Tips for Managing Mental Well-Being During COVID-19
Leslie Anne Harrison, Communications Assistant
In consultation with Jason Roderick, MSW, LICSW, PCD Wellness Coordinator
COVID-19 is filling the news, requiring social distancing, and closing many of the spaces that we know and love. This unprecedented and historic situation is providing us with a lot of information and transitions to manage all at once.
As with any big adjustment, it is important to keep tabs on your mental well-being, just as you would keep an eye on how your muscles feel when starting a new sport.
Here at Providence Country Day School, we've put together some tips to help you stay well during this time.
1. Acknowledge that this is a lot and give yourself time to adjust
COVID-19 and the necessary response to it is unprecedented. For the health and safety of ourselves and our communities, schools and public spaces are closing and many of us are now working and studying from home. We're washing our hands a lot and practicing social distancing. All of this feels brand new to a lot of people. Even in the best of circumstances transitions can be tough, and COVID-19 is causing a lot of them for many people all at once.
With so many big transitions happening suddenly and simultaneously, it's totally fine to feel surprised, frustrated, angry, or even fragile. Keep in mind that you don't have to figure everything out today and you're allowed to take a few minutes to do something just for yourself. Remember that we're all in this together and we're all going to figure this out as we go.
2. Use positive reiterations
Reiteration is the deliberate repetition of something; positive reiteration is reframing a thought in a better light. Positive reiterations are an important part of mental well-being, says Jason Roderick, PCD's Wellness Coordinator. In a recent seminar provided to the junior class, Roderick stressed that complaining does not have a positive effect, saying "if you're venting, ask instead 'what are you going to do about it?'"
Although it is perfectly fine to have feelings about the COVID-19 situation, also ask yourself whether you can acknowledge those feelings and then reframe them in a more positive way. For instance, "I don't like being inside all the time" (which is totally fine!) could become "I'm grateful to have a safe home." "It's hard not seeing my friends" (again, totally fine) could become "Social distancing is a chance to do what's right for my community."
Roderick also recommends keeping a nightly gratitude list. Before going to sleep every night, write down or think of a few things for which you're grateful. These could include a warm place to sleep, a phone call with a friend, time spent with family, or anything else you're glad to have in your life.
Roderick has meditated every day for the last eleven years, saying, "I know it makes my life so much better." He is not alone in this sentiment as more and more studies point to meditation as a way to reduce stress, increase mental acuity, enhance sleep, and even improve physical health.
Meditation sessions can last for any length of time, with effective sessions as short as two minutes. For a two minute meditation, Roderick recommends sitting up straight with your feet flat on the floor and placing your hands wherever they're comfortable. Breathe in and out through your nose. Acknowledge thoughts as they come to you and decide to come back to them later. If you like meditating to quiet music, feel free to put some on. If you prefer meditating in silence, that's okay too.
If you're new to meditation and feel like you'd like some guidance, check out this list of guided meditations.
4. Treat yourself and others with kindness
Sometimes we can't control the situations around us, but we can control how we react to them. Although it's perfectly acceptable to feel scared, angry, or frustrated with everything happening because of COVID-19, also ask yourself how you would want to be treated before you express yourself to others. Would you want someone to show you kindness or anger? Would you want someone to listen to your concerns attentively or dismiss what you're saying?
PCD values engaged citizenship, an inclusive community, and individual strengths and traits. This is an opportunity for our PCD community to practice kindness by continuing to live up to these values. Be an engaged citizen by practicing social distancing in order to protect our most vulnerable. Be a member of our inclusive community by participating in our virtual classes, cheering on your classmates from a distance, and keeping in touch with your teachers online. Value your strengths and individuality by continuing to pursue and learn about topics and subjects that you care about. And above all, remember that everyone has a story, just as you do, and be kind.
As you direct this kindness towards others, remember to direct it towards yourself as well. Take good care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and doing activities you enjoy. Ask yourself what kind of encouragement you would give a best friend or close family member ("You can do it" or "I believe in you") and give yourself that same encouragement.
Our PCD community is full of athletes, and transitioning to a life without practices, games, or meets may feel surprising. Even if there are no practices to attend, keep in mind that exercise is an important source of endorphins, a critical ingredient in keeping us mentally and physically healthy. Exercise is also an excellent way to reduce stress and worry. According to Roderick, structural MRIs taken over a two-year study have shown that running and yoga are two of the most effective forms of exercise to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, running and yoga are also excellent choices when social distancing. If you have a treadmill at home, hop on that for a few minutes. If you don't, go running outside (be sure to keep six feet between yourself and others). If you want to practice yoga instead, you simply need a few square feet of empty space and a soft (preferably clean...) carpet. Bonus points if you have a yoga mat.
If you're interested in running and want some outstanding motivation, check out the Ineos 1:59 Challenge. Last fall, Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a marathon in less than 2 hours. His journey included coaches, athletes, scientists, nutritionists, and shoe designers from around the world who all pulled together to engineer this incredible feat. Kipchoge believes "if you live simple, train hard, and live an honest life, then you are free."
For those interested in yoga, local studios are starting to stream their classes and these can be a wonderful place to start. Yoga with Adriene is also a great resource and she sometimes even has her adorable dog Benji alongside her. Adriene's YouTube channel has hundreds of videos, from beginning technique and meditations to more intense workouts. Many are targeted towards specific feelings, sports, or hobbies (yoga for swimmers, yoga for runners, yoga for musicians, or yoga for creativity!). If you're brand new to yoga, try Yoga for Beginners.
6. Be mindful
Mindful.org calls mindfulness "the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us." In other words, being mindful can help us go about our lives with greater calm and an increased ability to successfully navigate obstacles and challenges that may arise. That sounds particularly useful in a time when COVID-19 is creating new normals for all of us.
Roderick says that being mindful can be as simple as just taking time to sit and notice the environment around you. When you eat lunch, put your phone away and pay attention to the taste of your food. If you go for a walk, leave your headphones at home and listen to the world around you. The opposite of mindfulness, says Roderick, is scrolling on your phone. "When was the last time," he asks, "that you had to wait somewhere for five minutes and didn't pull out your phone?"
If you want some guidance on how to be mindful, consider subscribing to Rob Walker's newsletter. He has a lot of ideas about how to be mindful in today's world. Mindful.org also has a whole section devoted to COVID-19 specific resources.
7. Recognize negative screen time
If phones are the opposite of mindfulness, it's also a good idea to discuss the concept of negative screen time. This is especially important considering how much time remote learning and working will require us to look at our screens. Even before COVID-19, screen time was more and more inevitable in today's world. However, we can decide how and when we use our screens, and empowering ourselves to make these choices is an important part of mental well-being.
Now that we can see the whole world through our phones, tablets, and computers, it is possible to become overwhelmed—even if we're not consciously aware that our brains are becoming overwhelmed. This is something to be aware of, however, as according to Mayo Clinic there is "growing evidence showing the negative impacts of screen time on health." These negative impacts can include increased anxiety or depression, shorter attention span, and risk of obesity.
It can be helpful to think about screen time the way an athlete might think about food. In their quest to stay physically fit and healthy, many athletes are very selective about what they eat. Why not use this same consideration for our brains? Just as an athlete might decide that eating bags of potato chips all the time won't keep them fit, we can also decide that too much time scrolling through social media might not be particularly helpful to our mental well-being.
With this in mind, try turning off your devices for an hour or two every day and pay attention to how empowering this can be. You alone can decide what you put in your brain; no social media algorithms are deciding what you see. You alone can choose activities just for you; there is no pressure to do something because you want to post about it. You alone have the power to decide who comes into your space; the whole world isn't on your phone in your pocket.
If this feels tough, keep in mind that many of us may have formed a strong habit to always look at our phones and it may take time to break that habit. Positive reiterations can help here. Instead of, "I'm annoyed that I can't look at my phone right now," instead try, "I'm choosing to take time for myself right now. I am deciding that the rest of the world can wait."
8. Recognize positive screen time
Let's continue thinking about the athlete/food metaphor we were just using. Just as an athlete might choose to avoid potato chips, there might be other, more nutritious foods that are critically important to their success. Especially in a time of social distancing, certain screen time might also be really helpful for you.
Participation in virtual classes may involve a lot of screen time, but continuing to attend class, study hard, and get good grades is an important part of your success. Checking in with your teachers and talking about your classwork may also be necessary, and it might also be really fun to have a chance to catch up with them. If social distancing is feeling a little lonely, try organizing Zoom (it's free!) or FaceTime meetings with some of your friends or family.
When you're evaluating your screen time, imagine you're an athlete looking at food choices. Is this screen time something nutritious that will help you accomplish your ambitions and make you feel better? Or is this screen time a junk food equivalent that will keep you from reaching your goals and make you feel worse? Be intentional and mindful about your choices.
Also remember that positive screen time is still screen time, and it is always a good idea to limit how much time we spend in front of devices. Once you've finished your positive screen time, turn off your phone or laptop and do something else.
9. Educate yourself as you feel able
Remember that knowledge is empowering and there are a lot of people working very hard to put together fact-based information about COVID-19. As you educate yourself, keep in mind that there's a lot of information available on the internet. Some of it is well-researched and helpful, and some is less so. When you have questions, reach out to people you trust and be sure to look for fact- and science-based information. Go directly to trusted websites and resources instead of accepting whatever social media feeds tell you. The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rhode Island Department of Health are working very hard to provide fact-based information to all of us.
Keep in mind that this is an evolving situation with a new virus. This means that scientists and medical professionals might publish new or different information as new details come to light. This does not mean that they are unreliable sources, but rather that they are learning more as they study COVID-19. This is a critical part of a science- and fact-based process.
As you educate yourself, remember that digesting so much new information may start to feel like a lot, so keep tabs on how you feel. This is like a runner paying attention to how they're feeling and deciding two miles might be plenty that day. It's perfectly fine to decide you've spent enough time learning about COVID-19 and want to go do something else.
10. Be politically proactive
Being politically proactive about situations you care about is important for you and your community, and it can also make you feel better.
Here are some ways to be politically involved:
- Keep an eye on what our elected officials are doing.
Having elected officials we trust is always important, but it's an especially big deal during times like this.
Governor Gina Raimondo has been managing Rhode Island's COVID-19 response. Representatives David Cicilline and Jim Langevin and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed are in Washington DC making Rhode Island voices heard as the federal government manages the nationwide COVID-19 response.
If you live in Massachusetts, your governor is Charlie Baker and your senators are Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. Since Massachusetts has a bigger population than Rhode Island, they have nine representatives instead of just two.
You can search for your representative here by typing in your zip code.
Depending on which state you live in, check out their websites and ask yourself: "Do I like what they're doing?" Remember that voters decide who gets these jobs.
- Register to vote.
Speaking of voting, if you're eighteen years old, make sure you're registered to vote.
You can register to vote and check your voter registration status at Vote.org. Rhode Island's primary will take place June 2, 2020, and state officials are planning to use mail in ballots.
Also mark your calendars for the general election on November 3, 2020. This general election is especially important because we will be choosing our next President of the United States.
If you want to learn more about elections in your state, check out Vote Save America for additional information.
- Write to your officials.
If you want to do more, you can write to your elected officials too. Text "resist" to 50409 or go directly to ResistBot to send a message. You can also write to them directly from their websites or by finding their contact information at us.gov.
Hey, wait. What if I'm not eighteen?
There are still lots of ways to be proactive. For Example:
- You can write to your officials and ask them to consider things that are important to you.
- You can go to rallies, town halls, or city council meetings.
- You can talk to the adults in your life about voting.
- You can check out this list of youth activists (many of whom are younger than eighteen) and get inspired and involved.
- You can make sure you're registered to vote the minute you turn eighteen.
The Bottom Line
Remember that we are #OnePCD and we will get through this together. Take good care of yourself, be kind to those around you, and remember that a supportive, knowledgeable, and open-minded community is one of humanity's greatest strengths. We are fortunate to have just such a community here at PCD, and we're very glad you're a part of it.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, check out Jason Roderick's PCD Health and Wellness Parent Resource Page.
Download this article as an EBook PDF here: bit.ly/PCDCOVIDTIPS