Whether it’s stressing over economic woes, having nowhere to turn for childcare relief, heightened anxiety about germs, mourning lives lost, or not being able to hug friends and relatives, everyone is feeling some sort of mental or emotional strain due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s why we need to focus on our mental health more than ever, even though it might seem harder than ever to make it a priority. Eileen Feliciano, Psy.D., a psychologist in New York who has been helping patients cope with the pandemic, saw the wider need and decided to offer these quarantine mental health wellness tips via Facebook. She specializes in school and clinical psychology, and her suggestions are valuable for both adults and children.
Stick to a routine, and actually get dressed
Even with no normal scheduled activities to get to, going to sleep and waking up at around the same time, keeping regular meal times, and actually getting dressed and groomed can help you feel like yourself. “Put on some bright colors. It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood,” writes Dr. Feliciano.
Get out—and reach out—every day
Dr. Feliciano recommends leaving the house each day for 30 minutes. If that proves difficult in your situation, you can try for walks either much earlier or much later than your neighbors do, or even just open the windows and put on a fan for fresh air. She also suggests reaching out to friends or relatives every single day, and setting up virtual playdates for your children too.
Exercise and eat healthy
Make it a goal to get in 30 minutes of movement per day, even if that means exercise videos or a family dance party. In addition, try to focus on staying hydrated and eating nutritious foods, so that you’re not either constantly stress-snacking or forgetting to eat altogether.
Get in extra play time with kids
“Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children—it is how they process their world and problem solve,” says Dr. Feliciano, so playing with kids will help you connect with how they are feeling.
Self-care and some space to yourself
Everyone in the family should have some self-care or comforting tools on hand, such as a favorite blanket, soothing music, a cold beverage, or a coloring book. Likewise, everyone should have a space for alone time when they need it. For kids, she suggests, “help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and ‘forts.’”
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, including kids
Dr. Feliciano points out that “a lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone,” including partners and children. It’s important to give everyone space to have their meltdowns, and not try to fight back. For kids, she recommends, “Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.”
Focus on safety and emotional connection, and don’t stress about the rest
There are so many uncertainties and stressors right now, but we can choose to prioritize making our children feel safe and loved “through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time.” As for everything else, says Dr. Feliciano, you can lower your expectations, and simply accept the fact that you’re doing the best you can.
Limit media and conversation about coronavirus
It’s tempting to consume and talk about coronavirus-related news on a near-constant basis, but it’s important to try to cut back on your conversations on the subject, especially around children. Limit the number of times you check the news and social media, and the amount of time you spend on it, and stick to the most trustworthy sources.
Find the helpers, and be a helper
Seek out “stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information,” offers Dr. Feliciano. Plus, you and your family can be even more proactive and find ways to help at-risk neighbors, support small businesses, spread joy to friends, and more.
Choose something to control, and a long-term project
You may not be able to control anything about Covid-19 and its impacts, but you can control something in your world—even if it’s as small as reorganizing your bookshelf. Find a time-consuming project to dive into, whether it’s completing a jigsaw puzzle or reading an entire series of books.
Repetitive movements and creative arts can help
Research has shown that repetitive, left-right movements such as running or drumming offer stress relief. In addition, creative activities including dancing, drawing, and singing can help kids and adults release emotions and communicate more effectively.
Get in some laughs
We could all use a laugh amongst the sadness and anxiety of these times. Whether that’s finding a funny YouTube video or getting silly with your kiddo, try to add a little humor to each day, despite what’s going on.
Ask for help in some way
With the lack of child care options right now, it may seem like there is nowhere to turn for help, but perhaps you can still do something proactive like book an online appointment with a therapist or ask your kids’ teachers and caregivers for suggestions when things get hard.
“Chunk” your quarantine, and think of it as temporary
Try Dr. Feliciano’s suggested “strategy called ‘chunking’—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable. Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry.” Further, remind yourself that the current state of things is temporary and will eventually pass, even if it has no certain end date.
What can we learn?
Find some meaning in the chaos by considering what potential positive outcomes could result. “What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?” asks Dr. Feliciano.
If you found these helpful, you can seek out more tips, articles, and inspiration on Dr. Feliciano’s public Facebook page. Her offerings are just one example of the many ways people are helping and supporting each other right now, even as we weather through the pandemic in isolation.