Breathe, meditate and be mindful
One way to train your brain to manage these negative emotions, is by practicing mindfulness, taking calming breaths and meditating. Mindfulness nurtures a gentle curious attitude toward the world around and within, including stressful thoughts and emotions.
Plenty of apps and podcasts provide opportunities for guided meditation, yoga, or even just a minute of calming breaths. Use apps like Unwinding Anxiety, or another called Headspace. Sacramento clinical psychologist Amy Ahlfeld also recommends a podcast by Dr. Rick Hanson called “Being Well.”
Ahlfeld says taking breaks to listen to ocean sounds, practice yoga or take a mindful walk using your sense to ground you (without your phone) can also be helpful.
Photo by Barb Gustafson
Know the facts but limit news intake
The onslaught of disturbing news is hard to ignore. But that makes it all the more important to limit your intake. Focus on getting the right information — in intentional doses.
Go with trusted sources and basic news updates and avoid overdosing on pundits. No one needs to watch CNN or local news 24 hours a day, said Paul Marcille, a psychologist in Saratoga: “That would make anybody sick.”
“Maybe listen to things once a day,” he said. “Things aren’t going to change that much.”
Remember the big picture
Ahlfeld recommends trying to keep things in perspective. Go out in the wilderness and contemplate how small this moment is in the broad span of time and space. Or think about all of the terrible moments in history that humanity has come through intact. Or try focusing on the hard moments in your own life, and your own strength and resilience.
Also try to avoid focusing on personal catastrophe.
“Normally our minds go to the worst case scenario,” Ahlfeld said. “That is, most times, probably not going to happen.” The best case scenario probably also won’t happen, she said. Odds are, things will likely be somewhere in between.
She also recommends thinking about all the capable people — scientists, doctors and others — working hard to figure out how to slow down the virus and cure it. “That can be a source of relief,” she said.
Photo by Barb Gustafson
Keep a schedule but mix it up
Keep a regular schedule, rather than treat the shut down as some sort of prolonged vacation.
Adults should aim to wake up at a regular time, shower and get dressed. “Sitting around all day in sweatpants and pajamas doesn’t make you feel like you’re up and active,” he said.
It’s also important to mix things up — kids should aim for an hour or two of schoolwork in the morning, some exercise and entertainment, lunch, and then the same again in the afternoon. Adults who are working from home should also attempt to mix up their schedules during the day. Those who are retired or currently unemployed should consider developing hobbies or doing chores.
“Keeping busy is absolutely essential,” he said. “If you don’t have projects, look for them.”
Use the time to pick up a new skill
Just because our normal avenues for exercise, relaxation and socializing are temporarily out of service, doesn’t mean we should stop taking care of ourselves. On the contrary, with all the stress we’re experiencing, self-care is especially important. You just have to get creative.
Tonya Wood, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and current president of the California Psychological Association, recommends virtual happy hours with friends, online yoga or art classes, anything to help you stay active and connected. “Maybe this is the time to take up that hobby that you never thought you could do,” she said.
Ahlfeld agrees that now is the right time to try to pick something you have always wanted to learn — a musical instrument, a foreign language, a baking or cooking skill — and working on mastering it. When life feels out of control, it is especially helpful to find something you can control, she said. Another benefit: it gives you something to think about besides Covid-19.
More helpful resources
A Behavioral Health Toolbox for Families: Supporting Children and Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic (PDF)
Psychological Health in Distressing Times
Osmosis Recommended Resources (PDF)