The saying “May you live in interesting times” is, ironically enough, an old Chinese curse. These times challenge our mental health. Being forced to isolate, threatened by an unseen enemy that might harm or kill us, is enough to raise anyone’s stress level. I offer some tips derived from 30 years as a private practice psychologist. If you are under treatment for anxiety or depression, please continue to take your medications and stay in contact with your physican and therapist.
1. Limit your TV news intake to 15 minutes a day. The radio news bulletin announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor lasted 30 seconds, followed by an immediate resumption of regular programming. Today, we’re bombarded with breaking news, developing stories and alerts, all designed to amp you up and keep you glued to the TV. Turn it off and go do something.
2. Practice reframing. Instead of complaining, “Dang it, I’m stuck at home because of this social-distancing nonsense,” look on this as a time to read a book, connect with family or start a project you’ve have had on the way-back burner. It’s not a limitation. It’s an opportunity.
3. Be happy with the next best thing, if you can’t do the top thing on your list.
4. Get outside. Breathe fresh air. Get some sun. Do something physical. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Dig a garden. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression.
5. Connect with people by whatever means you have: phone, Facetime, Skype, email. We can also safely talk to people outdoors: arrange a meeting, just keep a prudent distance. We’re social animals who are built to connect with our fellow humans.
6. Adopt a proactive attitude. View stress as a signal that you need to do something. Don’t think of your mood as unchangeable; you can do things to change it.
7. Remember that moods change from day to day and even hour to hour. If you feel badly now, you may feel better tomorrow.
8. Keep your mind active. Binge-watching Netflix is fine for awhile, but our brains were not built to passively absorb hours of TV or video games. Get mentally active. Put your brain in gear by playing a board game that demands thought, or playing cards, doing a home improvement project, or doing something creative. You can learn new skills online.
Try to remember the acronym ACE. It stands for:
COGNITIVE, put your brain in gear.
ENGAGE, connect with people by whatever means.
We will get through this. Let’s get out of it healthier, smarter and more connected with each other.
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph.D.