If today’s new normal is increasing your feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression, you’re not alone. In this week’s health tip, we turn to Katherine Daly, a licensed psychologist who leads counseling and wellness services for UCF medical students, on ways to maintain your mental health during this challenging time:
- Be intentional about your emotional health right now. Be honest with yourself – what are you feeling? Irritable? Sluggish? Panicked? Unmotivated? Angry? These emotions are normal given all the changes we’ve seen in our daily lives over the past few months. So give yourself permission to feel as you feel. The important step is to identify the things that add to your stress and set out to find things that bring you more peace.
- For example, we all want to stay informed, but overexposure to the news and social media can add to some people’s stress. If 24/7 news on the pandemic hits an emotional nerve, access more data-driven sites like the CDC’s COVID-19 website. Instead of being glued to social media, pick up the phone and call a friend. Write a letter to a relative. Find safer ways to connect.
- Make sure you are maintaining the pillars of physical health. Eat nutritious foods – preparing a healthy meal can be a relaxing experience for some people. Be sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise. Because many of us are working from home, our daily physical activities have changed. We’re not hustling down the hall for a meeting or taking the stairs to get to our offices. Those simple changes can make you feel sluggish. So take a break from your home office every hour for a quick walk outside or around the house. Walk around during a phone meeting. Find ways to move.
If you’re working from home, you don’t have a daily commute. So use that time to focus on your mental health in a place that feels safe and secure.
- Create a sanctuary. If you’re working from home, you don’t have a daily commute. So use that time to focus on your mental health in a place that feels safe and secure. Have your morning coffee or tea on the porch or outside. Listen to the birds or some soothing music or nature sounds on tape. Meditate. Go outside and notice the trees and flowers. Spend some uninterrupted time with your pet.
- Give yourself a break. It’s OK right now to rest and reflect. Use your physical distancing time to invest in your wellness. Pick up a self-growth book. Take up a hobby you never had time to do before. Read for enjoyment. Start online yoga. Journal. Sketch.
- Remember the things that bring you joy and be grateful. It’s easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in the world and in your life. At the end of each day, take time to reflect on what happened that was good. Get a jar and each day write on a slip of paper something for which you are grateful. On a bad day, reach into the jar, grab one of the slips and read it. End each day by counting your blessings.
- Focus on what you can control. During stressful times, it’s easy to think you are powerless. Focus on the actions you can take to exert some control over your life. You can’t change how other people react to COVID-19. But you can be sure you always wear a mask in public. If it gives you more comfort to have groceries delivered to your home rather than venture out, then do it. Be sure you are following up with your healthcare provider on screenings and management of chronic diseases. Be sure you are filling your prescriptions. Have ibuprofen, fluids and recommended over-the-counter medications if you become sick as a way to feel more empowered by being prepared.
If your stress is impacting the quality of your life, seek professional help. It’s important to remember that you are not alone.