Myself, like many others, are relieved to see the “stay at home” orders starting to get lifted and restaurants and businesses begin to reopen their doors. I’ve had my fun with Zoom Parties with family and friends and “happy hour” with my neighbors as we shout from across the street, but I’m ready to to figure out how life will, and maybe forever, be changed as a result of COVID-19.
Our “stay at home” experiences may have been different from each other with the amount of “contact” we had with the people in our lives. For some, contact was absolute minimal, staying indoors all day and night, only hearing the voice of others through a phone, door, or window, while others it may have decreased slightly by taking less trips to the store and going on more solo hikes and bike rides. Whatever your experience may have been, the majority of us probably experienced varying levels of stress and anxiety about the situation. Whether it was loss of sleep, focus, and/or emotional control, our nervous system has been put through the wringer, and these feelings or actions are not going to easily dissipate with the reopening of our homes, businesses, and lives.
“Whether you lived through the event itself, witnessed it, were an emergency responder or medical worker, or experienced traumatic stress in the aftermath, there are plenty of ways to calm your nervous system and regain your emotional balance.” Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
An article titled, “How to Cope with Traumatic Events Like Coronavirus” by Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.appearing on Helpguide.org provides the following tips to assist you in moving towards a full and healthy recovery through the lasting effects of COVID-19.
Tip 1: Minimize Media Exposure
Constant visual and audio reminders of the numerous negative effects of any traumatic event is not healthy for your mind. These images if watched too much, may turn into nighttime dreams, and a good, healthy sleep is essential for one’s immunity,1 mind, body, and spirit.
Tip 2: Accept Your Feelings
It will take time to understand and work through all the effects of a traumatic experience. “Accepting these feelings and allowing yourself to feel what you feel, is necessary for healing.” (Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.) Consider starting a journal to write down your thoughts and emotions. “Writing therapy can help the user to propel their personal growth, practice creative expression, and feel a sense of empowerment and control over the user’s life” (Center for Journal Therapy, n.d.).
Tip 3: Challenge Your Sense of Helplessness
If you are able and willing, take action! Donate blood, help a neighbor, volunteer! Did you join in on the “nightly howls”? By howling or just hearing the howls, you could feel strangers, neighbors, friends, connecting with one another across great distances, so powerful and poetic too!
Tip 4: Get Moving!
It’s been long said and proven that exercise increases endorphins. Like Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands.” (Legally Blonde). April showers bring May flowers, so now is the time to take in the sunshine, vitamin D, a little walk/run to enjoy nature’s beauty.
Tip 5: Reach out to Others
Like I said earlier, I’ve enjoyed our Zoom dinners with family and friends, or back porch conversations with neighbors. A “stay at home” or “safer at home” order does not mean to shut people out entirely. Find different ways to make connections. And if you notice others becoming a “shut in” reach out to them, something else may be going on that needs addressed.
Tip 6: Make Stress Reduction a Priority
I took part in a recent training “Cultivating Personal Resilience in Uncertain Times” and I’d like to share with you a “grounding exercise” using your five senses to help put yourself at ease.
- Look around you, identify 5 things you see. Focus on the color, texture, color, etc.
- Close your eyes, identify 4 things you hear. Focus on the sound, the rhythm or beat.
- With open eyes, reach out and touch 3 items. Focus on the feeling on your fingertips.
- Inhale deeply, identify 2 things you smell. Focus on the pleasant (or not so) smell.
- Find 1 thing to taste. Focus on the sweet, sour, tangy, smoothness on your tongue.
There are several other ways to reduce stress and anxiety; read a book, watch a lighthearted show, cook, clean, try yoga, or dancing. Whatever activity you choose, make sure you take a moment to focus on your actions and how they begin to change your emotions.
Tip 7: Eat and Sleep Well
Don’t let COVID-19 also reflect the number of pounds you added to your bodyweight. “The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with traumatic stress. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of traumatic stress. Conversely, eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with the ups and downs that follow a tragic event.” (Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.)
As stated earlier, a good night’s rest can do a lot for your immunity and overall mood. There are many strategies if you need to improve your sleep from avoiding caffeine, using curtains to darken your sleep space, or perform a meditation before bedtime.
Using these tips and reaching out to others to help you through difficult times may help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. However, if you feel you are still unable to function as you normally would, you may need help from a mental health professional. MindSprings in Glenwood Springs is available for you talk with a mental health professional, please call 1.877.519.7505 or visit their website at mindspringshealth.org for more information.
Created by Mary Cloud, Assistant Director, RBRC