Opinion: Tips to help self, others in this stressful time

NANCY CLANTON/AJC

During this extremely stressful time in our lives, I’ve been reflecting on what I can do to extend my services and commitment to helping others.

This spirit of giving to society was instilled in me as a child by my grandparents and parents, and it has guided my lifelong career as a clinical psychologist.

While my practice focuses on substance use disorders, all of us today are sharing the anxiety and fear that come with an uncertain future.

We are currently living in a world of ambiguity, and our brain does not like it – at all.

The unknown is viewed as a threat, throwing our sympathetic nervous system into a fight, flight or freeze response.

As I am watching the demand for help increasing by the day, this pandemic is not only affecting the lives of those on the front line in hospitals but also mental health specialists, such as myself.

I am now providing my patients with virtual sessions referred to by some as digital therapy.

As I work from home, like so many of us, my hours have stretched into the late evening. I need to use my best advice on myself, and, in doing so, I have developed tips that I hope are useful.

There are simple things that we can do daily to help ease the feelings of discomfort during these weeks and months ahead.

These 10 strategies will help ease our normal human response of survival and allow our brain and physical being to have a healthier response to these unprecedented times.

1. Validate this experience

This is a time of universal health and economic crisis, and feeling overwhelmed and ungrounded is a normal human response to these conditions. It helps to define, label and acknowledge your feelings and emotions rather than judging them as bad or good. Acceptance is the key here.

2. Strengthen self-care

Daily self-care begins with proper nutrition, aerobic exercise, good sleep hygiene and meditation. Try to eat healthy, avoiding excess sugar, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine; get aerobic exercise to assist in regulating your emotions; schedule bedtime and wake-up times; and engage in daily meditation.

3. Develop structure; maintain a routine

Whether working from home, doing schoolwork or enjoying retirement, having a daily schedule is paramount. Our brain thrives with routines, so having a structured day will keep you engaged and involved in your activities.

4. Practice mindfulness

It is a well-known fact that staying in the moment is how we generate positive emotions. Fully engage in whatever activity you are performing and savor the positive moments.

5. Keep balance

It is imperative to have a stop and start to your workday or school day. Make sure to schedule time for other activities, such as sleep, exercise, meal preparation and eating, personal hygiene and cleaning, connecting socially, and enjoying entertainment, such as reading, listening to music and watching television. Limit the amount of input from social media outlets and rely on fact-based sources.

6. Look for silver linings

All situations can have silver linings – if we look hard enough.Try to find positives in all your interactions, no matter how dark it may seem, and express gratitude every day.

7. Ask for help

It may be difficult to do, but asking for help is important during this difficult time. To need help means that we are human, and it gives others the opportunity to feel good about helping someone else.

8. Maintain social connections

Sheltering in place for extended periods of time can lead to isolation and loneliness. Try to reach out to others every day by using Facetime, Skype or other virtual platforms. Our brain likes to use all of our senses, and visual contact helps our brain feel more connected and less isolated.

9. Help others

Offering to help others is a great way to demonstrate our compassion and empathy. Perhaps a trip to the store for someone or a simple phone call to cheer up another person is in order. Helping someone else provides purpose and meaning and reinforces positive neurochemical reactions in our bodies.

10. Lean on your spirituality

Having a strong spiritual life helps people feel hopeful, positive and grounded – especially during uncertain times. Don’t forget to take care of your spiritual self just as you would your physical, emotional and mental self.

Putting these 10 tips into practice will go a long way toward enhancing your self-care and overall well-being, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but going forward as a new world unfolds before us.

When we all started working from home, we thought this would be over soon, and that is not happening. How we take care of ourselves is going to continue to evolve.

But could it be, that by learning from each other, we will in fact be stronger and more committed to our core values as we adjust during the evolution of this pandemic, recognizing that we are in a world where we are interconnected?

Start today, and be well.

Dr. Janet Cox, of Synapse, is a clinical psychologist licensed in the state of Georgia. She has more than 25 years of experience in the area of substance use.

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