social distancing, it remains so important to maintain and even build connections with other people – to family, friends, colleagues, people from your religious community, or neighbors.
Schedule social time (for example, via Zoom) with colleagues whom you used to see every day.
Write letters, send cards, or bring a meal to a neighbor.
If there are particular health issues with which you struggle, look for online support groups.
Even if you need to push yourself, keep reaching out to others. They will appreciate it, and it will likely be good for you as well.
We all need to return to healthy practices – over and over. This weekend, at the end of an online yoga class I attend, the word that came to me is “endure.” That is, we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other each day, no matter how difficult. I also felt sad and discouraged, and had thoughts such as “I’m tired of this,” and “I don’t want to endure.” After sitting with this for a few minutes, I called my sister, who made me laugh.