With vaccine distribution underway in the U.S., we’re starting to picture the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. As more people get vaccinated throughout the year, we will hopefully start to see a gradual return to “normal” life. And while this news feels promising, it doesn’t necessarily make our current reality any easier to manage.
We have been living in this new version of our world for about 10 months now, and for many of us, keeping our mental health in good shape has not been easy. Case numbers are still high in the U.S. and we all have to do our part to keep others safe, but there are things we can do to improve our well-being while following public health guidelines.
Here are some tips for stepping up your self-care game during this time.
Get Outside (or Bring the Sunshine to You)
In addition to navigating the pandemic, many people are struggling right now with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Shorter days and less sunlight can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and fatigue, adding another layer to the already difficult experience of living in lockdown.
While it might be cold or gloomy where you live, try to make an effort to get outside everyday, even if it’s just for a 10 minute walk (especially during times when you can see the sun). Not only will it feel good to look at something besides the walls in your house, moving your body will also help improve your mood and vitality. And getting some vitamin D, even if it’s just a little, can help reduce feelings of depression and boost your immune system.
You can also try to bring more sunshine into your daily life, which can in turn increase serotonin levels. If you work from home, set up your workstation by a window, where you’ll get the most rays, if possible. You might also consider purchasing a light-therapy lamp, which mimics outdoor light and can help ease symptoms of SAD.
At the beginning of lockdown we were hearing lots of ideas for Zoom game nights and happy hours, but as time has gone on, Zoom fatigue may have gotten the best of you. It can be challenging to spend so much of our time looking at a screen, and it often feels easier to do nothing and wallow in our isolation.
The Zoom fatigue is real, but this doesn’t make connecting with others any less important. We are social creatures, and feeling connected to each other is a big predictor of well-being. And though everyone is dealing with the pandemic in unique ways, it is still a collective experience, and relating to others can help us feel less alone.
Make sure you’re scheduling time to connect with your family and friends each week, whether that’s in the form of a video chat, phone call, or just some text check-ins. Strive for quality over quantity. A bunch of quick or low-quality interactions can leave you feeling depleted instead of energized.
Also, remember that connecting with others across distance doesn’t always have to mean talking to each other the whole time. Sometimes we just want to feel like we’re in the company of someone we love. Try watching a movie together using Netflix Party or doing a virtual co-working hour.
Keep up with Healthy Routines
When all the days blend together, it can be difficult to keep up our typical, healthy routines. This includes things like eating well, exercising, and getting around 8 hours of sleep each night — things that take some discipline, but have a large payoff in terms of our mood and energy levels.
If you’ve fallen off with many of your normal routines, start by trying to keep one small promise to yourself each day. This could be something like “I’ll cook myself a nourishing meal tonight” or “I will meditate for 10 minutes before work.” Keeping just one promise each day will feel less overwhelming and more manageable.
You might also find it effective to reframe your thoughts around the healthy habits you want to cultivate. Instead of thinking, “I have to do ____,” think about why you want to do the thing in question. This might sound like, “I want to move my body today because I know I always feel better after I do.”
And remember to forgive yourself for the “off” days that will inevitably happen. Living through a pandemic is new to all of us and is not easy, so it’s okay if some days all you do is make it through. Try not to let these days discourage you from trying again — remember that each day is a new opportunity to do something kind for yourself.
If you’re working on your self-care and still feeling depressed or anxious, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can help you work through painful feelings during this abnormal time and make a plan for feeling better. You can reach out to a licensed Talkspace therapist today — a convenient and inexpensive way to get started.