As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, people everywhere are struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy and calm. The Center for OCD, Anxiety and Related Disorders at the University of Florida can help.
Here are eight tips for how to take care of yourself and your loved ones during the pandemic, with links to resources to get you what you need to survive and thrive.
Sip, don’t gulp, the news. The media are on a minute-by-minute, 24 hour news cycle, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be. Check or listen to the news once a day (or twice, at most). That is enough to stay informed. Repeatedly checking the latest infection numbers, or what is (or isn’t) being done to control the spread of the coronavirus will only fuel anxiety and feelings of powerlessness. The CDC and Florida Department of Health are your best bets for accurate and up-to-date information.
Exercise. Walk, run, dance, do tai chi or yoga. Exercise not only keeps your body in shape and your cardiovascular system strong. It also generates endorphins, which can help boost your mood and decrease anxiety. Walk in the neighborhood or run in a state park. Dance or do yoga in your living room. Aim for 30 minutes a day whenever possible.
Lean in. Taking action can help minimize feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Do what you can during this pandemic to help someone else. Don’t be a hero, just reach out. If you are young and healthy, offer to grocery shop for someone who is older or more vulnerable. Smile at someone on your walks around the neighborhood. Buy takeout from the local neighborhood restaurant to keep them in business. Don’t forget that small actions add up to have a big impact. By the same token, if you need help, don’t feel shy about asking for it. Many people want to help, but don’t know who needs help or how they can help.
Have Fun. Watch a movie, read a book, play a game or do a puzzle. Dance, sing, tell jokes, listen to music and play with your family. Laughter and joy are essential parts of life. They may feel hard to access right now, so you may have to reach for them. Make fun a regular part of your routine.
Connect. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), we should all be practicing physical distancing rather than social distancing. That means that while we need to stay physically 6 feet away from people outside our own households, we can (and should) continue to connect with them. Hug your kids, spouse, and other members of your household. If your loved one is self-isolating or quarantined, be emotionally supportive, but be safe. Smile at and chat with your neighbors, call or video chat with your loved ones, email or text your friends. Everything from book clubs to singing groups to tap dancing classes are happening using social media and other online methods right now. Join or create one yourself.
Attend to your basic needs. Sleep, eat, work, and play as normally as possible. Getting enough sleep is critical for both physical and emotional well-being. Many of us are finding it difficult to sleep because of increased anxiety, decreased movement, and disrupted routines. Healthy eating is also disrupted in times of stress. Try your best to stay on your normal sleep and meal schedules. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try some relaxation exercises before bed. Eat your veggies, stay hydrated, and minimize sweets.
Keep to your Routine as much as possible. Everyone’s lives feel turned upside down right now. Schools are closed, many people are working from home, while others are pulling double and even triple shifts to keep up with demand. Do your best to create a new routine in the context of whatever the COVID pandemic has thrown at you, and stick with it as best you can. It is particularly important to keep the small rituals and traditions that you may not even think about on a normal day. Sit down and eat dinner with your family. Take some time to wind down with a book before bed. Keep a regular bed time and wake up time. Dress for work, don’t stay in your pajamas (even if you are working remotely). Set schedules that mimic the school day for school aged children as much as possible.
Evaluate your risk accurately. As with other flu like illnesses, the majority of people who contract the coronavirus will have mild to moderate symptoms—severe illness and death are not the norm. Most of us, if and when we get exposed, will feel like we have the flu. That said, this is a more serious illness than the standard flu, and more people will need hospitalization. Therefore, there are specific risk groups who we do need to protect. These include older folks, those with chronic cardiovascular, immune-mediated, or pulmonary illnesses. The idea behind physical distancing and closing schools and businesses is to slow the spread in the general population so that the health system is not overwhelmed, and to protect our most vulnerable citizens from exposure. This is the “flatten the curve” model.