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Feeling more drained than usual lately? It’s not just you. Here’s what’s going on and what to do about it.
You might expect, after a year of living with restrictions and extreme uncertainty, that at this point in the coronavirus pandemic ― with vaccines available in the U.S. and cities and businesses reopening ― people would be full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to get out and do things.
But instead, many people are finding themselves particularly exhausted and fatigued. Simple activities and socializations are followed by a real need to rest and recoup. Reinstatements of mask mandates following an uptick in COVID-19 cases are causing a resurgence of anxiety.
Trauma specialists aren’t surprised that people are feeling the weight right now. It isn’t until after the trauma starts to subside that people even begin to experience and become aware of the physiological aftershock.
A year-plus of chronic stress and trauma can take a massive toll on our health ― it damages the immune system, disrupts our circadian rhythms and makes us seriously fatigued. Our bodies have been through a lot. It’s no wonder we’re so tired.
How trauma causes fatigue
We’ve all experienced some kind of trauma as a result of the pandemic. Many people experienced direct trauma — they got sick themselves, or a loved one was diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. We constantly faced the threat of becoming seriously ill, and for those most at risk, dying.
We have also been repeatedly exposed to death and illness via the media, and it’s known that exposure to distressing news is associated with traumatic stress and other mental health symptoms. And due to pandemic-related restrictions, people haven’t had access to the support systems and coping skills they would normally turn to, said Sarah Lowe, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health.
When our stress systems are chronically activated — as they have been throughout the pandemic — our bodies start to experience some wear and tear. Traumatic experiences run down the immune system, affect our circadian rhythms and impair our digestive health, Lowe said. When we’re actively going through a traumatic experience, our bodies produce a surplus of energy to combat mental and physical stressors. The body goes into survivor mode, and without time to recover, this can deplete our energy reserves.
Often, it isn’t until after the traumatic event passes, and our bodies transition out of survival mode, that the physiological effects hit us and start to wreak havoc. Through her research on disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Tonya Hansel, an associate professor with the Tulane University School of Social Work who specializes in disaster mental health and trauma, has found that people generally don’t have the time or space to address their mental health needs during disasters, because they are too busy figuring out how to get through it.
“It isn’t until the stressor starts to be removed that we can really see what that toll has taken,” Hansel said.
On top of all this, while we are at a turning point in the pandemic, there is still some level of uncertainty. Unvaccinated people remain at risk from the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, and scary headlines may have vaccinated people fearful about how well they’re protected (which, according to data, is very well overall). And change of any sort, even good change, can be distressing.
“Even though these are positive changes and people are getting out into the world, it still is a change, in that I think it can be stress on the body,” Lowe said.
There are a few self-care methods that can help address trauma-induced fatigue.
How to deal with trauma-induced fatigue
The biggest step is to practice good sleep hygiene. Give your body the rest it needs. Lowe’s three tips for this: Avoid caffeine at night, don’t exercise before bed, and shut off your devices an hour before bedtime.
During the day, carve out some time for restoration. Meditate, do some yoga, go for a walk or spend time with some loved ones. Don’t feel like you need to pack your schedule with activities now that society has reopened.
“Try to take it slow and have compassion for oneself that these positive experiences might be taxing, and make space for rest and recovery,” Lowe said.
Set smaller goals and find new coping methods. The last thing you want to do is put more stress on your body because you aren’t getting back to normal as fast as you’d like, Hansel said.
“Start small and make small changes that bring joy in your life,” she advised.
There is no clear timeline for how long it will take each of us to recover. Some people may notice improvements relatively soon, but a lot of people will likely continue to struggle in some way, shape or form for the next several months.
If you’re feeling really exhausted, and that fatigue is affecting your job, relationships, or school or home life, consider seeking help from a counselor or mental health professional, Lowe said.
Above all, be patient with yourself. “It’s not fair if we hold our bodies accountable to just change overnight,” Hansel said. “Just as this was a slow process building up to that stress, fatigue is also going to be a slow process in bringing that stress down.”
By Julia Ries 07/20/2021
source: HuffPost Life
The fatigue is real.
There seems to be a lot more napping involved in post-COVID socializing. At first, I thought it was just me needing to rest up before a cookout, or dozing off in the midst of a movie night with friends.
But I’m not alone in feeling fatigued from a socializing schedule I would have handled just fine pre-pandemic. For most people, getting back to the new normal is a lot more tiring than they expected. “In my own life and amongst my friends and colleagues, I have heard people report that they feel exhausted, or that they have to dig deep to socialize,” says Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.
You can chalk that up to the massive sea change we’ve all experienced over the past year. “I think it’s part of the rebooting of our society,” says Ken Yeager, Ph.D., clinical director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I don’t think we have ever really experienced this before—and thinking through all these processes and what socializing looks like now, is creating stress.”
Why socializing is a lot more tiring post-COVID
It’s not your imagination—you need to work a lot harder to socialize now than you did in 2019. And there are several reasons for it
We’re rusty at it
After more than a year of Zoom calls and small backyard get-togethers, we’re out of practice at how to handle social events—and it takes more energy to deal with the novelty of it all. “We’ve fallen off our normal pace and intensity,” Hendriksen says. “When that momentum grinds to a halt, breaking that inertia requires extra energy and motivation.”
And while we’ve been still getting together with our nearest and dearest, we haven’t had to make small talk with strangers in a while. “You’re moving around more, seeing more people and that requires interaction,” Yeager says. “That’s an expenditure of energy that hasn’t really been happening for a year.”
There’s more anxiety about getting together
Everything about getting together has been stressful for more than a year—with social distancing, masking, and trying to figure out how to safely eat or drink around people outside our household.
That stress isn’t necessarily going to disappear overnight—especially as we still have concerns about variants and outbreaks. “Do I have to wear a mask; do I not wear a mask?” Yeager says. “We’ve never had to worry about these things before.”
More of us have mental health issues
The pandemic has unleashed a wave of anxiety and depression, and that has impacted every aspect of our lives.
According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression skyrocketed during the pandemic. “Nearly half of the American population reported anxiety, depression, or both,” Yeager says.
It’s hitting both introverts and extroverts
You might think that this fatigue would be more closely linked to introverts, who have always had to muster up the energy to head out when they’re perfectly happy to chill at home. But fatigue can come for the extroverts, too, as they try to make up for lost time. “Extroverts might wear themselves out going all out, and still experience fatigue,” Yeager says.
How to get back into the social groove
Fortunately, the socializing slump you might be feeling right now will eventually disappear, as we get more used to being around people. But there are a few strategies to get you over the hill—and back to your friends and family.
Give yourself more down time
You may have had a go-go-go mentality pre-pandemic, but now’s the time to (slowly) ramp up to that schedule. (So yes, set aside time for that pre-party power nap!)
“Build in some down time so you can rest and recuperate,” Yeager says. “Find time and space in your schedule to recharge batteries and relax, getting outside and getting some fresh air into your lungs.”
To help reduce the stress of social interactions, set boundaries that’ll help you feel comfortable.
“Articulate what you’re willing to do and not willing to do,” Hendriksen says. “Our family is not all vaccinated yet, so we’re not doing indoor dining. If someone invites us to go to an indoor restaurant, we would suggest eating outdoors or ask, ‘Would you like to come over for takeout in the backyard?’ You can set boundaries and still be friendly and compassionate.”
You might even want to set time boundaries—like suggesting meeting up for coffee for an hour, rather than a more open-ended invite.
Start small and build on it
Your first post-quarantine outing probably shouldn’t be a big, indoor wedding or a crowded restaurant. Look for ways to start small (a small get-together in someone’s house), and work your way up to bigger or more complex get-togethers.
“Take it slow and simple,” Yeager says. “People may be experiencing anxiety going back into events. Instead of jumping into a week’s vacation with friends or a full-stadium sporting event, practice a little bit and ease yourself into it with smaller interactions.”
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
If you’re feeling anxious about getting together, you could be putting too much pressure on yourself to make a reunion even more memorable.
“You don’t have to be your best self to be yourself,” Hendriksen says. “Don’t try to overcompensate by telling extra-zany stories, being extra-entertaining, or otherwise trying to carry the conversation. Take pressure off yourself and turn the attention spotlight onto the people you’re with.”
If you’re hosting, you might find yourself being rusty at hospitality. (Both Hendriksen and I have had people at our houses for more than a half-hour before offering them a drink!)
“As long as you have good intentions and repair the situation upon noticing, it’s fine,” Hendriksen says. “Try a line like ‘I’ve gone feral, so if I forget, help yourself.'”
Don’t forget your healthy habits
If you aren’t eating or sleeping well, that’ll make mustering the energy to socialize even harder.
“Your sleep patterns may be disrupted if you’re going back into work,” Yeager says. And look for healthy snacks with plenty of protein to help you avoid a sugar crash that’ll sap your energy.
Fake it until you make it
After a year-plus at home, it’s going to take a lot of energy to put ourselves back out there—and we might sometimes have to just force ourselves to make it happen, even when we’re tired.
“Push yourself to do the things that you have enjoyed in the past, with people you know you like and want to spend time with,” Hendriksen says. “Experiencing anxiety about our social life doesn’t mean something is wrong or dangerous. More often than not, you’ll be glad you went.”
By Lisa Milbrand
We would – of course – like any encounter with mental illness to be as brief as possible
and, most importantly, to be isolated and singular. But the reality is that for many
of us, the illness will threaten to return for visits throughout our lives. It will be
a condition to which we will be permanently susceptible. So the challenge isn’t to learn
to survive only a one-off crisis; it’s to set in place a framework that can help us
to manage our fragility over the long-term. Some of the following moves, practical and
psychological, suggest themselves:
Being ready for a return of the illness will help us to calibrate our expectations and
render us appropriately patient and unfrightened in the face of relapses. We fell ill over
many years – our whole childhood might have been the incubating laboratory – and it will
therefore take us an age until we are impervious. We should expect to recover no more speedily
than someone who has damaged a limb and probably a good deal more arduously, given how complicated
a mind is next to a femur or a tendon.
We need to be rigorous with our patterns of thinking. We cannot afford to let our thoughts
wander into any old section of the mind. There are thoughts that we need to nurture – about
our worth, about our right to be, about the importance of keeping going, about self-forgiveness.
And there are thoughts we should be ruthless in chasing out – about how some people are
doing so much better than us, about how inadequate and pitiful we are, about what a disappointment
we have turned out to be. The latter aren’t even ‘thoughts,’ they have no content
to speak of, they cannot teach us anything new. They are really just instruments of torture
and symptoms of a difficult past.
A Support Network
A decent social life isn’t, for the mentally fragile, a luxury or piece of entertainment.
It is a resource to help us to stay alive. We need people to balance our minds when we
are slipping. We need friends who will be soothing with our fears and not accuse us
of self-indulgence or self-pity for the amount of time our illness has sequestered. It will
help immensely if they have struggles of their own and if we can therefore meet as equal
fellow ailing humans, as opposed to hierarchically separated doctors and patients.
We’ll need ruthlessness in expunging certain other people from our diaries, people who
harbour secret resentments against us, who are latently hostile to self-examination,
who are scared of their own minds and project their fears onto us. A few hours with such
types can throw a shadow over a whole day; their unsympathetic voices become lodged in
our minds and feed our own ample stores of self-doubt. We shouldn’t hesitate to socially
edit our lives in order to endure.
The impulse, when things are darkening, is to hide ourselves away and reduce communication.
We are too ashamed to do anything else. We should fight the tendency and, precisely when
we cannot bear to admit what we are going through, we should dare to take someone into
our confidence. Silence is the primordial enemy. We have to fight a permanent feeling
that we are too despicable to be looked after. We have to take a gamble on an always implausible
idea: that we deserve kindness.
Love is ultimately what will get us through, not romantic love but sympathy, toleranc
and patience. We’ll need to watch our tendencies to turn love down from an innate sense of
unworthiness. We wouldn’t have become ill if it were entirely easy for us to accept
the positive attention of others. We’ll have to thank those who are offering it and
make them feel appreciated in return – and most of all, accept that our illness was from
the outset rooted in a deficit of love and therefore that every encounter with the emotion
will strengthen our recovery and help to keep the darkness at bay.
We would – ideally – of course prefer not to keep adding foreign chemicals to our minds.
There are side effects and the eerie sense of not knowing exactly where our thoughts
end and alien neurochemistry begins. But the ongoing medicines set up guardrails around
the worst of our mental whirlpools. We may have to be protected on an ongoing basis from
forces inside us that would prefer we didn’t exist.
A Quiet Life
We should see the glory and the grandeur that is present in an apparently modest destiny.
We are good enough as we are. We don’t need huge sums of money or to be spoken of well
by strangers. We should take pride in our early nights and undramatic routines. These
aren’t signs of passivity or tedium. What looks like a normal life on the outside is
a singular achievement given what we are battling within.
There is no need for gravity. We can face down the illness by laughing heartily at its
evils. We are mad and cracked – but luckily so are many others with whom we can wryly
mock the absurdities of mental life. We shouldn’t, on top of everything else, accord our illness
too much portentous respect.
We should be proud of ourselves for making it this far. It may have looked – at times
– as if we never would. There might have been nights when we sincerely thought of taking
our own lives. Somehow we held on, we reached out for help, we dared to tell someone else
of our problems, we engaged our minds, we tried to piece together our histories and
to plot a more endurable future – and we started reading about what might be up with us.
We are still here, mentally ill no doubt at times, but more than ever committed to recovery,
appreciative of the light, grateful for love, hungry for insight and keen to help anyone
else whose plight we can recognise. We are not fully well, but we are on the mend and
that, for now, is very much good enough.
Depression is an extremely common experience, which can be hard to escape from once an episode has begun.
Psychological research has found all sorts of ways that the chances of developing depression can be reduced.
From social connection, through building resilience to taking up a hobby, there are many science-backed methods for lowering depression risk.
1. Social connection
People who feel able to tell others about their problems and who visit more often with friends and family have a markedly lower risk of becoming depressed.
The data, derived from over 100,000 people, assessed modifiable factors that could affect depression risk including sleep, diet, physical activity and social interaction.
Dr Jordan Smoller, study co-author, explained the results:
“Far and away the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlighted the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion.”
2. Build resilience
Recalling positive memories helps to build resilience against depression.
Reminiscing about happy events and having a store of these to draw on is one way of building up resilience.
Similarly, getting nostalgic has been found to help fight loneliness and may also protect mental health.
Thinking back to better times, even if they are tinged with some sadness, helps people cope with challenging times.
3. Regulate your mood naturally
Being able to naturally regulate mood is one of the best weapons against depression.
Mood regulation means choosing activities that increase mood, like exercise, when feeling low and doing dull activities like housework when spirits are higher.
Some of the best ways of improving mood are being in nature, taking part in sport, engaging with culture, chatting and playing.
Other mood enhancing activities include listening to music, eating, helping others and childcare.
4. Eat healthily
Reducing fat intake and increasing levels of omega-3 are also linked to a lower risk of depression.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of fruits and vegetables may account for their beneficial effect.
Vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables may also help to lower the markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein.
This is probably why many studies link vegetarian and vegan diets to a lower risk of depression.
5. Stop obsessing about failures
When people repeatedly compare a mental vision of their ideal self with the failure to reach it, this can produce psychological distress.
Aspirations can be damaging as well as motivating, depending on how the mind deals with them and what results life happens to serve up.
Thinking obsessively about a perceived failure is psychological damaging.
6. Reduce sedentary activities
Cutting down on screen-time strongly reduces depression risk, whether or not people have previously experienced a depressive episode.
The results come from data covering almost 85,000 people.
The study found that another important lifestyle factor linked to less depression is adequate sleep — around 7 to 9 hours is optimal.
Again, adequate sleep improves mood even in people who have not experienced depression.
7. Be in nature
Being in nature relaxes the mind, which in turn enhances the immune system.
This may explain why nature has a remarkably beneficial effect on a wide range of diseases including depression, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, obesity and many more.
Dr Ming Kuo, who carried out the research, explained how nature helps:
“When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes — growing, reproducing, and building the immune system.
When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.”
8. Take up a hobby
Pursuing hobbies increases the chance of a depressed person recovering by 272 percent.
Hobbies are usually considered informal leisure activities that are not done for money and do not involve physical activity.
Things like music, drawing, sewing and collecting would be good examples.
To be beneficial to mental health, hobbies do not necessarily need to be social.
However, some studies do find that social hobbies can be particularly beneficial to happiness.
9. Get fit
Being fit also predicts a 60 percent lower chance of depression.
The study tracked over 150,000 middle-aged people in the UK.
Their aerobic fitness was tested on a stationary bike and muscle strength with a handgrip test.
After seven years, people who were fitter had better mental health.
Those with combined aerobic and muscular fitness had a 98 percent lower risk of depression and 60 percent lower risk of anxiety.
Mindfulness helps to reduce depression, anxiety and stress for many people, new research finds.
However, its effects on depression and anxiety may be relatively small, with the highest quality studies finding little benefit.
The best advice is probably to try and see if it works for you, but do not be surprised if its effects on depression and anxiety are modest.
Want more suggestions? Here are 8 more everyday tools for fighting depression.
May 21, 2021 source: Psyblog
Lavender also has practically no side-effects in comparison to drugs like benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants.
The smell of lavender reduces anxiety, research confirms.
Lavender also has practically no side-effects in comparison to drugs like benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants.
Benzodiazepines, in particular, can cause headache, dizziness and an effect like being drunk.
Lavender, meanwhile, has a relatively quick relaxing influence and no other side-effects.
Dr Hideki Kashiwadani, study co-author, said:
“In folk medicine, it has long been believed that odorous compounds derived from plant extracts can relieve anxiety.”
The researchers tested linalool, which is a compound in lavender that has the relaxing effect.
Dr Kashiwadani explained:
“We observed the behavior of mice exposed to linalool vapor, to determine its anxiolytic [calming] effects.
As in previous studies, we found that linalool odor has an anxiolytic effect in normal mice.
Notably, this did not impair their movement.”
Lavender, though, must be smelt not absorbed into the lungs, to have its calming effect, the mouse study has found.
Mice that could not smell, though, were not relaxed by the linalool.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (Harada et al., 2018).
source: PsyBlog April 12, 2021
Study: 4 Herbs That Influence
Both Mood And Memory
“Peppermint has a reputation for being psychologically or mentally alerting.It picks you up and makes you feel a little bit brighter, so we endeavoured to test this out by giving people peppermint tea, or chamomile tea, which is a more calming drink and then put them through some computerised tests.We found that those people who had drunk the peppermint tea had better long-term memory.They were able to remember more words and pictures that they had seen.”
“In contrast, the people who had the chamomile were slower in responding to tasks.Rosemary meanwhile has a reputation about being associated with memory – even Shakespeare said ‘rosemary is for remembrance’ – and it’s also associated with being invigorating.We have found that people are more alert after being in a room that has rosemary aroma in it.We tested prospective memory – our ability to remember to remember to do something – on people over 65 years of age, to see if we could improve their ability and we found that rosemary could do that.This is potentially very important because prospective memory, for example, enables you to remember to take your medication at certain times of the day.”
“It is interesting to see the contrasting effects that different herbs can have on both mood and memory, and our research suggests that that they could have beneficial effects, particularly in older age groups.If you were otherwise healthy then this research suggests that there is an opportunity to have an improved memory.”
The self-care rituals you practice in the morning
can improve your mental health for the rest of the day.
As a person who’s dealt with anxiety since I was a kid, I find that I’m often most anxious first thing in the morning. When I open my eyes, all of the worries and potential stressors that await me flood my mind. The pit in my stomach makes me want to stay in bed as long as I can so I don’t have to face the day ahead.
Of course, this avoidance only exacerbates what I’m feeling. What alleviates it is just the opposite: Getting up on the earlier side so I have time for my morning routine. These days, that’s making an iced coffee, taking my dog for a walk, following a short workout video, writing my to-do list for the day and ― when time permits ― meditating and journaling.
“Morning routines are powerful and set our pattern for the rest of the day,” Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant in Britain, told HuffPost. “A worry-filled morning will often flood into an anxious afternoon.” Conversely, starting the morning with intention creates a sense of calm and confidence that makes the rest of the day seem more manageable.
So how do you create those morning rituals that will quiet your racing mind and stick with them? Below, experts offer some helpful advice.
How to start a solid morning routine
Be realistic about how much you can dedicate to your morning routine.
Consider how much time you can realistically carve out for yourself.
“We all have a period of the morning that we have some level of control over,” Chambers said. “For some people, that may be an hour, for others, it may be 20 minutes.”
For example, if you have young kids or a long commute to the office, you may have less time to work with. So figure out what’s realistic for your circumstances.
Waking up earlier may help your mornings feel less frazzled. That said, you shouldn’t force yourself into becoming an early riser at the expense of getting a full night’s rest. Remember that sleep plays a pivotal role in your emotional regulation.
“Often we hear of routines that start in the early hours of the morning,” Chambers said. “For some people, this is a high-energy time and a perfect time to start your routine. But if you’re limiting your sleep or you just don’t function well so early, it is going to be detrimental.”
Experiment to figure out which rituals work best for you.
Finding out which morning routine additions alleviate your anxiety may take some trial and error. What works for your partner, friend or that random influencer you follow on Instagram may or may not work for you.
“Think about your biggest stressors and problems that trigger your anxiety, and then consider what really helps in these situations,” Chambers said. “Then look to those activities and experiment. There are many ways and methods to exercise, plan, journal, listen and read, and some will feel just right for you.”
Make it easy and enjoyable so you stick with it.
You don’t need to come up with some elaborate 20-step process to reap the benefits of a morning routine (but, hey, if you want to, more power to you).
“Morning routines are most effective when we enjoy them and they are easy to integrate into our lives,” Chambers said. “They are not about completely changing what we do, but adding small, positive changes that compound together.”
“Morning routines are most effective when we enjoy them and they are easy to integrate into our lives.”
– LEE CHAMBERS, ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND WELL-BEING CONSULTANT
One way to make the morning smoother? Do some preparation the night before, like laying out your workout clothes, whipping up a make-ahead breakfast or putting your journal by your coffeemaker.
“Leave things to trigger you to remember, make what you need accessible and craft a space where it is possible,” Chambers said.
But know that you’re not going to execute your routine perfectly every day ― and that’s OK.
You might be on a roll for a couple of weeks and then fall off for a few days. If you mentally prepare for these hiccups, you’ll be less likely to beat yourself up when they happen.
“It’s easy to move into judgment and criticism of yourself when things don’t go as you would have wanted or when you don’t immediately want to jump out of bed in the morning to start a new routine,” said marriage and family therapist Lynsie Seely of Wellspace SF in San Francisco. “Expect that there will be difficult moments and connect with your internal voice that offers kind words and encouragement along the way.”
And when you do follow your routine, give yourself some praise.
“Celebrate a little,” Chambers said. “Similarly, when you miss it, be kind to yourself and get prepared for the following morning.”
Some habits worth trying to incorporate into your morning
Here are some expert-recommend practices to reduce anxiety. Experiment to see what works well for you and then narrow it down.
We asked mental health professionals to recommend some practices that help soothe anxiety. Try out a few of these and check in with how you feel afterwards — but know that it may take some time to see the benefits. Then you can determine if you want to add any to your a.m. routine.
1. Start your day by drinking water.
Before you have your tea or coffee, hydrate with a glass of a water as soon as you wake up.
“It gives us increased cognitive function, allowing us more clarity of mind, can elevate our mood and energy, and promotes more balanced emotional regulation and takes less than a minute,” Chambers said. “And it’s a great habit to stack your next part of the routine into, and you can even prepare your water the evening before.”
2. Walk outside.
Taking a walk outdoors is a calming, grounding way to begin the day.
“It is also great as it gets sunlight into our eyes, stimulating serotonin, which boosts our mood,” Chambers said. “It also ignites our senses, as the wind hits our face, sounds of the environment fill our ears and we smell the external world. It makes us mindful and eases our worries in the process.”
3. Practice gratitude.
Take a moment to reflect on all of the good in your life. You can list a few things in your head, share them with a partner or child, or write them down in a journal.
“Start your day with a grateful heart before you even get up from bed,” said Renato Perez, a Los Angeles psychotherapist. “Start naming all the things you’re grateful for. This could be done through prayer or simply a list you say out loud to the universe or Mother Nature.”
4. Try to avoid checking your phone first thing.
Those work emails, text messages, Instagram notifications and news alerts can wait a bit. If you charge your phone by your bed or use it as an alarm clock, you’re going to look at it right when you wake up. Before you know it, you’re sucked in and two minutes of scrolling turns into 20. Try charging your phone across the room so it’s not within reach. Or charge it outside of the bedroom and use an alarm clock instead.
“I see so many people who immediately check their work email in the morning, which automatically puts them in ‘work mode’ and makes them feel anxious about the day ahead before they even get out of bed,” said Gina Delucca, a clinical psychologist at Wellspace SF. “Similarly, some people hop on social media or start reading news articles while lying in bed, which may trigger anxiety by reading or seeing something negative or scary.”
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid your phone altogether, which just isn’t realistic for most of us. “But I definitely recommend giving yourself some peace and quiet in the morning before the daily grind begins,” Delucca added.
5. Take some deep breaths.
When you’re anxious, you might notice your breathing is quick and shallow, rather than slow and deep.
“This is a part of our body’s natural stress response, and it coincides with a few of the other physical sensations you may notice when you feel anxious — like rapid heart rate, dizziness and upset stomach,” Delucca said. “While we don’t have voluntary control over some of these bodily sensations, we do have control over our breathing, and we can use our breath to help induce a more relaxed state.”
“Morning routines are powerful and set our pattern for the rest of the day.”
– LEE CHAMBERS, ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND WELL-BEING CONSULTANT
Those deep, nourishing inhalations and exhalations stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a sense of calm.
“To begin, try to spend a few minutes each morning sitting or lying in a comfortable position, closing your eyes and taking a few slow, controlled, deep breaths,” Delucca said. “Try breathing in through your nose and then breathing out through either your nose or mouth. When you inhale, imagine that you are filling up a balloon in your abdomen rather than just breathing into your chest.”
“There is no better way to quiet the mind than by practicing meditation,” Perez said. “Start small — two to three minutes — and increment every week.”
When your mind wanders away, which it inevitably will, gently bring it back to your breath.
You can sit in silence, listen to relaxing music, do a guided mediation through an app like Calm, Headspace or Insight Timer, or find one on YouTube
You can also try repeating a mantra — “I am safe, and I will be OK,” is one Delucca suggested. Or do a body scan: Start at the top of your head, bringing awareness to each body part and releasing tension from that area as you slowly work your way down to your toes.
7. Eat a nourishing breakfast.
“Our mood is highly influenced by what we eat,” Chambers said.
Opt for a balanced breakfast that contains protein, healthful fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates — think a vegetable omelet with avocado toast or oatmeal with nut butter, berries and chia seeds. Refined carbohydrates, such as doughnuts and sugary cereals, can lead to a blood sugar spike and crash, “causing challenges with emotional regulation, which may leave you feeling anxious,” Chambers added. (That said, if the occasional croissant or chocolate chip muffin brings some joy to your morning, it’s totally fine. Food is meant to be enjoyed, after all.)
8. Read a few pages from a book.
Rather than reading news or catching up on your social media feeds early in the morning, Perez recommends picking up a book that inspires you and reading for a few minutes ― even just five pages.
“Find a book that really speaks to you and makes you feel good,” he said.
9. Move your body.
It could be yoga, walking, running, dancing, cycling, strength-training or even stretching.
“When you exercise in the morning, you may notice improved focus and energy during the rest of the day, as well as better sleep at night, which can also help to tame anxiety,” Delucca said. “In addition, exercising in the morning can enhance your mood by giving you a boost of endorphins and a sense of accomplishment at the start of your day.”
It’s worth noting that some people report that certain workouts, especially very intense ones, actually stoke their anxiety rather than reduce it. So just be aware of that.
“We react differently to exercise, and it is a stressor,” Chambers said. “Exercising with too much intensity for some people can lead them to become fatigued and more likely to feel anxious.”
10. Do some visualization.
A visualization practice can help you set the desired tone for your day. If you’re feeling anxious and distracted, perhaps you’d like to feel calm, focused and empowered instead. Seely recommends calling on a memory that evokes that feeling for you. Tune into the small details and sensations of the experience.
“For example, if I’m visualizing a memory where I hiked up to the peak of a mountain and I’m overlooking the summit, I might notice the details of the incredible view, the sounds of nature around me, the feel of my muscles after climbing the steep terrain, the smell and temperature of the air, the sensation of feeling accomplished, proud, unstoppable,” she said. “Really getting into every sensation of the memory helps your body to soak in the experience and primes your physiology for that particular state of being ― in this example, empowered and ready to take on the day.”
And if you can’t think of a specific memory, allow yourself to daydream and build the desired experience in your imagination.
How to stick to your morning routine
“You’re more likely to follow through on behavior change when you set clear and specific goals versus vague aspirations,” said psychologist Gina Delucca.
You may think your biggest stumbling blocks are a lack of willpower or hitting the snooze button half a dozen times. But often it “comes down to a lack of clarity with the routine,” Delucca said.
“You’re more likely to follow through on behavior change when you set clear and specific goals versus vague aspirations,” she added.
So instead of saying something general, like, “I want to work out in the morning,” make the goal more concrete: “I’m going to do a virtual yoga class at 7:30 a.m. after I finish my tea.”
Delucca also recommends getting up around the same time each day and outlining what specific activities you want to incorporate into your routine and in what order. It may help to write them down.
“When you do something repeatedly in the same order, you can eventually develop a habit,” Delucca said. “When a habit is formed, you’re not solely relying on how you feel in the moment in terms of your mood, motivation or willpower. Habits feel automatic without any guesswork as to what you should do next.”
She offered the example of taking a shower. You likely shampoo, condition, shave and wash your body in a specific order without giving it much thought.
“It’s automatic because the routine is clear and you’ve created a habit in which one action flows directly into the next action without any questioning,” Delucca said. “So, try to be as specific and consistent as possible when creating a morning routine. Each activity will serve as a cue for the next, and with time, your morning routine will flow.”
Kelsey Borresen – Senior Reporter, HuffPost Life 09/16/2020
5 Habits You Should Avoid
First Thing In The Morning
Here’s what to avoid in your a.m. routine and what to do instead.
can make a big difference in your overall well-being.
Mistake #1: Hitting The Snooze Button
Mistake #2: Letting Your Mind Be ‘Directed’ By Your Phone
Mistake #3: Filling Up On Sugar Right Away
Mistake #4: Not Washing Your face Properly Or Using SPF
Mistake #5: Completely Overlooking Your Mental Well-Being
How To Help A Friend With Anxiety When You’re Struggling Yourself
“My friend unloads her anxiety on me, and now I feel drained,” was the title of a Guardian advice column submission that had heads bobbing in agreement.“It’s becoming less about having conversations and more about listening to an exhausting monologue,” the advice-seeker wrote of their relationship with an anxious friend in the pandemic. They just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with all of that anxiety, in addition to their own.
Some of the best support you can offer is letting your friend know you’re there to support them, and you can understand and empathize with how they are feeling, says psychotherapist Lucy Fuller. But it can be “very difficult” to be in the presence of someone who is feeling really anxious when you yourself are feeling that way, she adds.
Don’t dismiss your own anxiety in the process, she adds. “I think many of us are good at subtly dismissing ourselves by ending sentences with things like ‘but I’m really lucky, lots of people have it much worse.’ Whilst perspective is good, notice where you are on a spectrum of dismissing yourself. Too much of dismissing your anxiety won’t help it ultimately.”
“I would suggest being honest and letting them know that you are sorry it is so difficult for them, but that you are also on a cliff edge and can’t cope with it all right now,” suggests Fuller. “Comfort might be gained from just being together, even not talking.”
“Try to share the activity of taking in the surroundings and being in the moment,” says Fuller. “There can be comfort gained from being in the presence of someone you love or have great respect for, without sharing words, but experiencing a parallel sense of calm.”
“Often the last thing people need when they are feeling wobbly is for someone they rely on to try to fix the problem, or tell them what they ‘should’ be doing in order to make themselves feel better,” says Fuller. “It isn’t always as simple as that, so by coming supportively ‘alongside’ someone who is experiencing emotional difficulties is a very comforting way of supporting them.”
“To say or suggest to someone that they don’t feel as bad as you diminishes their experience and can shame them into thinking that it isn’t safe to share their feelings with you,” she says. So best not to go down that route.
How To De-clutter Your Life
And Reduce Anxiety In 10 Steps
Last summer, mere months after swearing that I wasn’t going to have a second baby, I found out I was having a second baby. Oh, universe.
Of all the varied emotions (most of them happy, for the record) I felt over “li’l surprise,” as we’ve come to call him, one of the most prevalent was panic over how to fit him in our two-bedroom, already overflowing, toddler-dominated townhouse. Like, actually, where is this baby going to go? A drawer? It might be a drawer.
This panic quickly morphed to full-fledged anxiety over the clutter I find myself surrounded by on a daily basis. Toys everywhere. An entirely unusable basement thanks to boxes we never unpacked from our last move. A shame-closet so stuffed with junk we can’t even open the door.
When I was about 12 weeks pregnant, I booked an appointment with my therapist to discuss my feelings about bringing another baby into the world. I spent $160/hour crying to her about the state of my basement.
It was time to to act. For the baby, who deserves more than a drawer to call his own, and for my own mental health.
Clutter really is linked to anxiety
Clutter and anxiety go together like boozy date nights and surprise pregnancies: kind of inevitable.
“Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives,” psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter wrote in Psychology Today.
The negative effect of clutter is especially prevalent among women, the New York Times notes, citing a 2019 study that found a cluttered home is a stressful home. Another study from 2010 found that women who perceived their homes as messy or cluttered had increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day.
But, as Carter explains in Psychology Today, clutter is actually one of the easiest sources of life stress to fix — much easier than fixing a stressful job or relationship issues, for instance. You just have to do it.
It took work. It took time. But I am pleased to say I have significantly reduced the clutter in my house and my mind over the last several months. Here’s how I did it, and how you can, too:
1. Pick one project at a time
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by de-cluttering your entire house, so break it up into bite-sized pieces. Pick one project, such as going through your closet and donating everything you never wear. Then bask in the glory of finishing something.
“This will give you a sense of accomplishment as you see your successes little by little,” Carter notes.
Even just taking a single night off from Netflix will give you two to three hours, which is plenty of time to tackle that junk drawer full of used batteries and dead pens.
2. Be ruthless
Adopt a stone-cold attitude. Now is not the time to weep over that genius essay you wrote in Grade 4. If you don’t use it, and there’s little sentimental value, give it away or toss it.
Here is a random sample of just some of the crap from my house I either threw out, recycled, or donated over the last few months:
- About 300 books
- Two bookshelves
- Dozens of kitchen appliances I have never used, such as an egg steamer (??)
- The elliptical machine, nicknamed “El Bastardo” that has doubled as a laundry hanger for at least five years
- My ex’s guitar (sorry)
- Dozens of giant photo frames or framed art we were never actually going to hang again.
- All of my impractical shoes. I’m about to be a mom of two, so let’s get real
- An entire cupboard full of bath and beauty products I’ve never or barely used
- An antique steamer trunk from the foot of the bed that my husband tripped over every. single. night.
3. Join a ‘Buy Nothing’ group
As satisfying as it is to drop off car loads of stuff at the Salvation Army or Value Village, chances are your neighbourhood has a “Buy Nothing” group where people will come to your house and take your stuff away, no questions asked!
That antique steamer trunk I mentioned? A mom in my neighbourhood took it, gave it to her pirate-obsessed son, and now he has his own treasure trunk. YARR!
4. Donate books
Yeah, I know. This one can be controversial for book lovers. And I am one, so I get it.
If you have the space, and don’t consider books clutter, great. But if you have a basement overflowing with multiple copies of Memoirs of a Geisha and every psychology textbook from your undergrad, it might be time to let go.
And let go I did. I asked my husband to do the same and we parsed it down to a meaningful collection.
And you know what? It didn’t even hurt. I’m happy thinking about other people finding joy in the books that were just collecting dust in my basement.
5. Invest in furniture that doubles as storage
Out of sight, out of mind. Consider investing in a piece of furniture that doubles as storage. I got this storage ottoman from Ikea, and now all of my son’s toy trains and tracks have a place to live other than my living room floor.
You can also re-purpose existing furniture for storage. One of my (now-empty) square bookshelves is now a handy toy shelf in my son’s playroom.
6. Look critically at the space you do have and how it can be used better
This one was huge for me, and important for anyone living in a small space. Instead of pining for more room (we very nearly moved), look critically at how your current space can be better utilized. For me, that meant tackling the biggest stressor of all … my basement.
After, many, many trips to Value Village and weeks spent sorting, I morphed my previously unusable basement into a playroom for my toddler. This allowed us to move all of his toys cluttering my living room, thus creating usable space (for me!) upstairs.
Suddenly, I could breathe again.
I gave my bedroom a similar makeover. We don’t have a third bedroom to turn into a nursery for this little nugget, but we do have a pretty large master. After giving away the steamer trunk, half my clothes, and moving a few decorative lamps, the back end of our room is now the “nursery.”
We’re ready for you, li’l surprise!
7. Rotate toys
Did you know kids get overwhelmed by having too much “stuff,” too? A 2017 study found that kids with too many toys get easily distracted and have lower-quality playtime. Fewer toys lead to more, focused creative play.
Researchers suggest that parents pack away most of the children’s toys, and rotate them a few at a time.
8. De-clutter your schedule
Congrats, your house is looking more like a house and less like an emporium of crap! But there’s still more de-cluttering you could do.
If you’re anything like me, you spend your weekends shuttling your kids to museums, drop ins, classes … anything to keep busy! But now that I have a house I can actually stand to spend time in, we’ve started embracing slow weekends at home, and everyone is better for it.
Send your kid to the playroom. Do an art project. Make pancakes together. You’ll all feel calmer when you use your down-time to actually relax.
9. De-clutter your socials
While you’re bettering your life, how about cleaning up your social media? Unfollow any accounts you don’t really care about (like all those baby product accounts you followed just to enter free giveaways), so that you’re more likely to see updates from those you do care about.
Take stock of how many online parenting groups you’re in (I’m in about 37, no joke). Mute the ones you don’t really need nor care to see on a daily basis.
Finally, if you’re doing any hate follows (we’re all guilty of this, right?), consider letting go. You live your life, little miss perfect mommy blogger we only follow to hate, and we’ll live ours. Go in peace. Enjoy your home-grown, organic mung beans.
10. De-clutter your mind
Your house, schedule, and social media are all cleaned up. All that’s left to tackle now is your mind (oh, just that?). Embracing mindfulness is a great way to help you roll with the punches, be more present, and control your reactions, parenting expert Alyson Schafer notes.
Here are some great apps to get you started:
- Dan Harris’s 10% Happier
- Sam Harris’s Waking Up
- Meditation Timer
As we move into the winter months, it’s important to be active in taking care of yourself.
It’s paramount that we all tend to our mental health constantly, and that we do what we can to get ourselves — and each other — through this thing in one piece.
We have now reached, if you can believe it, the eight month mark into the flailing mess of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is probably (read: certainly) far longer than any of us imagined it might take for this to end.
And the past eight months has certainly been bruised by a pattern of indeterminate peaks and valleys — moments when one feels hopeful, optimistic, all right, and others when one feels frustrated, anxious, and defeated.
Personally, I’ve felt pretty awful lately. In disposition, I’m experiencing a valley not unlike the one I felt near the beginning of the pandemic, one characterized by lethargy, tenseness, and dread. I’m sure many others have felt this way of late, too: John Trainor, chair of Mental Health Research Canada’s board, recently said a new survey produced “deep concerns about the trends we are seeing” for mental health among Canadians. (Reader: things will get better, eventually.)
It’s difficult to say for sure why people are feeling this way right now, so far into this thing as we are. Maybe it’s the promise of an encroaching winter, during which the freedoms and coping mechanisms we previously enjoyed won’t work the same way under the conditions of the inclement weather. Maybe it’s that we seem to be regressing, as cases rise across Canada and restrictions are reintroduced.
Who knows. What we do know, and what we’ve always known, is that it’s paramount that we all tend to our mental health constantly, and that we do what we can to get ourselves — and each other — through this thing in one piece.
“Self-care isn’t just doing things to make us feel better in the moment,” Dr. Melanie Badali, a psychologist who works in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, told HuffPost Canada. “It’s the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s well being. It means taking care of ourselves like we would take care of someone we love and taking care of ourselves when it is hard. It also includes getting professional health-care help when we need it.”
So to figure out how to do all that, to learn better ways we can protect our mental health every day, we spoke to a somatic practitioner, two psychotherapists and a psychologist. Below is a shortlist of their suggestions.
By this point, however many years after the word “mindfulness” began to dominate a certain segment of the cultural conversation, it’s difficult to refute that meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.
“It’s good to think of meditation as a gym for your brain,” Dr. Krystina Patton, a psychotherapist who specializes in integrative mental health treatment, told HuffPost Canada. “If you think of your brain as a muscle that you use in literally everything you do, it’s good to spend a little time working on it every day.”
In 2014, 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association, found that mindfulness meditation, even for 15 minutes a day, does help to manage anxiety, depression and pain among practitioners.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reduce anxiety and produce a sense of peace and balance.
“It gives us the ability to see our thoughts more clearly and to have more agency over our emotional states, rather than being hijacked by them,” said Patton.
Sitting comfortably and focusing on your breathing, in an attempt to turn your mind’s attention to the present rather than allowing it to wade out into the distant past or unclear future — an easy way for anxiety to flourish — can help to ease the psychological stresses endemic to this moment.
You know how when, in times of crisis, your friends sometimes need to remind you to breathe? It isn’t a fluke that actually doing so, consciously, makes you feel a little bit better.
A number of studies have found that deep, diaphragmatic breathing can trigger the body’s relaxation responses, relieving stress and helping you to concentrate better.
Enter box breathing, also called “square breathing,” a relatively new technique that you can use anywhere, at any time. It only takes a minute or two, and it’s easy to practice: relax your body, exhale to a count of four, hold your lungs empty for a count of four, inhale for a count of four, then keep your lungs full for a count of four. Then repeat.
In stressful situations — a global pandemic, for example — we often unwittingly resort to chest breathing, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, can lead to muscle tightness and headaches, symptoms which are further magnified by chronic stress. Breathing in this way can help to ease the body.
“The thing with stress is that it’s meant to be short-term,” Karishma Kripalani, a somatic practitioner who works with emotional and mental health concerns, told HuffPost Canada. “But if that stress cycle can’t complete itself, then it becomes chronic stress, which is, I think, what we’re seeing right now. And that can take a toll.”
Acknowledging your feelings and talking about them
Feelings are always with us, yet we aren’t always too good at naming or talking about them.
“We tend not to do a great job of dealing with difficult emotions,” said Patton. “Even with our kids, we socialize them from such a young age to get away from, or push away, difficult feelings — when they cry, for example, we immediately try to get them to stop. But you can’t always immediately fix or move past how you’re feeling.”
That’s not to say that we should just “cry it out,” Patton says — or allow our children to — but that in immediately trying to fix things, we reify the implicit message that challenging feelings are something to be escaped or avoided, which might set us up for struggles when we encounter those things that cannot be avoided.
Talking with loved ones about your feelings and moods is a good way to ease anxiety, while giving you the social connection you might be lacking from isolation.
Talking with loved ones about your feelings and moods is a good way to ease anxiety, while giving you the social connection you might be lacking from isolation.
Patton, Kripalani and Gabrielle Stannus, a registered psychotherapist whose practice is grounded in gestalt, all agree that taking a moment to acknowledge how you’re feeling and talking about it with others can help to make sense of these emotions and offer a sense of peace and clarity.
“When you have conversations about how you’re feeling, rather than harbouring your emotions secretly, you’re actually letting the anxiety out of you, and confronting those difficult emotions,” said Stannus.
Establishing clear work-life boundaries
A large portion of the Canadian populace is still working from home. Many of us have needed to convert our bedrooms, or other spots around our homes, into offices. Here’s the thing: when there isn’t a clear separation between a workspace and a non-workspace, it’s a lot easier for your work to bleed into your personal life.
In this way, working from home can become a double-edged sword, and it’s critical to ensure our work doesn’t negatively impact and disrupt our social lives. Research has found that these intrusions can produce a source of significant weekly strain, from increased stress levels to negative affect, rumination and insomnia.
One symptom of working from home is the blurring of boundaries between work and home.
“I’m a really big fan of creating a container for ourselves and our experience — with so much that’s beyond our control right now, it’s good to have some sense of internal control,” said Kripalani. “The body likes routine and ritual. Predictability can help with a sense of safety.”
Setting boundaries and resisting the impulse or demand to be available at all times is an important part of managing the work-life relationship. That includes making time, even while you’re working, to take breaks and go outside, eat healthy foods, and drink lots of water.
You don’t have to identify as a “writer” in order for writing, no matter what form, to make you feel better.
In fact, studies have found that expressive writing — the practice of writing about thoughts and feelings that are born from traumatic or stressful life experiences — can help some people to manage and navigate the emotional fallout of those experiences.
“Freewriting, or stream of consciousness writing, can help us to organize and structure our thoughts, to present them in a way that seems to really help us let go of them, rather than to ruminate and create a cycle of feeling bad,” said Patton.
Stream of consciousness writing can help you to articulate what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, and then manage those emotions.
Stream of consciousness writing can help you to articulate what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, and then manage those emotions.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas, Austin, has conducted a large portion of the research on health benefits of expressive writing. And what he’s found is that it can help people to overcome emotional inhibition, easing stress and trauma.
With freewriting, the rules are simple. You’re meant to clear your mind as best you can, and to forget all the rules you know concerning grammar. Then, you set a time limit — between 10 and 20 minutes for beginners — and begin to write out whatever is on your mind.
Finding moments of joy, or gratitude practices
“One thing I’ve done myself, and which a lot of my clients like, is trying to find moments of joy,” said Stannus. “So being able to be present in the moment and looking for things, even small things, that make you smile, then finding ways to integrate that into yourself.”
The trick, Stannus says, is doing this in small ways that will eventually add up: noticing the colour of the leaves in the fall, sharing a laugh with a close friend, hearing a piece of music that makes you smile.
It’s a mindfulness technique that asks you to engage all five of your senses in order to bring yourself firmly into the moment and appreciate what’s in front of you, rather than indulge your anxieties about the indeterminate future.
“Our brains have been designed to keep us alive, not to keep us happy,” said Patton. “And what that means is that our brains can be kind of like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones, because it’s safer to mistake a stick for a snake than a snake for a stick. So if joy is what we want, it’s something we have to cultivate.”
By Connor Garel 11/18/2020
“When things are normal … you don’t have to put as much cognitive energy into anticipating what’s next because it’s the rhythm of the day,” McKernan said. “We’re having to put so much additional cognitive effort into what’s going on throughout the day.”
“When we’re in a period of heightened stress, we are grounded by routine,” McKernan said.
“The first thing when thinking about establishing a routine right now is redefining what that means and accepting that our sense of normal isn’t necessarily where we want it to be ― and that’s OK. We have to work to intentionally re-establish a sense of routine,” she said.
“When you choose activities that connect to things that you value in your life, that actually gives you a sense of reward and meaning,” she said, adding that these activities could be attending a virtual spiritual service, online volunteering, cooking, reading or knitting. Choose something that gets you excited or pulls you away from your stress.
“We might not be able to capture all activities in the way that we’re used to ― for example, if you value fitness and you’re used to going to a hot yoga studio, that might not be safe to do right now,” McKernan said. “So, how can you recapture a little bit of that exercise in your life and in your day?”
“One of the things that can happen when our mood starts to get low is that we lose the motivation to do things. And, a lot of the time, we feel like we need to magically have the motivation back in order to re-engage in things,” McKernan said. “But it can work in the opposite way, too, where if you choose … activities that are meaningful, you start to build back your sense of motivation and reward.”
“This pandemic has led to some isolation. We can bridge that by making connections with other people because that is how we’re getting through this, together, even though it’s in a different way of being together,” she added.
“I think that creativity can often be very difficult to engage in but it can be really rewarding too, because you found a way to beat the system, so to speak, and do something really fun and interesting,” she said.
“Our days are bleeding into one another because we don’t have variation, so having something that can distinguish this time as different from other times can be helpful in creating that sense of normalcy and creating memories,” Pollock said.
“When you have something to look forward to, each day passes a little bit faster, particularly as you get closer to it ― it’s one of those funny things about time perception. Looking forward to anything, even if it’s really simple, is very, very powerful,” Dutcher said.
“If you’re at home with family, you can plan for a fun movie night where you watch a movie, pop some popcorn and have some candy,” Dutcher suggested. She also added that, while spontaneous conversations with friends and family are nice, planned phone dates also hold their own type of power when it comes to generating some normalcy.
“There is no magical solution, part of feeling a sense of normalcy is accepting that this is not normal and that these are really difficult and stressful times,” Pollock said. “Recognize that that’s the context of trying to create some normalcy, first of all.” (In other words, cut yourself some slack.)
“If people are really struggling, it’s always worth reaching out to a professional to make sure that they are getting the care and support that they need,” Dutcher said.
“I think a lot of people are probably experiencing a low-level or even clinical-level of depression right now. I think it is, unfortunately, very common and people should be mindful and make sure they’re taking care of their wellness.”
The Psychology Behind To-Do Lists and How They Can Make You Feel Less Anxious
1. Wake up.
2. Make coffee.
3. Write this story.
As the days blend together for many people living in lockdown, crossing things off a to-do list can feel even more satisfying. To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety, providing structure and giving us a record of everything we’ve accomplished in a day.
The trick is to reframe your to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of your checklist items as steps in a plan.
Research on the psychology of goal-making has revealed that an unfinished goal causes interference with other tasks you’re trying to achieve. But simply making a plan to facilitate that goal, such as detailing steps on a to-do list, can help your mind set it aside to focus on other things.
“Goals are interesting as they are almost these autonomous agents that kind of live inside you and occupy space in your mind,” said E.J. Masicampo, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“When a goal is unfinished it might be a weight on your mind in terms of anxiety or worry and it colors how you see the world, because it’s sort of tugging at the sleeve of your conscious attention,” Masicampo said. “It can be omnipresent whether you’re aware of it or not.”
But when the 2011 study participants were allowed to formulate specific plans for their goals before moving onto the next task, those negative effects were eliminated.
“We were able to find that you don’t have to finish the goal to offload it – you really could just make a specific plan for how to attain it to get it to stop occupying that mental space,” Masicampo said.
“To-do lists often tend to be mental graveyards, but that said I think there’s some relief there,” Masicampo said, adding that sub-goals are important. “Something that’s been sitting there for too long is probably just stated in too big terms.”
Stuck in the middle
In order to work effectively, your to-do list’s mini-goals also need to be well defined and have short time frames. That’s because people also tend to give up in the middle of goals, according to psychologists.
“We celebrate graduations at work and cheer when we finish big projects. But there is no celebration for middles. That’s when we both cut corners and we lose our motivation,” said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago who is an expert on motivation and decision-making.
“We will still slack in that middle, and having long projects invites a long middle.”
“If we measure ourselves by how much we stick to the plan, that’s not good for motivation,” Fishbach said. “There’s a fine line between keeping structure and keeping your to-do list and also being very flexible. Because things change and they change on a daily basis.”
It’s not a wish list
For all the structure and stress reduction that to-do lists can provide, they can sometimes add to anxiety. That’s because tasks on your to-do list that linger for weeks or months are bad for mental health and motivation.
“To-do lists are interesting because they sometimes become commitments. Once you write an activity or goal down on a piece of paper, it’s work undone,” said Jordan Etkin, an associate professor of marketing at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and an expert on goals.
“The more things people put on their lists, the more open they are to creating goal conflict and its sort of negative downstream effects,” Etkin said.
To-doing it right
To use a to-do list the right way, Etkin said people need to clearly define their goals and differentiate the tasks they definitely want to get done today versus tasks they want to do “maybe someday.”
Tasks need to be clearly ranked in terms of importance.
“To-do lists can be very helpful for informing how you should be directing your time and cognitive resources,” Etkin said. “I think where challenges emerge is when people treat to-do lists like wish lists, rather than the things they definitely want to do today.”
Having a productive to-do list shouldn’t make you feel like you can’t take a break, Etkin also stressed, even if you haven’t crossed all those items off your list yet.
“It’s also important for people to have protective time in their lives where they’re not striving towards any goal,” she said.