There are few of us who aren’t feeling a bit overwhelmed and anxious right now. And while we know there’s not much you can control these days, there are actionable steps you can take to alleviate frayed nerves. Below, experts recommend a few quick ways to de-stress during these uncertain times.
1. MAINTAIN YOUR MORNING RITUALS
Like many people, you may be working from home — or trying to, if you have kids who are completing school lesson plans remotely. While you may think there’s no reason to get out of your pajamas when you’re not leaving the house, putting on a new set of (comfortable) clothes and going about your daily routine of making your bed, sitting down for breakfast and so on, does actually make a difference in your mental state.
“Humans are creatures of habit, and rituals matter,” says Dan Sneider-Cotter, a school social worker and private practice therapist. “Regardless of what else is happening in the world, you are priming your brain to be alert and prepared for the day.”
2. ZONE OUT TO SOMETHING UPLIFTING
These days, you probably have a lot more time for Netflix, so it’s important that the entertainment you choose doesn’t add to your stress. “The media we consume influences the ways we think, feel and behave,” says Eric Patterson, a licensed professional counselor. “During periods of elevated stress, seek out lighthearted and uplifting content, or choose something that is a complete distraction from the times.”
It’s also important to be mindful about how much time you spend watching shows and movies. “Before turning on your screen and mindlessly scrolling through all the options, make a deliberate choice of what you want to watch and for how long,” Sneider-Cotter says.
3. SHUT OFF THE NEWS (AND SOCIAL MEDIA) ONCE IN A WHILE
It’s nearly impossible to avoid checking for the latest updates on COVID-19 — which is OK, because it’s important to be informed. But Gerald Nissley, a clinical psychologist, says you don’t need to constantly scour the web for more news. “An inverse relationship exists between news consumption and resilience,” he says. “In other words, there is a ‘sweet spot’ where we have enough information to develop a sense of coherence but without becoming overwhelmed.”
Nissley also advises to not use social media as your source of news. After all, having to sift through information that may not even be accurate will only increase your anxiety. “Not only is information on social media often anecdotal and hard to generalize, but a lot of misinformation occurs during collective adversity,” he says. Stick to one or two reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
4. MAKE TIME FOR MINDFULNESS
Try slowing down your mind with meditation or prayer. This can help ease tension and anxiety, and also give you a sense of peace despite the current conditions.
“Accepting the situation as it is makes us more objective and better able to respond in a way that aligns with our values,” Nissley says. “This can help you avoid catastrophic thinking that leads to impulsive responses.” Thinking about the unknown or big-picture things you can’t control contributes to stress, which is why it’s important to try to stay rooted in the present.
5. GET SOME FRESH AIR
If you’re feeling healthy and the weather allows for it, getting some fresh air is always a good stress remedy, while making sure you maintain the six-foot distance recommended by health experts. Not only will a bit of exercise improve your mood, but being outdoors can give you a healthy perspective as well. “Without experiencing the world, we can start thinking that society is collapsing and madness is breaking loose,” Patterson says. “Seeing the outside world confirms that everything is still — for the most part — the same.” Even waving hello to a neighbor from afar can make you feel less isolated.
6. REACH OUT TO LOVED ONES
If you live by yourself, being confined to your home can be extremely lonely. If you’re taking care of your family without any form of a break, that can also be draining. FaceTiming or taking advantage of other virtual face-to-face interactions can replace some of the void of not being able to see your loved ones in person (and it can be helpful for distracting your kids when you need a moment to yourself).
“Oftentimes, we are able to emotionally cope through our connections with others,” Nissley says. “Social interaction increases a number of brain chemicals that promote adjustment.”
Even a quick email or a simple text can help. “Use this as an opportunity to touch base with friends who you’ve been meaning to catch up with,” Sneider-Cotter says.
7. MAKE TIME FOR A HOBBY
If there’s something you normally love doing but haven’t always had the time for, take some time out of each day to pursue it. It isn’t just a healthy distraction; it can also be an outlet to ease stress and help the days pass in a more meaningful way. “If this isolation ends up lasting, you could lose a lot of time,” Patterson says. “Start setting new goals: You might choose to learn guitar chords, read more, master a video game or perfect your pull-ups.”
8. GIVE YOUR HOME SOME TLC
You’ll be spending more time at home now, so why not give your home a little spruce-up? Now’s the time to get into nesting mode. From fixing a creaky door to organizing your closet, home projects can be a welcome and productive distraction. “These activities promote a sense of control through contribution,” Nissley says, while also helping to keep you distracted from the stress you may be feeling.
However, it’s important to be intentional with your to-do list. “Nesting behaviors are beneficial during these times, but it’s even more important to pick ones that bring you joy and enrichment — rather than something you’re just checking off a list,” Nissley says.