By Beth Lipton
Working from home (or being out of work), trying to homeschool kids, caring for at-risk parents — managing stress right now is more of a challenge than ever. When things got to be too much pre-COVID, we would turn to the occasional mental health day to help us calm down and reset. But right now, it’s difficult if not impossible to do that.
However, you can still get some of the benefits of a mental health day by building mental health moments into your routine.
“This is a time where stress is normal, and it’s evolving. The circumstances are evolving rapidly and there’s so much uncertainty,” Dr. Amanda Baten, licensed clinical and nutritional psychologist and founder of New York City’s Center for Integrative Therapies, tells Clean Plates. “There’s a difference between being stressed, which is appropriate, and being extremely anxious. We don’t want to be extremely anxious. So there are things that we can do about that. In my business we call this problem-solving coping strategies.”
Begin by looking at your individual circumstances and focusing on what you can do.
“We have to start by determining what we can control and what we can’t,” Dr. Baten says. “You may not be able to control whether your kids are home or whether they need to be homeschooled, but you can control whether you have a plan for dealing with the childcare and homework support, and you can have a plan for how to take small breaks when you need them.”
Building times into your day to take care of yourself is crucial, Dr. Baten notes.
“For myself and for my patients, I think having structure during this time is a way to impose more predictability and routine when there’s so much uncertainty going on,” she says. “Think about your day in advance, and actually schedule self-care breaks so that you’re not doing them when you’re ready to pull your hair out. They’re built into your routine. Some examples of this could be five minutes of deep breathing in the bathroom three times a day. Or taking a five- or ten-minute walk around the apartment or outside, depending on where you’re living.”
Other quick self-care activities can include:
- Meditation. “I know people are sometimes intimidated by meditation, but it comes in a lot of different forms, and I really like some of the free apps that you can put on your phone. You can practice a guided meditation for as little as two to five minutes a day.” She recommends starting with Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace.
- Connecting with a friend. “Social connection is extremely important right now,” Baten says. “You can just FaceTime with a friend for a few minutes.”
- Deep breathing. Bring your kids into this one, if you like. “Breathing exercises can be as simple as breathing in and counting to four, holding that breath for four, and then exhaling for four,” she says.
- Listening to music. Go through old playlists and find favorite songs you haven’t listened to in a while, or plug a band you like into Spotify or Pandora and listen to what comes up.
It may sound difficult to do this with so many demands on our attention during the day, but Dr. Baten points out that this practice will make you more effective at everything you need to do. “It’s a mind shift to recognize that this is an extremely important part of your routine,” she says. “You have got to take the oxygen mask first, because if you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s really impossible to take care of other people. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preserving.”
Hungry for more?
- 27 Expert Tips for 1-Minute Self-Care
- Stress Less, Accomplish More—Who Doesn’t Want That?
- 6 Simple Ways to Calm Stress
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