Caring for Yourself and Others during COVID-19

This section was written by Rachel Reardon, Jessica Laird, and Gene Beresin, MD and adapted from the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and UNICEF

Reflect

It’s important to take some time to share your emotional reactions to this very unusual situation. Taking time to express your feelings and share your responses with your friends and classmates can help you realize that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. There are strategies that can help you cope with how current events are impacting you. This reflection and group expression is an important part of building your resilience, and helping those around you do the same. We want everyone to appreciate that we need to build resilience as it is helpful in managing stress, building our own immune system, and helping ourselves and others -- a key part of understanding the management of COVID-19 is taking care of yourself socially, psychologically and emotionally.

While guidelines for physical distancing are important and effective, they have also disrupted our lives in profound ways. Losing your daily routine can be unsettling, and being separated from friends and family members can add another layer of stress to this experience. This pandemic is affecting everyone, and can bring up a wide range of different emotions in each person. All of these, from anxiety and worry to hope or optimism, are completely normal reactions, and may come and go in waves over time. Just as it’s important for us to understand what this virus is and how we can combat it, it is crucial to take stock of what we are experiencing during this time and be intentional about caring for our own well-being. Take a moment to express what you’re feeling. Some ideas for reflection to get you started may include:

  • Frustration at missing out on experiences you were looking forward to, like concerts, sports games, performances, parties, jobs, internships, and graduations

  • Uncertainty about what’s coming next - How long will this last? Will my summer job/internship be affected? What about college? How will my family’s economic situation be affected? How will my grandparents and older relatives be affected?

  • Worry about loved ones who are sick or out of work, concerns about our financial well-being, worry about grandparents and older relatives

  • Annoyance with family members

  • Confusion from all of the information and opinions being shared

  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and/or lonely

  • Missing your friends, teammates, classes, practices/rehearsals, routines

  • Gratitude for certain people or resources that are supporting you

  • Hope that things will improve soon

Self-care

Once you’ve given yourself the space to express what you’re feeling, it’s important to identify strategies to care for yourself. This time can provide an opportunity both to return to practices that have been effective for you in the past, as well as try new tactics. Some ideas may include:

  1. Get scheduled. Dedicating even 15-20 minutes a day to engage in activities that help you check-in with yourself can make a huge difference. You might try doing this first thing in the morning, just before you go to bed, after you take a shower, or at some other specified point in your daily routine.

  2. Get creative. Have you always wanted to try drawing? Do you have an instrument that’s starting to gather dust? Do you enjoy writing but can never find the time? Whatever form of expression you like, commit to engage in practicing it regularly. Now is also the perfect time to learn a new art or skill, and you can find countless free tutorials on YouTube or online. Or, ask a family member to teach you their favorite knitting stitch or dinner recipe!

  3. Get active. Keeping your body moving is amazingly beneficial to both your physical and mental health. Though gyms might be closed, there are many ways to get exercise at home! Go for a walk or run outside, try an online yoga class, practice bodyweight exercises, have a dance party with your family or over FaceTime with a friend - or come up with a brand new movement practice of your own design! Exercise is an incredibly effective way to reduce anxiety, strengthen your immune system, and boost your mood.

  4. Get connected. Though physical distancing means that you can’t see many loved ones in person, there are lots of ways to keep in touch! Phone calls, group FaceTime/Zoom parties, and social media can all be great ways to maintain relationships while you’re apart. Though this isn’t the same as being together in person, everyone is going through this together. Sharing your feelings with people you trust, and giving them the opportunity to do the same, can help you both feel supported. Be sure to also take time to have fun! Try virtual board games, watching a movie at the same time, gaming together, or starting an online book club.

  5. Get quiet. While staying connected with others is important, knowing when to turn the screens off is just as valuable. Consider setting aside time everyday away from your phone and computer to share a meal with your family, focus on homework, read a book, or settle into the flow of the creativity and exercise practices that you love most. You can also start keeping a journal. Fill it with your thoughts, reflections, news clippings, photos of where you are and what you’re up to. This is a profound moment in history, and keeping a personal record of what you’re experiencing can be very therapeutic.

  6. Get mindful. Now is also a great time to engage in meditation - check out this article to learn about all of its brain-boosting benefits! Many people find that phone apps like Calm and Headspace make it easier to adopt a regular meditation practice. There are many different types of meditation, but all can help you feel more grounded and present, especially when the world around you feels tumultuous.

Which of these strategies have you found helpful in the past? What are some new ones you want to try? How will you make these activities a priority in your life? Come up with your own action plan, and keep it somewhere that you can refer to regularly to hold yourself accountable. As you write, consider what obstacles you might face: Do you share a limited physical space with others? Can you find a private place at home? How much time do you have to spend on studying, contributing around the house, or caring for others? What resources are readily available to you? Come up with how you will address each of these potential challenges. Can you compromise with family members on dedicated quiet time? Would setting up a schedule help you stay on track? Are there friends/family members in your life who might want to try some of these activities with you? You can visit https://www.mghclaycenter.org/self-care/ for more ideas to build your resilience through self-care. You might consider working through the self-care videos and Activity Toolkit at home or with your teachers.

Cultivate resilience

Taking care of yourself in these ways is a springboard for you to cultivate resilience within yourself, your family, and even your community during this pandemic.

  • Reach out to people in your life who may feel isolated or alone.

  • Contribute to chores around your house, and consider planning fun dinners or special game/movie nights for everyone to enjoy together.

  • Contribute to your community. See if your school district would be interested in having volunteers virtually tutor younger students while they learn from home. Find out if there are donation efforts in your community to help provide PPE to medical workers. Write/email thank-you notes for front-line workers in healthcare, grocery stores, delivery trucks, pharmacies, and other industries.

  • Limit your news media viewing, and be mindful about the media you consume and share with others - look for information from sources like the WHO, CDC, and medical institutions (like Mayo Clinic or Harvard Health Publishing).

  • Use humor! During times that are dark, sharing a joke, comedy video, or favorite funny story can lift spirits and help you and your loved ones through this pandemic.

  • Above all, be sure to wash your hands, follow physical distancing guidelines, and be kind to yourself and others. Though there is still a lot of uncertainty, remember that this is only temporary! Researchers are hard at work developing treatments and vaccines, and we will be back in school, at work, and with our loved ones in the not too distant future.

Reach out

Change can be very difficult and take a large toll on our mental health, our relationships, and our coping mechanisms. Needing some extra help to deal with this unprecedented and stressful time is absolutely normal and there are many opportunities to talk to a professional while maintaining social distancing, such as video-chatting or talking on the phone with a therapist or psychiatrist. If you don’t know how to find someone you can talk to, you can reach out to your pediatrician, who can connect you to professionals in your area. It is especially important to reach out for help:

  • If you have thoughts of hurting yourself: It's not unusual for young people to have suicidal thoughts or feelings. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the CDC reveals that about 20% of high school students seriously think about suicide. This is normal in times that feel desperate. However, it's one thing to have fleeting thoughts about harming yourself and actually consider or plan action. If you have these thoughts or feelings, it's super important to reach out for help. If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or Text "HOME" to 741741.

  • If someone is hurting you, including physical violence, sexual violence, psychological aggresion, or stalking: Intimate partner and domestic violence can look like many different things, from being hit or kicked, to receiving unwanted sexual advances online such as sexting, to using words to exert complete control over another person. The CDC estimates that 26% of women and 15% of men experience intimate partner violence for the first time before turning 18. Some experts worry that if you experienced violence at home in the past, the fact that we are all in isolation at home may make some kids and adults fear danger -- perhaps a repeat of the past. If you feel that you or others are at risk, please be sure to contact someone for counselling or home help at the Hotline. If you or someone you know is being hurt by another person, please call the Domestic Violence Crisis Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to https://www.thehotline.org/ to chat with a live representative.

  • If you are turning to alcohol or drugs to cope: During stressful times, people often use substances as a way of controlling or quelling negative feelings, however it ends up doing more harm than good. Alcohol and drugs may act as a temporary escape from your problems, but will not help you deal with them and may take a negative toll on your physical and mental health and your relationships. For those of you who struggle with an addiction: smoking, vaping, or using substances, please contact your counselor or primary care physician to obtain resources to help you through a potentially very rough time. It is not safe to go out and obtain drugs, nor have them brought to you. Learning to become abstinent is tough! However, counseling and AA groups are available online. Reach out for help if you need it! One resource is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) at 1-800-662-4357 to get connected to services that can help.

  • If you are smoking or vaping: Vaping or smoking cigarettes marijuana can more than double your chance of developing serious complications from COVID-19 by weakening your body’s natural defenses against disease. It is important to make every effort you can to quit smoking or vaping. The nicotine patch, gum, and other prescription medications can be prescribed by your doctor and many find them very helpful in quitting. Two common quit lines for coaching and support are 1-800-784-8669 and SmokefreeTXT. Text the word “QUIT” (7848) to IQUIT (47848) for free help.

  • If you are having a lot of conflict with your parents: Self-isolation can be an opportunity to spend time and reconnect with your parents, however, it can also be a time where there is more conflict with your parents. It is normal for there to be more conflict when you have fewer things that you can be doing outside of the house, are spending more time together, and are feeling more stressed. Make sure that you are able to have some alone time, whether that be having time in your room or other private space in your home, going on a walk by yourself, using meditation or relaxation apps, or watching a movie or listening to music. Both you and your parents should do what you can to communicate and reduce conflict. There are resources for individual and family counseling online if you want to consider getting some professional advice. Your parents can contact your primary care physician for a referral.