(Photo: Zachary Kadolph, unsplash.com)
Some of my favorite memes since quarantine started involve jokes about how introverts are freaking out because now they’re being forced to spend so much time with people in their own homes. I think I found it so funny because I’m a bit of an introvert. And because it’s true.
Joking aside, since quarantine started, mental health has suffered for introverts and extroverts alike. Introverts have people all up in their space nonstop, and extroverts can’t get the social interaction they need to feel like themselves.
Aside from that, we have job security to worry about, finances, our health, the health of our elderly and compromised family and friends, and if a vaccine will actually be the answer to things getting back to normal anytime soon.
Oh--and don’t forget about the school situation. Are they in school or aren’t they? Will virtual actually get the job done or just set these kids back an entire year of school when fall of 2021 gets here? And will they ever get out of our hair long enough for us to get a break??
This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s no wonder mental health professionals are seeing a skyrocket in services needed these days. The thing is, most people’s primary concern is the health of themselves and their family, but the stress, anxiety, and depression from social distancing and all the aforementioned worries are only making our immune systems suppressed. Which can make us more vulnerable to getting COVID, and more vulnerable to worse complications.
Here’s how you can best manage your stress, anxiety, and depression (aside from proper medication and professional therapy—don’t mess around with those! Get the help you need; but these strategies can help in conjunction with those therapies as well.)
1. Get outside at least once a day.
Seriously. That sounds like I’m addressing the Association of Professional Hermits but honestly, people aren’t getting out. It seems that once we get into a certain ‘funk’ being inside, we sorta stay there. Until we can’t any longer. It’s a very complicated cycle. So get outside and get into the sunshine. We all need Vitamin D right now to boost our immune system, but Vitamin D also helps with sleep. Which also helps our immune system. And truly, once you get outside and into a different environment, you’ll get a whole new perspective on lots of things in your mind, and hopefully some motivation to stay out there for, say… a walk.
2. Get movement in every day.
Walk, lift weights, do a Richard Simmons workout video. Do something every day. Studies have shown that daily exercise boosts your immune system, your sense of well-being, and your sleep. In particular, strength training is a very good way to get better sleep.
3. CBD oil.
(Double-check with your doctor that there are no drug interactions with any medications you’re taking.) This is an oil that helps induce calm, which is especially helpful if you have anxiety issues. I'm one of them. And I take it religiously. There are also some types that are paired with turmeric, and the combination of the two help with inflammation as well as your calm. This is like a super bonus, because less inflammation has been shown to help with sleep which helps your immune system, as stated before.
4. Set up virtual coffee chats or happy hours with friends and family.
Spending time with the people you love may not be possible right now, but it’s pretty clear that Zoom calls are alive and well! Schedule them in regularly so you can catch up. Talking with people you love has been shown to induce dopamine release, which gives you an incredible sense of well-being and reduces stress. (Like, just make sure these aren’t with *that* sibling or cousin or friend that drama seems to follow around.)
5. See a therapist.
Many insurance companies are paying extra for virtual visits through certain dates to ensure well-being as much as possible while social distancing is in effect. Therapists can help with a huge array of situations. One of those I’ve noticed on a rising trend is marriage difficulties because of being cooped up in a house together all day every day. There’s nothing like being forced together 24/7 with someone to cause skeletons to come outta the closet.
6. Get off the blood sugar rollercoaster.
This means being smart about your food. Cut down on the crazy snacks; choose and plan for something healthy instead. And get off the added sugars. There’s nothing worse than a sugar crash for someone with anxiety or depression. And lastly, don't underestimate the effect of refined grains on your blood sugar. Breads, muffins, cereals, etc can have just as large of a blood sugar crash as a candy bar.
7. Cut the caffeine.
Look, I get that when the ‘free’ coffee at home flows like the proverbial Nile it’s very tempting to drink it all day while working. But caffeine is really terrible for people who suffer from anxiety and depression. It may take a bit, but the best option for you is to slowly wean yourself until you’re down to *maybe* one cup per day, max. (Emphasis on the ‘slowly’—don’t want to get those awful headaches!)
8. Learn to meditate.
Meditation can be a HUGE factor in controlling your anxiety. Learning to control the chaos that’s going on in your head is actually the basis of several types of therapy when you go to see a professional. So if you really take a step back on this, meditation is doing that as well. You’re learning to quiet thoughts in your head so you can sort of shuffle them around into more meaningful and helpful pieces to a larger puzzle.
Meditation also shows you how you be aware of the present in a way you never have before. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or been in a depressive state, you know there seems to be very little that can help at that moment. Part of it is almost like being so far deep inside your own head that it seems like nothing can pull you out.
Being able to recognize the triggers of those episodes can help you set yourself up to reframe your thoughts before you spiral out of control. There are tons of videos that show how to get started, and also tons of apps.
9. Keep daily stress levels under control.
Anxiety levels can go through the roof when daily stress isn’t kept at bay. Aside from my own anecdotal proof of this, studies have shown it as well. Figure out times and areas of your life that are particularly stressful and create plans of action to reduce the stress there. Then act on it! Not only does feeling like you’re more in control help you're anxiety and stress levels, but actually resolving those issues that have been brewing in your life for a while can help you feel loads better!
10. Pay attention to your sleep.
Sleep and anxiety are closely intertwined, so if you're extremely anxious, you're not getting good sleep; and if you're not sleeping, you're apt to be way more anxious. ‘Sleep hygiene’ is when you carefully keep things controlled that are keeping you from getting good quality sleep and long enough sleep. Some of these are nixing blue lights from devices (PC’s, phones, and tablets) after a certain hour at night, going to bed and waking up the same time every day, eliminating alcohol a certain amount of time before bed, and even doing things earlier in the day like working out. A good cooler room temperature as well as a quiet and super dark bedroom are also key. I get it that this is a challenge when you have a snoring partner or small kids, but do your best with it. And if all else fails that night, nap the next day.
Anxiety relief can be hard to get a grip on when there are SO many things weighing on us in this strange time. But your immune system and emotional well-being really do depend on you being proactive to control it.