On my best days I’m not entirely sure what it means to be healthy. I’m well versed in the general guidelines: daily water intake, how many fruits and vegetables we should have on our plate and the amount and type of exercise we should get in a day. Thankfully, the medical community also acknowledges the importance of mental health and importance of outlook and social connectedness. COVID has thrown a big, virus-laden wrench into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I have fared well during the COVID experience thus far. I’m still working after a 3 month voluntary shut down last spring. Nobody in my family has gotten sick yet. Everything is comparatively speaking going pretty well. That doesn’t stop me from worrying about what the future holds. I’m a worrier by nature anyway, so you would think an extra dash of anxiety wouldn’t be much for me to manage. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Motivation has been extra challenging for me over the past several months. I still get my daily steps in, drink my recommended water and satisfy my nutritional goals. It’s hard, though. It’s hard to take care of myself and be a positive force for my family while checking off all the things on my to do list. I wake up anxious, spend the day with a nugget of dread in my gut and go to sleep wondering what the next day will bring. It doesn’t take a health professional to know that’s pretty much the opposite of what a healthy person should be doing.
I know I’m not alone. Most of my clients have similar struggles and worries. We’re all slogging through this together and this article is meant to pull together some suggestions that might help everyone feel stronger and more capable about getting through these complex ever-changing times. The healthcare world has done a wonderful job of designing new resources and apps targeted at helping people through these tough times. I’m sure many of you have sought out some of these resources and are taking advantage of them and I encourage that. Personally I find some of the most effective methods of coping come from examining how I think and what I do. Here are a few of the things I do to get me started on taking action; I find I have to change my thoughts before I can change my patterns.
- Talk about it. I spend most of my time in my head. Talking about my thoughts and feelings doesn’t come comfortably or naturally to me. When I do, I find that putting words to the swamp of misgiving fermenting in my head takes the arbitrary fears and worries and solidifies them. When I can take a feeling of dread and put specifics behind what’s driving that anxiety it helps me differentiate between valid concerns and spiraling thoughts. Once I have something specific I can address it makes it much easier to formulate a plan of action.
- Make a list of what’s going right. I tend to engage in what’s referred to as all or nothing thinking. This is essentially an extreme way of thinking that involves words like never or always and doesn’t allow for shades of gray. A common example of my all or nothing thinking is “if you don’t live a healthy lifestyle your clients will never take you seriously.” When I catch thoughts like this I make a list of things that counteract them. It’s hard to agree with the all or nothing thought when I have facts like my client retention rate and referral rate to give a strong indication that my clients take me so seriously they tell their friends and family about me.
- Plan for better times. I always feel better when I have a plan. That’s what the first two items on this list are all about; getting through the fears and anxious thoughts so that I can make an action plan. For example, I did have to quarantine for 2 weeks after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. My initial reaction was to freak out about going two weeks with a seriously altered income. Once I went through the initial panic, I decided I could look at this as an opportunity and signed up to take the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage exam. I used those two weeks to kick off the 250 hours of studying I put in to prepare for the exam, which I am happy to say I passed. Making a plan to take advantage of my downtime counteracted my anxiety and gave me a feeling of control and accomplishment.
- Get creative. Sometimes the most effective mental management technique for me is to get out of my house and out of my head. Being in new environments with other people gives me perspective and helps me take some of the cosmic weight off my shoulders. Masks and social distancing have drastically changed the way we engage with others and I’ve had to get creative about how I break out of my shell. There have been days I have taken a drive to the Cities in order to go grocery shopping. I got out of the house, got a chance to sing along to my playlist and got the goods for my meal plans. One night I got a takeout meal and went to Mount Simon Park to eat. I was able to enjoy my meal in the company of a group of five deer! I have found new parks and walking paths and explored parts of the Chippewa Valley I knew nothing about. Being out of the house and in nature reminds me the world is a big, beautiful place and helps tame my catastrophic thoughts.
The most important piece of the puzzle is to be patient with yourself and others. All of us are struggling right now. It’s hard to find hope and keep fighting to make the best of a difficult situation. I’ve given examples of my good choices, but there have been days where my big success is getting out of bed; I am not immune to the lure of streaming service bingeing. I have learned two important lessons from living in COVID times: taking care of yourself really is important and there are many good things and great people in the world if you take the time to look for them. Both of those things require patience and compassion. Putting the struggles and worries of today and tomorrow behind you and focusing on being kind to yourself and others is the first step towards getting through the challenges before us.