Maintaining your mental health: Methods to reduce stress and ease anxiety during uncertain times
People across the city, state and country are spending more time at home as they practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While staying in your home and reducing outings helps maintain physical health, the combination of fear, social isolation and cabin fever can take a major toll on mental health.
Counselor Kristi Crutchfield Cox, MED, MS, LPC offered some suggestions to families that can make the time spent at home less stressful. She said one of the first things everyone should do is come up with a comprehensive clean down plan for their homes and agree on household rules of cleanliness. This applies to families, couples, roommates, or anyone else living in the same space during the ongoing pandemic.
“I think it’s important that families figure out a comprehensive clean down so that they can all feel like they are operating under the same kind of rules within their environment and when they come home from going out,” Crutchfield Cox said. “These agreements are crucial because different people may approach the situation differently, and these different approaches may collide if they are not addressed in advance.”
She also recommended having an honest conversation about the pandemic with any children living in the home.
“If you’re a family, that involves sitting down with your children and calmly explaining that for a period of time — and we don’t know how long yet — we are going to be staying at home. And that’s okay,” Crutchfield Cox said. “Don’t make promises of two weeks, three weeks, or any specific time period.”
Setting any kind of specific time frame for how long the situation will last will lead to anxiety and frustration for both kids and adults if the time frame passes with no change.
She said one way to give your brain a positive boost is to complete all those household tasks that everyone has been putting off.
“Go empty out your drawer that you’ve thrown things into for three years and always said you’d get around to later,” Crutchfield Cox said. “Clean out your garage; go through your clothing; go through your kids clothing, and let them help. You’re going to feel a sense of accomplishment, and that’s going to give your brain a boost. Find small ways in your homes to allow your brain that feeling of accomplishment.”
Crutchfield Cox also suggested getting out into nature, even if it is just taking a walk around your block. She said participating in the bear hunt taking place around the area is ideal for this.
“Right now Ardmore has the bear hunt going on, and many of us are participating,” Crutchfield Cox said. “Get the kids and go hunting for bears while keeping your distance from other families. Even as an adult, it's a great way to bring some good energy and smiles. And laughter and smiles help offset stress.”
She said other physical activities like stretching or yoga also help alleviate anxiety. Deep breathing exercises are another tool to reduce stress.
“Take in a deep breath on the count of four, hold for four counts, then exhale for six,” Crutchfield Cox said. “Concentrated breathing is one of the most powerful tools to reduce anxiety.”
As a final tip, Crutchfield Cox suggests everyone come up with their own personal toolbox of actions and activities they can do to help calm themselves down. She shared her own toolbox as an example.
“I use hot chocolate because it’s like a big internal hug, and I have a favorite soft blanket,” Crutchfield Cox sad. “If I’m having a bad day I’m probably going to have some hot chocolate while I’m wrapped up in my blanket watching Hallmark movies. When you have anxiety, it’s okay to nurture yourself and to experience the emotions. Allow yourself to move through them (emotions) rather than trying to control them.”