How’s your brain doing these days? Many people are experiencing a number of mental and physical health issues during this crisis that aren’t directly related to having the disease. The most common effects have been weight gain (due to comfort-eating and lack of exercise), depression (from being isolated away from friends, colleagues and having routine disrupted and restructured; learning about daily death tolls or losing people); and anxiety (wondering when this will end, struggling with the inability to make plans or make ends meet, and worrying about friends and family). Many of us have day/date confusion – Tuesdays feel like Saturday; Friday could be Sunday, etc. This crisis has been going on for quite some time now, and we all need to find coping strategies to survive “The Pause.”
I’ve been telecommuting and practicing social distancing somewhat successfully for over 30 years, and with a few minor exceptions this has been the way I’ve lived for a long time, so I’ve developed habits that have successfully helped me navigate this way of living. So here are some tips that have helped me thrive in this type of life – I hope you find them helpful.
✓ Have a routine and stick to it. Get up and get dressed. Be casual and comfortable if you won’t be seen by anyone but get out of your pajamas and slippers. Make your bed. Separate your sleep time from the rest of the day’s activities.
✓ Diet and exercise. Eating comfort foods, sweet or savory; whether they’re donuts or French fries or just oversized portions of whatever you’d normally eat — tastes great, and may make you feel better while you’re enjoying the taste, but it doesn’t work for very long, and it does have consequences. Plan what you’re going to eat; eat and enjoy, and then stop. Think about what else you have access to that will make you feel happy, other than food. Find a way to get at least a few minutes of exercise every day. If circumstances make it impossible to be outside to walk or run or ride a bike; find an indoor exercise. For those of you who hate traditional exercise (sit-ups, push-ups, etc.), turn on some music and dance. Cleaning is good exercise: organize some drawers or a closet; wash the windows, vacuum, etc. It may not be as pleasant as going to the gym, and but getting off the couch and getting active definitely makes you feel better, both mentally and physically.
✓ Arrange Social Contact. Human beings need social contact. Posting and reading messages on social media can be good or bad. If you’re enjoying your friends’ photos, sharing your own, talking about things that interest you; that’s terrific. If you’re fighting with strangers about their ignorant, annoying posts or just playing Internet Grammar Policeperson, that’s less helpful. We’ve all learned how to use web conferencing apps such as Zoom: take advantage of them to see and talk to people you enjoy seeing. For example, I have a weekly meeting with my mom and stepdad, my stepsisters and stepbrother, and one of my nephews, nieces and great niece. Every Sunday, we get together, see how everyone is doing and share pictures or memories or show examples of what we’re doing to each other. There’s a group of old high school friends that I customarily visit at least once or twice a year whenever I’m in the Chicago area – we usually get together at Lou Malnati’s to have pizza and beer and catch up. As I won’t be coming to Chicago any time in the near future and I miss them, I’ve arranged a virtual gathering. I may not have the chance to gobble up some great Chicago pizza, but at least I’ll see all my friends and find out how they’re doing. I have a couple of other groups of friends that occasionally get together, one is a group of women who teach or coach. Another is a group who talks about philosophy, politics and religion (and we laugh about it, more than we argue). The point is – I’m NOT really isolated, even though the only other human being I ever see is my husband.
✓ Seek Professional Help If You Need It! If you find it difficult to get out of bed, if you spend most of your waking hours trying to escape from reality via entertainment or substances, and if you find yourself frequently sad or anxious or angry: please contact a professional! They can help.