How I Am Staying Calm and Resilient during the Pandemic (or at Least Trying To!)
As a community living with rheumatoid arthritis, social distancing probably isn’t a foreign concept. Many of us decrease contact with people during a regular cold/flu season to reduce the chances of getting sick, particularly if we take medications that suppress our immune systems. And if we happen to be flaring or feeling fatigued, many of us are familiar with choosing to stay home and finding other ways to connect with family and friends.
The pandemic has caused a lot of changes
But this situation is different, isn’t it? Social distancing because of COVID-19 is not what any of us are used to. For some of us, we no longer have access to daily help we rely on, whether that’s childcare or someone who helps with household tasks or, in my case, both.
Many of us are missing routine appointments that help us manage life with RA, like physical therapy, massage therapy, exercise class, or talking to a therapist. And I know I’m not the only one who feels worried that COVID-19 represents extra risk for people living with chronic illness.
5 ways I manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic
For a lot of us, this pandemic has been a time of much-added stress and anxiety, so I wanted to share some of the things I am doing to help myself stay calm and resilient.
1. I’m starting each day with gratitude.
I’ll be honest that sometimes my first thought when I wake up in the morning is “Oh no, I have more to get done today than I have energy to do it.” But instead of letting that overwhelming feeling color my whole day, I’m trying to start each day by taking a moment to focus on gratitude.
I’m using “The Five Minute Journal” a friend gave me years ago that I never started. It encourages me to list three things I feel grateful for and set positive intentions for the day. Whether you write it down or just take a moment to think, I’ve found that shifting my focus from dread to gratitude can impact my mood for the whole day. Things may be difficult and scary right now, but I do have so much to be grateful for.
2. I’m reducing my media consumption.
While I do want to know what’s going on with the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation – some of it could be relevant to staying safe and healthy – I’ve found it to be really beneficial for my mental health to reduce my media consumption, both news and social media.
Discussion about COVID-19 is everywhere right now, but not all of the information is accurate and it can be really easy to fall down the rabbit hole of comments. I’ve found that when I spend the whole day trying to stay up to date, I only end up feeling more and more anxious.
I’m limiting the amount of time I spend checking the news each day. I’m trying to stick to reliable sources of news (or sometimes I look at comedy news sources, as I find it can make terrible information a little easier to digest.) I’m reminding myself not to get lost in the comments section. Basically, I’m making an effort to find balance between staying informed and feeling overwhelmed by a daunting wave of information.
3. I’m giving my phone a time out.
While my phone is now literally my only connection to friends, family, and the outside world, I’m putting my phone in time out every day between 9 pm and 8 am the following morning. I’ve set screen time limits to remind myself. I’ve made it a habit to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed. This is actually something I’ve been wanting to try to improve my mental health just generally, but I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be really hard to do.
To be honest, after a day or two of feeling twitchy not having my phone by my side, it feels like a relief. Giving my phone a time out lets me actually relax in the evenings – I connect with my husband, I fully enjoy the TV show or movie we are watching, I appreciate my dessert or a cup of tea, and I avoid getting lost in the news during my most exhausted and vulnerable part of the day. And, in the morning, it’s easier to focus on gratitude with my phone and its notifications safely downstairs.
4. I’m focusing on things that help me feel calm and resilient.
As much as my daily schedule allows, I’m prioritizing activities that help me keep my inner monologue feeling calm and resilient. For me, this includes getting outside every day for some fresh air and hopefully some sunshine on my face.
I’m trying to keep moving – doing my PT exercises at home, trying yoga videos with my kids, taking a walk, or going for a bike ride. I’m trying to be truly present in little moments of daily joy, like really listening to the sound of my children laughing or savoring the taste of something I spent time cooking. I’m facing forward and taking things one day at a time.
5. I’m cutting myself slack and I’ll seek additional help if I need it.
I will fully admit that I am not always successful when it comes to the above intentions. Some days, I drown in the wave of news and feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Some days I struggle to focus on gratitude because the world feels impossibly heavy.
But I am always trying to cut myself some slack. This is an unprecedented situation and guess what? It is really hard. I’m simply not going to manage to stay perfectly calm all the time, and that’s ok. I’m just going to do my best and I can always try again tomorrow. That’s being resilient.
Seeking additional help and support when I need to
And if I reach a point where I really don’t feel under control, I’ll seek additional help. I can reach most of my doctors through their online portal and many, including my own rheumatologist, are offering telehealth appointments.
I can also reach out to my friends and family, who may not be able to help me in person but who can offer to listen and provide moral support. Because this is a difficult and unusual situation for all of us – and it’s important to remember that we are all in this together.
Have you shared tips on how to manage RA with anyone before?