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We are all under one of a variety of different directives due to COVID-19. The news is full of videos of people wearing masks and gloves and others panic buying at grocery stores. At a time when we need our wits about us, we feel overwhelmed and anxious. Our fight, flight, freeze, or fold responses are on hair-trigger standby. We are all freaked out and definitely all in this together.

That’s where psychology comes in. Our anxiety is guiding the ship and clogging the pipes when it comes to concentration and problem-solving. How we respond to this threat will make all the difference for how we feel for the next coming weeks.

For today’s GKIS article, I’m going to focus on YOU, helping you recognize where you’re at in regard to mental health and how to bring yourself down a notch. After all, the people around you are syncing with your heart rate and mood. If you are calm, they too will settle in better for the long stay-at-home haul. So let’s start with how you’re feeling right now . . .

If you’re like me and trying hard to keep busy, you may notice that intrusive, unwanted anxieties pierce your veil of concentration more often than you’re comfortable with. Maybe you are panic browsing the Internet or watching television for the most accurate and up-to-date news. Or you’re hitting the overstressed grocery stores to make sure you have two weeks’ worth of food just in case. Maybe you’re feeling irritable and angry and tempted to blame the politicians for underreacting or overreacting or annoyed with panic shoppers who once again bought up the last roll of toilet paper. Or maybe you’re pulling fighting kids apart and trying to figure out how to keep them busy so they’re not climbing the walls. However you’re coping, please know that a variety of stress responses are expected right now. Although uncomfortable, anxiety about COVID-19 is “normal” and “healthy.” Those feelings alert us that something new is underfoot, and it’s the right time to peek your head up from normal daily activities to make sure you’re equipped for whatever is coming your way.

Of course, not all responses are staying in the healthy coping category. Red flags that your moods or anxiety may be tipping into the “impaired” category include reduced or increased appetite, trouble sleeping, panic attacks, or excessive use of addictive substances to numb out like carbs, sugar, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.

Whether you’re a little bit anxious or a lotta bit anxious, here are some wellness and coping tips to help you through the COVID-19 crisis:

Wake up with an intention for independent psychological health.

That means facing the problems of the day with your thinking brain rather than your crisis-driven nervous system. My favorite tool for keeping my psychological stability is the 6-second exhale. Simply said, that means filling your belly with a deep cleansing breath and breathing out for 6 seconds. Repeat several more times with an easy breath and always a 6-second exhale. For extra calmness, imagine gathering up your stress with each breath and releasing it into the sky with each exhale.

Create best-coping language.

I’ve been speaking to a lot of clients this week about stress and fear. Rather than focusing on how scary and difficult things are right now, I focus on the language of empowerment. That means reminding people about how their safety measures are putting some control into their hands. Focusing on choice, smarts, strength, and love gets us into a far better place than focusing on vulnerability or fear.

Protect yourself from information overload.

Limit news to once in the morning and once in the evening and avoid constant COVID chatter amongst colleagues, friends, and family. A check-in is important but then change the subject. Endless conjecture about the what-ifs moves you too far away from empowerment.

Balance on-screen activities with off-screen activities.

Our brains need a variety of activities to stay healthy. To do this, stage your home for success. GKIS offers two great tools to help with this. First, use our GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit Course to implement tech tools that filter and manage technology. Second, implement out free digital contract (Connected Family Agreement) to avoid an exhausting and damaging habit of asking > pleading > yelling > threatening > fighting with your kids. A negotiated agreement saves you from all of that.  Third, create a block schedule with balanced activities in the work and play categories. Following a routine helps. And finally, if you need help getting your kids to get creative with healthy activities on- and off-screen without the fight, implement our Connected Family Course.

Schedule opportunities for connection.

Schedule a morning digital coffee hour with a chosen group of friends and family. Ask people to join you for a walk or a hike. Reach out to friends, family, and neighbors who may need help with grocery delivery or animal care. Schedule an evening digital happy hour with a chosen group of friends and family. Game night!

Remember, this is temporary, and we will get through it.

Stay in the moment and recognize this is a temporary time, not a permanent one. That will help you distance from the current fear and shelf your anxieties while you focus on other things throughout the day.

Exercise your mind with productive, creative activities.

Touch the earth. Dig into projects you’ve been putting off, whether it’s digitizing your photos, making sense of the DNA genealogy test you got for Christmas, or mending fences (literally and figuratively). Journal your feelings once a day with words or art. Feed your brain something delicious, like that novel you’ve been dying to get to or that craft or building project that sounded so fun (jewelry making, an owl box, trivets out of corks – whatever, Pintrest is your friend).

Exercise your body with nurturing, health-promoting activities.

Take a run. Incorporate meditative and yoga practice (we love the free NIKE Training app for all things fitness).

Sleep well.

Practice good sleep hygiene practices like setting your room up to be cozy for all the senses, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and practicing imagery to set yourself up for good dreams. (We love the apps Headspace or Calm for meditative and mindfulness practice).

Most of all, lower your expectations of yourself and others. Perfection is not the goal right now. Instead, set an intention to be good to yourself. Intentions allow you the slips without guilt and approximations for perfection without shame. It simply means that you commit to going in the direction of self-compassion right now and a lot of love and togetherness.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

More information and resources for managing anxiety and stress:

  • If you need some TLC and some real coping skills from an experienced clinical psychologist, schedule a telepsychology session with me at DrTracyBennett.com
  • If you’d like some great ideas about how to positively parent during this overwhelming time, schedule a coaching session with me at GetKidsInternetSafe.com.
  • NAMI (National Alliance for the mentally ill) is offering a “warmline,” a confidential, noncrisis emotional support telephone hotline staffed by peer volunteers who are in recovery at 800-950-NAMI (6264) and has a great list of COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS) INFORMATION AND RESOURCES

For more information about stress and coping check out these articles:

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