Taking Care of Your Emotional Wellbeing during a Pandemic

Give Yourself a Break for Clear Thoughts and Long-Term Health

Peaceful clouds
By Morgan Metzger, LCSW
Coordinator of Clinical Social Services, Sanford Center for Aging

Many changes have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily routines have been interrupted, many people have been isolated from friends and family and worries are at an all-time high. Every person reacts differently to difficult or stressful times. While feeling worried is normal and to be expected during a national disaster, it is easy to fall into panic or feeling completely overwhelmed. If you do not care for yourself, many uncomfortable emotions can arise - such as sadness, anger, frustration and hopelessness. Unaddressed emotional concerns can lead to negative consequences such as changes with sleep and appetite, difficulty concentrating, physical illnesses, strained relationships and even thoughts of suicide. Making time to care for yourself during this time of uncertainty is important for emotional wellbeing so you can think clearly and help your long-term health and overall happiness.

Here are some ways to care for yourself emotionally, given the stress of staying at home and socially distancing from friends and family.
Self-Care Strategies

1. Create a routine

If you are unable to stick to your regular routine, you can create a new one to account for staying indoors, working from home or other daily activities that were forced to change. Creating a routine or a ritual can help make a "new normal" by implementing some structure into each day. Identify what you enjoy doing most every day and set aside time each morning and/or evening to complete those activities. Perhaps you wake up fifteen minutes early so you can enjoy your coffee in bed. Maybe you start every morning by making your bed followed by some light stretching and a brisk walk outside. Integrate old and new enjoyable habits into your new daily routine.

2. Daily Check In

Make time to check in with yourself every day. Notice and accept how you feel. Maybe this is first thing in the morning, in the middle of your day or before bed. Deciding when and how often to check in with yourself helps to take bake some sense of control in your life. Find a comfortable place to sit up straight and close your eyes. Take a deep breath, unclench your jaw and check in with your mind and your body. Don't try to change anything, just notice it and bring attention to it. How do you feel? Do you feel tight or tense anywhere? What are you holding on to? Take a few more deep breaths. If you can sit with your feelings for a few minutes, you may notice less intensity. Emotions exist for a reason - they let you know when something feels right or wrong. Ignoring emotions may temporarily make you feel better; however, simply acknowledging each emotion can help you feel like you are not controlled by any negative emotions. The other good news about emotions is they are constantly changing.

3. Reframe Your Thoughts

By attempting to keep a focus on opportunities rather than challenges and on what you are grateful for, you can reframe negative thoughts in a positive way. Maybe you now have more time to reach out to friends and family you don't talk to often enough, or maybe now you can embrace a hobby you never felt like you had enough time for. Further, you can challenge negative or anxious thoughts by writing down why the thought is making you feel the way you feel. Question it heavily. Is your worry realistic? Also, writing down three things you are grateful for each day is a good reminder of what is positive in your life. When making a gratitude list, focus on the small positives that you might otherwise overlook. 

4. Make Time for Rest

Making time to unwind is critical for effective self-care. Often, an individual can feel guilty or anxious when deciding to rest. Maybe the laundry needs to be cleaned or the dishes are stacking up. However, it is important to make time for yourself to do nothing or something you enjoy doing for yourself. Scheduling "down time" or "me time" is a good way to rest your mind. Perhaps you can read a book or simply sit outside looking at the sky. Maybe you'll drink your favorite kind of tea while looking out the window. You are the best person to give yourself permission to rest, permission to be kind and loving with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend. 

5. Engage in Healthy Activities

Take care of your body - mentally and physically. Take deep breaths often. Get seven to eight hours of restful sleep per night by limiting television, telephone and computer use prior to going to the bedroom. Limit daytime naps to no longer than 20 minutes. In addition, stay physically active daily. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink enough water to stay hydrated. All these activities can help you improve your sleep at night, which can help you feel rested in the morning. A well-rested mind is a calm mind.

6. Stay Connected to Friends and Family

Especially in times of crisis or difficulty times, we as humans thrive on social interactions and connectedness. When you are no longer able to drop by a friend's house or have grandchildren come visit, you may become lonely and sad. A way to combat this is to set up scheduled phone calls, Zoom meetings or FaceTime videos with friends and family to maintain a sense of connectedness. Scheduling routine calls can help you and your loved ones during times of stress. It is important to talk about your feelings, as well as enjoy conversation that is unrelated to the pandemic.

Morgan Metzger

Morgan Metzger, LCSW is coordinator of Clinical Social Services for the Sanford Center for Aging. She can be reached at mbmetzger@unr.edu. Counseling services are available from Sanford Geriatric Specialty Care, part of University Health.