How are YOU doing? Really… how are you?
It’s been almost a month since Hawaii was placed on lockdown due to COVID-19 and it is apparent that this is only the beginning. Many uncertainties and worries remain, will we get sick even while taking precautions, or when we will see our loved ones and return to some normal routines. We continue to face a lot of unknowns and as times goes by and we are in “shelter in place” for a longer period of time, our stress levels increase. Some stress is normal and actually can be healthy at times, but chronic stress that is persistent can actually be toxic for our brain and body.
Chronic stress or distress can have a great impact on ourselves if it is not managed well and could even change our brains for the worst. Distress can affect us in the following ways: decreases our motivation, impairs self control, impairs memory, increases inflammation in our bodies, highly activates our amygdala “flips our lids” and affects sleep patterns.
Therefore, during a time that there is a lot that we cannot control, we need to do our best to focus on what is reassuring and positive, and what we can control. We can control our minds, at least to some extent. We can start small. Here are some things to work on to take care of yourself and manage your stress.
STRUCTURE YOUR TIME
Whether for children or adults, our minds need to know what to expect next. Anxiety thrives in vast amounts of unstructured time. Your mind wants to put order to things and when you don’t provide enough structure, it may spiral out on you. Establish a morning routine and create time for you to quiet your mind.
It is vital that you make time for yourself since even with extra time at home, you may be cramming in work, cooking more and if you’re a parent, doing your best to homeschool your children . At the very least, we have more interruptions and more temptations to procrastinate. Therefore, don’t forget to make time to be active and take a walk around the block and connect with family and friends. Also, quiet your mind before you go to sleep and put away the screen 2 hours before you go to bed. Perhaps this is the time you can rediscover your love for reading.
TAKE A NEWS BREAK
Our brains need to return to baseline functioning without constant stimulation from a fear-inducing topic. Constantly taking in news headlines about infection, risk, and death triggers our fear engine, and we have to work hard to keep our worries in check. Consuming lots of news is not tolerable long-term for most people. Most of us could use a break for an afternoon, or even a full 24 hours to reset ourselves in the world and show up calmer.
Instead of checking the news, notice what happens if you go outside for a walk. Nature has huge stress-relieving effects. The birds aren’t worried. The trees are growing. Your body is working. You can remind yourself that some basic things are still in place. Or maybe watch some “feel good” videos such as John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” . (There are weekly updates, so be sure to check it out)
Thought charts help you see a choice in what you focus on, and try to shift your perspective to a plan of action instead of worry. It doesn’t do us any good to focus on negative thoughts as this can cause depression and increase worries and anxieties.
Creating a thought chart involves the following steps:
- Identify the thought that creates concern, sometimes called an “event”
- Identify the actual worried thoughts
- Challenge the worried thought, which can also include self-compassionate phrases
With practice, thought charts validate our anxious thoughts without letting us become trapped in them. We can see a clear choice and practice giving power to the self-compassionate and action-oriented thoughts. We are all in this same situation together and we owe it to ourselves to figure out how to to not let that terrified little part of us run our lives. In addition, if we can gain control over our thoughts, this will help us to treat those closest to us better.
As you practice taking care of yourselves, I encourage you all to share how you are coping with your students. Several students have reached out to their teachers and have shared that they are feeling scared and alone. Imagine the impact you can have on a student if you were to share how you’re feeling and what you’re doing.