By NICOLE ALFORD, LCSW
Family Services Counseling Program Manager
All of the below are always important to remember and use with usual daily life stressors and routines. However, they are often the first things we drop when faced with any crisis or emergency situation. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unexpected and unusual type of crisis. When you experience a crisis, maintaining and focusing on self-care, basic needs and routine are even more important than the times you are not in crisis. Your body and brain need these critical pieces to remain grounded as you journey through difficult times.
Basic Needs First:
- Never under-estimate the importance of basic needs.
- Maintain (or improve) a healthy sleep routine. This includes a regular bedtime and wake time.
- Eating habits- adhere to meal times, aim for healthy foods and snacks, and limit sugar.
- Stay hydrated- drink lots of water.
- Safety is important. This includes a safe place to sleep (shelter) as well as physical and emotional safety within homes and neighborhoods.
The Importance of Self-Care:
- Basic needs are the foundation for self-care.
- Getting up and ready for the day is great for self-care.
- Exercise- walk, jog, bike, sports, weights, exercise classes. Finding something you enjoy, or a partner to enjoy it with can help develop lasting exercise habits.
- Laughter- try a comedy movie night, short clips, funny animal videos, or telling funny stories.
- Calming and relaxation strategies (see examples below)
- Anything creative- arts and crafts, wood working, puzzles, painting, journaling, making videos.
- Hobbies and leisure activities such as reading, music, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, cooking.
- Acts of kindness and service to others go a long way in the kick-back benefits to you (self-care).
- Daily gratitude and meditation.
- Spirituality, religion, and cultural experiences.
- Social connections- phone or video calls, social distancing conversations with neighbors or those you encounter on walks, on-line gaming and interactive websites.
- Slow down and be able to let some things go. Try to have “downtime” daily.
Structure and Routine:
- As contrary as it seems, keeping a routine on the days you are at home typically increases task completion and general satisfaction.
- It is suggested that you develop a schedule that includes wake time, hygiene, meal times, exercise, tasks (work, school, projects, chores), social connections, downtime, and bedtime routines.
Facts, problem solving and planning:
- Stay abreast of the facts as they relate to COVID-19 and our community situation. However, limit time spent watching the news or overly researching anxiety provoking topics or events such as COVID-19.
- Do what you can to maintain your health and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Let go of what you are not able to control about the situation.
- Use problem solving for big and small issues. Start when you are calm and able to explore potential solutions. Ask for help and access resources and supports when needed. This can range from asking a neighbor for toilet paper to seeking counseling for anxiety.
- Plan ahead for the situations that are causing you the most stress. Examples include: juggling homeschooling the kids while working from home, how to keep the kids busy on a rainy day, what to do on the days or moments you are feeling depressed, how to manage days when anxiety and worries are high. Having a plan provides a guide and structure in advance to help navigate those rougher moments.
- The most basic technique is deep breathing. Be sure your belly rises on inhale and deflates on exhale. Remember 4-4-4. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat for 1-2 minutes and your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease.
- Visualization or imagery
- Relaxing music
- Focus on your senses- what do you see, hear, feel, smell around you? This can help you feel more grounded in the present moment. You can do this while being still, or take it on the move with a mindful stroll. Feel the sun’s warmth or the wind’s breeze against your skin.
- Apps or websites to consider: Calm, Headspace and Sanvello
- Parents and caregivers should coach their children to do the same suggestions above, with age appropriate modifications. Basic needs, routine, exercise, calming strategies, creating a “boredom” list, etc.
- Explain COVID-19 to children in simple terms and limit their exposure to conversations and the news. Help them identify what they can do to help the situation, and also what they can’t control or do. Praise them when they help (i.e. washing hands, practicing social distancing with the neighbor) as this instills a sense of active efforts and involvement.
- Involve children in planning fun activities. This helps keep them busy and distracted. Physical activities are extra important for kids who have higher energy and activity levels. This provides a safe release of activity which can in turn help them focus better and relax more easily later.
- Engage in quality time and activities with children daily.
- Be consistent with expectations and consequences during this time.
Ideas for activities:
- Family: household projects, plant a garden, nature walks, board games, outside games and sports, plan and cook a family meal together, go through photos, scavenger hunts, jigsaw puzzles, read a book together, develop a new tradition
- Children: https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/fact-sheet/simple_activities_for_children_and_adolescents_4.pdf