Ten Ways to Protect our Emotional Wellness
TOO LITTLE WARNING
What strange and uncertain times these are! With too little warning, we find our lives narrowed, physically distanced from family and friends, our routines that bring us predictability and comfort disrupted. To protect ourselves and others, we have changed the way we learn, play, and even shop. Work is completely different.
Many Skagitonians are unemployed. Workers lucky enough to have a job are stationed at home at kitchen table offices or out in the community masked-up. The things we cannot do are often the most trying – not at an ill parent’s side, not having a paycheck, or not going to school.
We have not experienced a more significant and global crisis than we face today with the COVID-19 pandemic. I was not prepared for this. We were not prepared for this.
I could not have imagined a short 30 days ago that this was what lay ahead. While I’m starting to adjust to our new normal, I’m uncertain of what to expect between now and May 4th, the current date for the State of Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order to expire. I simply do not have the lived experience to predict what is going to happen next. That is scary to admit. But I know that I am not alone in this and neither are you. We are in this together, Skagit.
In times like these, we may feel increased stress, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, grief, or resentment. Even without a crisis, no one is free from tough days and rough weeks. The difference is that we now have less access to the tools, people and routines that help us cope. Facing unexpected and significant change, it may be challenging to find our footing and maintain our emotional stability. We may not know what do to next, what to say next, or even what we are feeling.
Brené Brown, a professor from the University of Huston who is famous for her work on courage, grit, vulnerability and empathy. She put things in perspective for me —
“When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these “firsts” can be overwhelming. Yet, showing up and pushing ourselves past the awkward, learner stage is how we get braver.”
Without a doubt, we are all learners during COVID-19, bumbling about anxious and awkward. At the same time, we are figuring some things out and finding we can be braver than we had previously imagined. We are building the ship while we are sailing it.
Almost anyone can do these things. Of course, not every suggestion is going to work for every person. Also, these suggestions cannot replace professional assistance.
#1 Name it – You’ve got to name it to tame it!
Research shows that if you talk about your feelings, their negative impact decreases. UCLA researcher, Mathew Lieberman found that when you say your feelings out loud, not just in your head, your brain changes focus from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is all about fear. The prefrontal cortex signals to the amygdala whether the alarm is real. The prefrontal cortex also helps us figure out what to do when we are under stress or sensing danger. In most cases, there is no immediate threat and so the prefrontal cortex helps calm us down. Okay – enough brain science for the day!
Try it next time you are feeling overwhelmed. Pause. Think about what you are feeling. Say it out loud, maybe even a few times. Nobody needs to hear you – we all talk to ourselves from time to time! Check in with yourself. Has the intensity of the emotion decreased? You should be able to better understand your situation and decide what to do next.
#2 Establish a Routine
Often, a daily routine is how we know everything is okay. Our routines and schedules help us to predict what’s next. They give us a sense of control. A routine can’t eliminate stress, but it often reduces it.
COVID-19 has severely disrupted our routines, but we can adjust and build new habits and schedules. The Ohio Department of Health developed this great checklist to help people set up new routines.
#3 Stay Connected
“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others.” Dalai Lama XIV. Yep, there it is. Probably not news to you, we need each other! Maybe now more then ever.
Maintaining connection with friends and family can help your emotional wellness. It’s important to talk about our struggles but also enjoy conversations that have nothing to do with the outbreak. Of course, we all know we can make a phone call, send a text, or write a letters. Here are some interesting new ideas to stay connected!
Virtual Dinner, Birthday, or Game Night
Just because we should only have close contact with those in our own household, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate special occasions with friends!
Follow Kevin Hines on Instagram @kevinhinesstory. Kevin is a worldwide speaker sharing his story of hope, healing, and recovery while teaching people how to survive pain with true resilience. Kevin is known for responding personally whenever he receives a message from his followers. Kevin has visited Skagit County many times. If you haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, we are hoping to bring him back live – you know – when things are back to normal-ish.
Get out and about!
- Participate in community social-distance events like the City of Anacortes’ socially distant egg hunt.
- Celebrate a baby shower, graduation or a birthday by dropping gifts and treats on your friend or family member’s porch
- More creative tips from the Cleveland Clinic
#4 Mind Shift
Sometimes we just need a new perspective on a situation. We need to stop and recognize the things we can control, and the things we cannot. We love this reminder designed by Carrie Stephens Art.
Find ways to move! Decades of research has taught us that our physical health affects our mental health. Exercise can reduce stress, moderate depression, and stabilize our moods. And you don’t have to hike a mountain or train like a triathlete to get the benefit either. Dr. Michael Otto of the American Psychological Association reports that “within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
Did you know that the Skagit YMCA is offering free virtual classes?
Of course, you can always get outside for your exercise too. The World Health Organization offers some great tips on staying safe while being active outside during COVID-19.
#6 Healthy Eating
Addressing boredom or anxiety with food is all too common as it is. Now that we are staying home to stay safe, we need to make sure that we are eating as healthy as we can. Harvard Health has a great blog post addressing healthy eating to improve your mood and lower stress.
If accessing food or groceries is a concern, check back with us next week when we will address food security and safe grocery shopping practices.
The CDC and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) both support meditation as means to address overall wellness. Additionally, NIH reports meditation may physically change the brain and body, and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors.
If you are new to meditation or want to give it a try, the United Nations offers free audio guided mindfulness meditations. Great tools to reduce anxiety and stress. If you’ve never tried it before, now’s your chance!
What’s the saying, “everything in moderation”? Without our routines and schedules we may need help to moderate. Adopting new routines will also help to keep ourselves in check. Watch for these signs that it is time to moderate or stop a behavior:
- Sleeping more than usual
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
- Spending hours and hours watching news or following stories in social media about coronavirus, illness, or death
- Binge eating
#9 Go to your Toolbox
These tools can be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime.
- Square Breathing or Box Breathing
- Relax with the Help of Your 5 Senses
- Create a list of personal self-care activities that you enjoy and have access to right now, like talking to a friend on the phone, watching a movie, going for a walk, cooking, gardening, listening to music, or reading a book.
- Take a Time Out If you are feeling overwhelmed by a situation or conversation. It is okay to take a personal time out. Let people know that you will come back to the conversation later.
#10 Ask for Help
Building resilience and learning to manage our emotional wellness can take practice and time. It is OK to ask for help! If you don’t feel you are making progress — or you don’t know where to start — consider talking to a friend, a pastor, or a mental health provider. With support and practice, you can improve your resiliency and emotional wellness.