In March, it looked like COVID-19 would be the most anxiety-provoking news event of the year. But a lot has happened since then: police killings and anti-racism protests, wildfires and evacuations, political acrimony, and more than a few earthquakes. When we look back on these days, we will likely feel sadness mixed with relief that somehow, we managed to endure. Until then, we have many months to get through.
In the face of overlapping crises, many are feeling powerless. It is important to remember that we have control over our own choices. One of the best ways to exercise this control is to maintain good self-care habits. In this article, I want to lay out some ideas for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly habits that can help maintain emotional health and well-being.
• Get outside (with a mask!) and into nature. Spending twenty minutes a day in natural surroundings has been shown to foster a sense of well-being. If you have a chance to exert yourself while you are outside -- even better.
• Limit social media and news intake. Try to avoid constantly checking for updates. Once a day is plenty. And, be thoughtful about your sources — Facebook and Twitter are not exactly known for accuracy. If you’re worried you might miss safety updates, you can sign up for NotifyLA alerts by texting “READY” to 888-777.
• Relax and breathe. Whether you already practice mindfulness or want to start, there are many resources to help you live in the present moment. For example, Headspace, a popular meditation app, is available free of charge to L.A. County residents for the rest of 2020.
• Call or video chat with a relative. How often you check in with family is like porridge for Goldilocks—you need to figure out how often is too hot, how often is too cold, and how often is just right. Once you find the sweet spot, studies show that conversations with family members provide much-needed support during hard times. This is especially important for the 30% of Angelenos who live alone.
• Go on a date, or a play date. Regular diversion from our obligations inoculates us against stress. Whether it’s Zoom trivia nights, virtual happy hours, or neighborhood strolls, socializing — even at a distance — keeps our brains interpersonally engaged. For individuals, regularly scheduled outings with friends offer a great way to unwind. For couples, spending free time together makes it easier to address conflicts collaboratively rather than with confrontation.
• Plan your next vacation or staycation. Much of the emotional boost of vacations comes from looking forward to them. The anticipation of future time off can provide a mini mental escape from daily drudgery. We benefit from booking a future adventure and keeping it on our mental calendar.
• Consider a new hobby. A favorite pastime or hobby can provide a welcome distraction from daily tasks. Some hobbies, like gardening or walking the dog, are even shown to reduce mortality. Even the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg—as “notorious” for her work ethic as for her judicial opinions—made time for the opera.
• Get your medications refilled at the pharmacy or by mail. With flu season coming and reported delays in postal delivery, be sure to refill any prescriptions in advance.
• Take every opportunity to mark celebrations. Just because the pandemic continues doesn’t mean that life’s milestones are on pause. We need to take time to highlight the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and holidays that mark the progress of our lives. In fact, this year’s commemorations are likely to be more memorable than most.
• Get your flu shot. Seriously. While you’re at it, don’t forget your annual physical and recommended screenings. This is a recommendation to help maintain the health and wellness of those around you. The fewer people that are vulnerable to the flu, the more strain that our healthcare system can avoid over the coming winter.
Finally — ask for professional help when you need it. It goes without saying that if you are currently in distress or feeling overwhelmed, then you should not try to implement these habits until you feel better. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255).
Michael Brodsky, MD is medical director, behavioral health and social services, L.A. Care Health Plan.
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