Home During COVID-19: Managing Life Off-Campus
I just wanted to reach out to you. You’ve seen and experienced A LOT of change lately. I’ve heard of your excitement of these first two weeks “back” to school having seen your teachers’ and classmates’ faces on Zoom. You’ve made them smile and no doubt, they’ve made you smile. It’s part of our “new normal”. With this new normal, getting into a rhythm is so important. For me, I’ve always been most productive with a schedule and daily routine: Getting dressed for the day (no staying in PJs for me!), a morning coffee and quiet time with the Lord always helps jump-start the day in the right direction. This is what has helped me feel normal this past month when there is so much uncertainty; and a structured routine has helped me to feel like my feet are planted on solid ground when circumstances around me feel so unstable.
I wanted to provide you with some tips and resources to help you continue to get through these upcoming weeks and help address any challenges you might be experiencing. Many of these new novelties may wear off and you might find yourself struggling or feeling overwhelmed. Please take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually and reach out to me, family, and friends or other trusted adults. I am listing some good strategies that are known to work at relieving anxiety. I also welcome you to share anything that has helped you these past few weeks that you would like to share with others. I’ll post your advice or recommendations here as well.
Coping Strategies for Managing Emotions at Home
We express our anxiety in our behaviour, bodies, emotions and thinking. Be alert and pay attention to changes you may experience in these areas. No doubt, you may have already recognized you are just not feeling like yourself. This is very normal in these unprecedented times so give yourself some grace and some space to deal with your stuff. Learning what causes you stress is actually helpful in building your self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you are to express your fears, stress or anxious thoughts and do something about them! Here are some examples to pay attention to changes in:
– low or high energy levels
– hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
– crying often
– excessive worrying
– wanting to be alone a lot
– stomach pains or headaches
– sweating hands or frequent chills
– feeling depressed, angry and/or guilty
– being overwhelmed with stress or sadness
– difficulty focusing or making decisions
We all know these are hard times.
For you Grads, the rest of your Grad year looks much different than you envisioned. We do have to tolerate a little bit longer the uncertainty of the times. Certain amounts of anxiety are normal but prolonged, unchecked high anxiety is unhealthy and not a productive response to these new life situations. You are more resilient than you realize and God encourages you to “be strong” and “do not be afraid for I am with you and I will strengthen you and help you”…I know this is sometimes easier said than done, but it is not impossible! Take His request to heart: let it sink in and give God your reins of control in areas you cannot change.
Following COVID-19 prevention guidelines like frequently washing hands, not touching your face and practicing physical distancing are all part of what you can control. Listen only to a few trusted COVID-19 news sources and limit the amount you watch or listen to regarding this epidemic. Some of the news articles circulating on Facebook or other social media outlets are not always reliable so check only those you know are real. Constant news intake can bring up a lot of fear and anxiety. At times, you may feel like you are not in control of much, but you can acknowledge you do have some control in things like:
- Praying and reading God’s word.
- Continuing in your education at home, connecting with your classmates and teachers.
- Giving your best in whatever you do.
- Learning a new skill such as sewing, baking, gardening, debating, skateboarding or what might interest you from YouTube, free online TED talks, Webinars or MasterClass.
- Improving skills in sports you are already good at.
- Creating outlets to express your creative side like crafts, art, photography and music.
Uncertainty feeds anxiety. Think about what causes you stress and what you fear the most right now. Usually, it’s what is consistently on your mind. These things you store in what I like to call your “brain’s inbox”. I often recommend students write out these worries in a “Worry-Free” or “God’s Got This” journal. This is a place where you can write out each worry then make a plan for each worry. Once you make a plan for each worry, you are not allowed to think about it anymore. You have made a plan for it and therefore, it’s out of your inbox! If the worry is still a concern the next day, you can write it out and make a new plan and continue this journal entry process daily until the worry is gone. This journal is an especially helpful tool if you have a hard time shutting off your brain at night. Nighttime can make everything seem worse. Tuning out the negatives (getting them out of your brain’s inbox) is super helpful. I’ll recommend more tips in the bedtime routine section. If writing in a journal itself seems like a daunting task, I can help you get started. It’s not nearly as difficult as you may think.
If you have a hard time falling asleep or if your mind is thinking of negative things over and over then a bedtime routine might help to calm your mind. You will need to tune out the noise in order to fall asleep more quickly and have a good rest.
1. Turn off your phone and computer at least one hour before bedtime to allow your brain to shut down
2. Read your Bible. Meditate on a favourite verse
4. Write your worries in a journal and give each one to God (see “Make a Plan”) or just journal if you love writing
5. Take a relaxing bath
6. Listen to worship music
7. Listen to nature-themed music if it helps you to fall asleep
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- Make lists in a “Giving Thanks Journal” to help remind you what you are thankful for. Fear deceives us and prevents us from seeing the things to be grateful for. Being grateful is a very productive way to help change a negative outlook to a more positive one even if you have a hard time thinking of anything to be grateful for. Looking outside to see God’s amazing creation, thinking of your family, or thinking about what you have been given can all help you “give thanks” to God and help you be grateful for what you have. Start with the writing prompt, “20 things I am grateful for…” to get you going.
- Make a gratitude jar and fill it with pieces of paper writing on each piece one thing you are grateful for. Decorate the jar the way you want. Then, every day, take one piece of paper out and focus on that one thing. Keep adding to the jar as you remember things you are grateful for.
- Tell at least one person a day you are thankful for them! You can tell them with a call or write a card.
Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
I often share this scripture to help redirect self-focused to others-focused thinking. I have heard so many fun stories of how you are reaching out to your classmates and hearing about all of the giggles shared. Continue to do these kinds of loving acts of service. If you have any ideas I can add here let me know or if you need ideas see here:
- Reach out to the elderly in your family or to those have to be self-quarantined for longer periods of time. Zoom or FaceTime them to encourage them.
- Drop off a rock you have painted or paint a sign for a neighbour.
- Call your friends or family far away and encourage them.
- Create a family serving jar with ways your family members can serve one another. Each member can choose one daily task for you to do for them such as cooking a meal, making a favourite dessert, making their bed, playing their favourite game, or doing a chore for them.
- Write a letter to a friend, classmate, teacher, counsellor or grandparent and mail it.
After hours of school work in front of a screen, we need to get out and enjoy the outdoors. You know this. Get outside and connect with nature. God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve and surely He will walk with you out there! Set important time aside to get enough physical exercise. Provincial parks are still closed, but recreational trails are open and hiking trails are easy to find here in Vernon and are usually not crowded. Getting out into nature and meeting with friends make hikes a perfect way to fill the need to connect and get exercise at the same time and you can still practice physical distancing. For younger kids, a bike ride supervised by an older sibling or parent is an easier way to hang with a friend and still follow the province’s orders of physical distancing.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Jesus got his strength from prayer and made a point to seek out a spot to be alone with God. His source of strength was a direct result of connecting with God; and if Jesus needed to spend time with His Father, then so do we. Especially in such a time as now. What are you learning through this time away from school and from social distancing? What is God teaching you? What is He stirring inside you? What does He want you to let go of? I have no doubt God is there strengthening you, desiring to help you, and is not far from you. Here are some encouraging scriptures to start your day and will bring great comfort in knowing:
- Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
- For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
- Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
- He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalms 91:4)
- I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, engaging in physical exercise, taking time to relax and connecting with God, nature and serving others all are excellent ways to contribute to a strong mental health. However, it is hard to focus on scripture or on any strategy if we are overly anxious. It’s not until we bring down our emotions or “de-escalate” that we can begin to listen or be in a place where we can try to put strategies into practice. God made in each one of us an amazing central nervous system made up of our brain and spinal cord. To put it simply, when we are anxious, our body goes into the “fight, flight, or freeze” response and the amygdala, that part of our brain which perceives emotions, takes over. When we sense a threat or feel anxiety, our brain is responding to what we perceive as a threat where we fight, run away, or do nothing. This response prevents the information from moving forward to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that is more rational. If the information does not move on, we are perceiving a constant threat, which results in constant anxiety. There are some easy breathing techniques to help make the shift from this heightened emotional state to rational thought by helping us to judge if there really is a threat or not. Just one deep breath begins that process! This is a physical exercise, not a spiritual one. But it is important because it can help you think clearly and calm you down to the point where connection to God in prayer is possible.
Here’s an example of one exercise:
Imagine slowly filling a balloon in your belly. Rest your hand on your stomach as you breathe 5 counts in slowly and then imagine releasing air in the balloon by breathing 5 counts out slowly. Do that 5 times.
More links to look at:
MindShift CBT App – Download the app and access strategies from your phone
Canadian Mental Health Association – COVID-19 Free support and help
Strong Minds by BEACON – Free digital mental health guidance for all Canadians
KidsHelpPhone – Kids Help Line Text Chat