I talked to 5 therapists about coping amid COVID-19. Here's their advice

Now is the time to try and get as cozy and comfortable as possible.

I always thought that in a crisis I’d be well ahead of the curve. On top of things, you know. I’m the type who searches for the emergency exit on the airplane (forget the aisle, leap overtop seats). So it came as a huge surprise to me that in this era of COVID-19, my flight or fight coping response was to freeze. 

Coping amid COVID-19

I’m never still. I don’t do well doing nothing and yet that’s exactly what I did. I froze. I didn’t get supplies (two rolls of toilet paper left). I didn’t prep cook. My method of coping with COVID-19 restrictions in North America, was to basically consume news, eat what little carbs we had in the house and feel sick to my stomach.

Then I did something that turned everything around. I reached out. First, I chatted on the phone with friends. Then I WhatsApped a nurse friend living in the U.K. who gave me excellent instructions on how to responsibly prepare. Next, I learned how to do Zoom conferences and connected with more friends in other countries. We’re all in this together and sharing experiences helps put yours in perspective. (1 out of the 5 therapists told me that.) 

I got back on the gratitude bandwagon and thought about all that I had to be thankful for. Learning how to be more thankful and grateful doesn’t come easily to me, but it was easy to recognize the good in our lives. We weren’t sick. I don’t know anybody who is. Our grocery stores still has most of what we need to get by.

I thought about others. Admittedly, I thought about myself first, but once I felt under control, I thought about what others needed right now. Does anyone need to read a story about a spa reno in a spa that’s sure to be temporarily closed by the time my article comes out? I don’t think so.

So I hit up my editor and asked if I could change the piece to tips on how to cope with the mental impact of this uncertain situation. She agreed. She assigned me more. Two days later, I’d interviewed five registered psychologists, a parenting coach and ergonomics wellness specialists (who knew that job existed?). They all gave me such good advice I thought I’d share some of their recommendations that I’m putting into practice.

Keep a journal

This was recommended to me by the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin. Not only will it serve as (a possibly fascinating) historical record, but writing your feelings down helps you to move through them. Journalling is a great way to process emotions. I write so much for work, mine is more of a bullet journal. There’s no right way to do it.

My COVID-19 journal certainly isn’t creative, but who cares? It’s something to do and one day I might look back and be glad I kept this record. I want to print off the email that announced schools were closed and add that to the journal. A pic of empty shelves in the grocery store might be a good addition, too.

Get your exercise in

I’m going for so many walks. My minimum is once a day, but I’ve been averaging twice a day. It helps to have a dog. It would be better if our dog actually liked going for long walks in the snow, but that’s another story.

I’m also trying to take advantage of the many online fitness classes spontaneously popping up on Instagram Live. My issue is that I’m so not an exercise at home kind of gal. We have a home gym in the basement. I’ve used it maybe twice. So far I’ve done two IG exercise classes, but I want to make it part of my daily schedule.

I love ballet and it’s been a private goal of mine (for at least five years!) to do it at home via an app. Still haven’t done it, but by writing this down, maybe it’ll force me to finally complete the task. One thing I am (surprisingly) doing is using my exercise bands

Try not to focus on what annoys you

One of the counsellors told me: this is not the time to fix your relationship! (And I should know better by now, you can’t make anyone change.) I was am worried about being in a house 24/7 for an unlimited amount of time without going crazy. Or more aptly in my case, losing it.

So, I’m to distract myself. Once I register that I’m annoyed by this person or what they just did (or didn’t do), I ought to leave the room and do something engrossing to take my mind off of it. It’s unlikely I’m going to fix anything now, but I can practice these helpful techniques. Because what you put your energy on, you tend to get more of.

Let go of food hang ups

Just as this isn’t a time to encourage your spouse to pick up their sox, it’s also not a time to be particular about food. I mean, you can be, but I don’t want to. This is a time to go easy on yourself.

I’m really craving bread. Organic sourdough seems to be an OK match for me, so I’m not limiting myself to two slices a week as per usual. More like two slices a day. Yes, my pants feel tighter, but so long as I’m still getting some exercise in, I don’t care.

I haven’t jumped on the baking bandwagon yet, but I might. There is something so satisfying about producing something you made from scratch. I can easily get lost in a complex recipe and if it fills the house with soothing smells, so much the better. 

Some of my recent menu hits have been an easy Vietnamese cabbage salad, courtesy of Nigella, and scallopini in a caper, lemon, butter sauce (I used goat butter, but don’t tell anyone). Tonight it’s spicy pork meatballs in brothy tomatoes and toasted fennel from this cookbook I am SO LOVING:

Practice self-care

My first thought when I knew we’d be hunkering down for awhile was to do a facial treatment and have a bath every day. That’s not happening, but it is every few days. I’m also upping my reading. I’ve read three cookbooks from cover to cover and have tagged the recipes I’d like to make in the next few weeks.

And thankfully, I’ve got two very different reads on the go. One, non-fiction on the Restoration years in England (yes, I’m that nerd) and a dishy-delightful Marion Keyes. My goal is to read for an hour a day and I’m for sure hitting that.

Pretty much every psychologist I talked to mentioned the importance of carving out time for yourself. And coming up with a list of things (within your control) to boost your happiness. Connecting with others (though social distancing) ought to be our top priority though.

What I need to get on…

So I’m trying to do all those things, but there’s other things that deserve my attention, such as:

Household jobs

Our floor hasn’t been washed in I don’t know how long. I’d like to have that nailed off by the end of the week. I also could be assigning my capable 15-year-old daughter to do some of this work. Yesterday, I made a list of jobs for her to do. I won’t be assigning timelines though. I’ll let her choose one or two a day. (Yes, I know I should’ve been doing this years ago.)

Personal hygiene

Yeah, I’m having baths (with tons of epsom salts), but I’m not washing my hair. Every hairdresser I know has told me if you want to grow your hair out, wash it only once or twice a week max. There’s that fine line between washing too much and too little. I falling into the latter camp. I need to step it up. 

Taxes

I have the time. It’s just so loathsome….

Photos

Again, I have the time. I just need to start this daunting project. But maybe it’s best saved for next week?

How are you coping amid COVID-induced anxiety? I’d especially love to know what killer recipes you’ve made or books you’re reading.