Chase recovery to feel at ease during times of duress (looking at you, coronavirus).
Sometimes, it’s hard to stop.
You know the feeling. Maybe your fingers are crawling through a salty bag of air-puffed goodness, just looking for another handful of empty calories.
Or maybe you’re deep into Half Pigeon, and even though it feels tight, you think you can flatten out just a little bit more.
Then, there’s a pop. Or a wave of nausea. And suddenly, you feel irritated and frustrated and angry for pushing things too far.
If there’s one good thing about being ordered to stay at home, it’s having time to think and write about these things. Yes, times are tough. Lives are being lost. Jobs are evaporating, and it sometimes seems like there isn’t an end in sight.
But we can choose to pivot. And if we remain positive, we can embrace this time (or any time) as a means to find a little serenity.
7 keys to mental and physical recovery
1. Remember to relax.
So, you want to change. Great. But can you remember that?
Often times, remembering to relax is the first (and most difficult) step in actually relaxing. Luckily, there’s a simple way to make it happen.
First, pick a word or phrase that helps you relax. Maybe it’s long, like the Serenity Prayer. Or, maybe it’s just a simple word like Breathe. Whatever it is, make sure it triggers an impulse to pause, breathe, and remember that you want to relax.
Then, use a Reminders app to ping you with your cue at different times of day. Personally, I like to get pinged in the morning and during the late afternoon, when I’m most likely to feel stressed out.
Over time, these reminders will help you develop a lingering awareness for your desire to pause, breathe, and relax.
2. Choose a self-soothing hack.
This step, along with #1 above, are the cornerstones of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Remember to relax, then choose to soothe yourself.
Self-soothing is any kind of action that uses your senses to down-regulate your body’s stress response. Deep breathing, smelling essential oils, yoga, and looking at happy pictures are all effective options.
To choose something that works for you, think about where you are most likely to feel triggered. Then, pick a hack that you can easily use in that situation.
For example, I have a pair of Egg Weights that I use to shadow box when I feel triggered at the office. When I’m anywhere else, I take a few deep breaths and look at the “Favorites” photo album on my phone. There, I’ve saved colorful photos of my puppy, favorite landscapes, and my girlfriend.
3. Anticipate stress. Then, make a plan.
Above, I shared that I set a reminder to relax in the late afternoon, when I’m most likely to feel triggered. That’s an example of anticipatory planning in action.
What are your triggers? When do you experience them most?
Think in terms of nouns. Remember those? People, places, and things.
By anticipating our most triggering nouns, we’re better able to cope with the stress response they elicit. We feel prepared, because we expect it, and that’s an empowering shift that makes it easier to take action.
4. Connect. Then, connect some more.
I recently read a study that found adults who live alone and are “socially disengaged” face a higher risk of respiratory disease, regardless of other health and behavioral factors. As I write this, most of America is under some kind of social distancing or stay at home order. While I don’t think we should rush to lift these orders, it’s alarming to think how such safety measures might be adversely affecting our family, friends, and neighbors.
And it’s terrifying to think such measures might be making some people more susceptible than others to respiratory disease—which, of course, coronavirus is.
So here’s a simple hack: Pick up your phone, especially if you know someone who is sheltered-in-place at a senior living facility or nursing home. Better yet, show up outside their window and sing them Happy Birthday (when permitted).
Then, just when you’re about to go to sleep, send someone a text. Anyone. Make up the number, if you’re feeling adventurous. Let them know you’re thinking of them. You might just wake up to a reply that will make you smile.
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DAY 1 | RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS — #MentalHealth is intimately linked with social connection. Personally, my feelings of despair are always the result of isolation. — The isolation-despair spiral isn’t uncommon. In fact, social isolation has been shown to cause an increase in #opiateabuse among lab rats (see: Rat Park heroin study). — The antidote? More friends, more toys, and bigger social spaces! Once transferred to this “park” environment, rats who once chose opiate-infused water began to prefer ordinary water instead, perhaps because it isn’t very fun to run and sniff and play on opiates. — 🤔 I think a couple of the hippest and trendiest rats even opened a cold press juice bar, too… — Anyways, here’s my favorite thing to do when I feel the walls closing in: TEXT SOMEONE! You could also Tweet/ DM someone, but I prefer text because it feels more intimate, and it can be wonderfully awkward. — For #mymentalhealthmonth, I thought it would be a fun change to text a random stranger. And it was! After 63 attempts using a random number generator, I finally reached someone who responded. And I gotta say, it made me smile 🐵 — Try this or some other #RandomActofKindness and let me know how it goes, especially if it’s #awkwardaf! #mentalhealthmay
5. Drink a glass of water with every meal.
I feel silly even writing this. We all know to drink water. But no “recovery” post would be complete without this tip. There isn’t a single reaction in your body that doesn’t directly or indirectly involve water. Simply put, you’re healthier and more recovered when you’re hydrated.
So, drink up. Squeeze some lemon or lime or magic pixy dust in your glass, if needed.
6. Listen to your body. Then move (just a little).
It might be tempting to jump on a fitness challenge or soap treadmill because you saw it online. But you might not like the results.
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As at-home workouts have swept YouTube and Instagram, so too have at-home injuries. So, listen to your body before you jump in. If you’re inexperienced, or just plain fatigued, use words like “beginner”, “easy”, or “restorative” to find workouts that will leave you feeling better (instead of worse).
Exercise is great. It has immense health benefits and can help you feel more recovered in the long run, but only if you resist the urge to beat your body into the ground. So, as long as this pandemic is forcing us to reframe how we think about things, let’s try this: Exercise in corona-times should be about “rest and restore” rather than “pain and gain”.
7. Think of sleep as your super power.
Dr. Mathew Walker summarizes it perfectly in his bestselling book, Why We Sleep:
“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.”
Another scary fact, according to Dr. Walker: After just 10 days of getting less than 7 hours of sleep, your brain is just as dysfunctional as it would be after 24-hours of straight sleep deprivation.
There are countless resources to help you get better sleep. This article from sleep.org is good. I also like to use this binaural brainwave generator, set to 2 Hz, to encourage delta brain waves as I’m lying down for the night.
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