Over the last year of living in the new normal of COVID, the mental health community has expressed significant concern about the effects of the uncertainty, fear, loss and isolation of the pandemic on our mental health. Now, as people are getting vaccinated, children are returning to school, adults are going back to work and the end seems to be in sight, clinicians are increasing worried about “reopening anxiety.”
Therapists working with people who struggle with anxiety disorders report that many of their clients actually did quite well when they were not required to leave their homes and interact with the outside world. They are more worried about how anxious people will cope with the stress of going back to their normal, often-hectic lives.
Prepare your Mind and Body
Stress is one of the most common issues that impacts both our mental and physical wellbeing. Chronic stress has been linked to many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, arthritis, ulcers, depression and anxiety. In fact, research has found that an estimated 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits are the result of stress-related conditions.
No one can totally avoid stressful situations, but we can influence how these situations affect us. By using self-care measures and stress-reducing techniques, you can reduce the damaging effects of stress and increase your body’s self-healing ability.
So, as you consider what the “return to normal” will affect your mental wellbeing, start by implementing some of these self-care techniques.
18 Self-Care Strategies
- Meditate – Meditation allows you to empty your mind and achieve a state of calm. Begin by finding a quiet place and closing your eyes. Next, repeat a calming word or phrase as you breathe. Try to clear your mind. With each breath you will become more relaxed. Practice meditation 10 to 20 minutes per day. If that’s not feasible even just five minutes can be beneficial.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) – PMR enables you to isolate specific muscles, tense them briefly and then relax them. Begin by lying down and taking time to breathe, then, concentrating on one muscle group at a time, tighten the muscle for a count of five and release while inhaling and exhaling deeply. Work from head to toes, tightening and relaxing each group of muscles.
- Visualize – Relax your body with PMR and deep breathing and then picture yourself in a safe, peaceful and relaxed environment. You can also visualize achieving a goal.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is essential to turning off the stress response. Consider trying yoga, a form of exercise that also enhances tranquility and relaxation.
- Take care of your diet & nutrition – Pay attention to what you eat. A healthy diet with limited use of caffeine, alcohol and refined carbohydrates is essential for long-term physical and psychological wellbeing. How you eat is also important. Strive to create a relaxed mealtime environment.
- Banish negative thought patterns – Your perceptions and thoughts often determine your emotional reactions. Negative thoughts, including cognitive distortions and exaggerations, can trigger the stress response. If negative self-talk is causing stress, let go and create a more constructive viewpoint. Affirmations, which are positive thoughts and ideas can combat negative self-talk.
- Sleep – Sleep is an essential part of our well-being. The average adult should get about 7.5 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is very taxing to both our physical and emotional health.
- Pray – People report that when they pray regularly, they are calmer, healthier and more appreciative of what they have. When we feel overwhelmed, releasing our problems to a higher power can dramatically reduce stress.
- Breathe – A simple way to short-circuit the stress response is to breathe deeply and slowly. Put your hand on your belly and take a deep breath through your nose. Feel the air filling your body. Mentally count to five as you inhale, and again count to five as you exhale. Work up to a 10 count.
- Laugh or cry– Laughter brings oxygen into the body, releases muscle tension, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which make us feel good. Crying is a natural way for humans to release stress.
- Sing and dance – Singing and dancing feel good, facilitate good breathing and get the body moving.
- Talk – Talking to someone who is really listening makes us feel understood and provides comfort and relief. It allows us to vent and process our feelings.
- Listen to music – Listening to relaxing music is an excellent way to melt away stress.
- Nap – Studies show people who nap regularly live longer and show a 30 percent lower incidence of heart disease. Napping 30 minutes is ideal. Any longer may result in grogginess rather than rejuvenation.
- Journal – Talking to yourself through writing is soothing to the soul and a great way to express your feelings without fear of judgment.
- Get outdoors – Spending quiet time in a natural setting away from noise and stimulation rejuvenates us and helps us to adjust to a more relaxed state of being.
- Manage your time – An organized environment enhances harmony and security. Poor time management is a major stressor. Make sure you delegate as much responsibility as you can instead of trying to do everything yourself.
- Take a break – Sometimes we need a vacation to rejuvenate. Getting away separates you from the daily grind. If you can’t get away for a lengthy period, take time to pamper yourself. Go to a spa. Get a massage, haircut, or manicure to help you relax.