Dealing with sustained change during COVID-19

December 1, 2020 Covenant Health Team

Over the last several months, we’ve all been dealing with massive amounts of change to our daily lives. And it’s safe to say that the change is not over. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic evolves, we continue to adapt to new information, schedule and guidelines, like working from home, masking, social distancing, remote learning and much more.

Establishing new habits can help us cope with uncertainty and daily routines help us move forward. But one of the most important things to remember is that we are not alone; there are people and resources to help us navigate this time.

Here’s what Josh Cutler, LCSW, clinical social worker at Covenant Health, says about finding ways to face more changes with positivity and make hard decisions with confidence.

'People are resilient and adaptive’

Many Americans were managing mental health issues long before COVID-19. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five U.S. adults are living with a mental illness – according to a study completed in 2017.

Layer the recent pandemic on top of typical stressors of daily life and it’s no surprise more and more of us are feeling anxious, depressed or fearful.

“People are resilient and adaptive, but too much change, too fast can overwhelm anyone and lead to mental health distress," Josh Cutler says.

“The biggest challenges for many of us are changes to things we took for granted – running into the grocery store after work, dropping kids off at school,” Josh explains. “People are resilient and adaptive, but too much change, too fast can overwhelm anyone and lead to mental health distress.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us believed (and hoped) that the changes caused by COVID-19 would be temporary. But now, many of us are feeling the pressures of extended quarantine and are missing our “old” favorite daily routines. On top of that, we’re realizing that things may not never return exactly to the way they once were.

It’s the focus on the things we can control that will ultimately help us cope, Josh believes.

Josh acknowledges that it’s okay – and important – to grieve those changes, but without idealizing the past.

“There just has to be a level of acceptance,” encourages Josh. “We can fight these changes, or we can put that energy into focusing on what you can do in this moment, today.”

It’s the focus on the things we can control that will ultimately help us cope, Josh believes.

Take an ‘inventory’

The science is clear: Your mental health is impacted by your physical health. It’s why things like sleep, diet and exercise are so important in being healthy and feeling strong. But, mental health can also be affected by other factors, explains Josh.

“Humans need exercise, social connection and recreation to grow,” he says. “Life can get out of balance easily, especially when we’re working from home, teaching children remotely and are dealing with missing the activities and errands we took for granted.” 

Take a regular inventory of how you’re feeling and how your choices are impacting those feelings.

Josh recommends that you take a regular inventory of how you’re feeling and how your choices are impacting those feelings.

“Maybe you’re feeling really upset and anxious one day, but when you do a quick scan of the last few days, you realize you’ve been going to bed late, eating too much sugar or skipping your regular exercise routine.”

Next time you’re feeling in a funk, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I eat too much junk food and not enough healthy food?
  • Did I stay up too late?
  • When is the last time I exercised?
  • When is the last time I picked up the phone to talk to a friend or family member?
  • Am I making enough time in my day for things I enjoy?
  • Am I working too much?

While some mental issues are harder to overcome, going down the list of your recent habits can help you figure out what’s out of balance and what may need a little more attention in your life.

Try an ‘attitude of gratitude’

It can also be helpful to focus on gratitude when you’re caught in negativity. After all, research has shown gratitude has many benefits, including:

  • Boost your mood
  • Help you feel optimistic
  • Feel connected to others
  • Improve your physical health

"Practicing gratitude seems like a simple exercise, but it can have a big impact," Josh Cutler says.

“Practicing gratitude seems like a simple exercise, but it can have a big impact. Focusing on what’s going well and what you’re grateful for can help you move into the present. After all, it’s when we get caught up on the past or future that can be problematic,” says Josh.

Here are a few simple ways you can practice gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal of the things you are grateful for
  • Share your gratitude list with your family at dinnertime
  • Let someone know you love them
  • Sit outside and appreciate nature
  • Perform a random act of kindness
  • Volunteer
  • Spend quality time with your family or friends

Be flexible and creative

COVID-19 hasn’t just disrupted our work or school routines. It’s also impacted many of our social routines and hobbies we enjoyed.

“It’s much more difficult to meet up with friends for dinner or head to the gym to work off stress,” acknowledges Josh. “But those rituals are still very important. Be flexible and creative to keep taking care of yourself a priority.”

Not sure where to start? Try out a few of these ideas to see what helps you relax and unwind:

  • Set up a weekly Zoom happy hour with friends or family
  • Try a new recipe
  • Explore a new hiking path
  • Do an exercise routine from home
  • Read a book in a local park

This holiday season, we won’t be able to celebrate the way we typically do. But, we can create new traditions and continue to focus on things we are grateful for.

Establishing new routines and being flexible and creative is especially important as the holidays approach. “The holidays can already be hard for many people who struggle to be around family,” Josh states. “Now, for many of us, we won’t be able to celebrate the way we typically do. But, we can create new traditions and continue to focus on things we are grateful for during the upcoming holiday season.”

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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