Check in with your feelings.
Remember that it's okay to feel sad and worried. These are natural emotional responses to everything going on around us. The most important thing we can do is acknowledge our feelings as they arise, rather than ignore our emotions or push them aside. Sometimes, we can address our feelings through a productive conversation or a healthy coping strategy. However, if emotions become overwhelming and intrusive, remember it is okay to ask for help or seek professional support and guidance.
Cultivate healthy outlets.
Work on building a set of healthy and constructive ways to manage emotions. Because of the social distancing measures in place, many of us have lost access to traditional outlets such as time with schoolmates, exercising at the gym, and gathering at community spaces. Brainstorm and try other healthy coping tools such as journaling, art, meditating, exercise, and other types of self-care.
Set boundaries around worrying.
Many of us are experiencing heightened worry right now. While worries can lead to spiraling thoughts, it’s important to remember that we can set structure and boundaries around our worrying. Here are some tools to try:
- If you’re beginning to feel anxious and overwhelmed, it’s okay to step away from the news or from conversations that cause distress.
- If panic pops up intrusively, designate times of day as ‘worry windows’ when you allow yourself a fixed amount of time (10 to 15 minutes) to focus on your worries before transitioning away from them. If anxieties arise outside of these designated times, write them down and come back to them during a worry window.
- Write down your worries, including the worst case scenario, the odds of that scenario coming to pass, and your plan of action to handle that scenario. Often, when we pin down and write out our worst fears, they can feel less overwhelming. Challenge yourself to also think about the most likely scenario, which is usually less distressing than the worst-case scenario.
- Remember that while we can’t control the thoughts that pass through our minds, we can decide which thoughts we choose to engage with. Imagine the thoughts moving through your brain as trains moving through a station. If a thought is unhelpful, you can remain on the platform and watch it pass.
- If you catch your thoughts spiraling, try to replace unhelpful or negative language with positive and productive language. For example, rather than thinking: “I can’t see my school friends,” reframe that as: “I am protecting my friends.” Rather than thinking: “I miss all the activities I used to enjoy,” reframe that as: “I realise how much I value the activities I enjoy and how excited I am to return to them when it’s safe.”
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed by scary and sad stories, make an effort to look for stories of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
Build a healthy routine.
Routine is important to make our lives feel structured, predictable, and productive. Setting and accomplishing daily goals can help us feel a sense of control and achievement. Along with your schoolwork, when building a daily routine, also account for your mental and emotional needs. Think about spending time with family and also having time alone to decompress. Account for exercise, preparing and eating healthy meals, and sleeping well. Set aside time for activities that make you feel happy and balanced.
As we’re currently spending most of our time at home, make efforts to stay connected to friends and extended family. Isolation can take a toll on our well-being, no matter what the circumstances. Social connections are important to our mental and emotional health. Even when we cannot physically be in the presence of others, technology can help! Schedule time to virtually hang out and share meals with friends, to keep in touch about each other’s lives, and offer support and comfort.
Try daily positive practices.
Mental health practitioners have identified a few simple daily thought exercises that can help us to feel happier over time. Try to incorporate some of these ideas into your everyday life:
- Once each day, make a note of something for which you feel grateful.
- Every day, focus on three things you are looking forward to about the next day. They don’t have to be big things, but cultivating a positive, forward-looking perspective is helpful.
- Every day, make an effort to do, listen to, or watch something that makes you laugh.
- At the end of each day, document a goal that you are proud to have accomplished, big or small.
Be compassionate toward yourself.
Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be more productive than others. When you are having a good day, give yourself permission to be happy and to enjoy life in the moment. When you are having a more challenging day, be understanding toward yourself and make efforts to practice self-care.
Be positive influences in your home and community.
Even during the best of times, helping others has a profoundly positive impact on our own mental and emotional health. At home, in your community, and to the best of your ability, find ways to be positive, generous, and giving toward others. This might include finding ways to help family members with tasks at home, building stronger relationships with parents and siblings, connecting virtually with isolated community members, and thinking about skills and abilities you can offer to those who are limited right now. During times of uncertainty and helplessness, we still have the ability to contribute positively to the lives of those around us.
Soraya Lakhani is a registered psychologist based in Alberta, Canada.