Self-Care During COVID-19

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by Johanna Rengifo, PhD

We are facing unprecedented times.  While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many friends and family closer, it has also, for many, been a time of extraordinary stress – adapting to work from home, caring for young children, caring for aging parents, strategizing long-term financial stability while facing a recession, and worrying about our health and the health of our loved ones.  This pandemic has impacted our daily lives in many ways and forced us to adapt to change very quickly.  We at San Francisco Neuropsychology care about you and your family.  We would like to share some simple self-care strategies that research has shown us can make a difference to help our brains during elevated times of stress.

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL:

  1. Reach out! Interact with loved ones in the ways you can. Ask how someone is doing! Take a moment to call, Zoom, or FaceTime someone near to your heart – make sure they know they matter to you. Studies show that engaging in social activities can help reduce symptoms of forgetfulness.
  2. Cultivate your values. Slow down, take a moment to breathe, and try to do things that nurture you. This is a great time to read that book you’ve been putting off, clear out your closets, write in your journal, paint, cook or even practice mindfulness and meditation.
  3. Explore common interests with your loved ones. You each have different needs, but may also have similar interests that may have never before been explored. Explore games together, take up a new hobby, go through old picture albums and discuss each other’s old family memories, and learn something new about one another. During these difficult times we all need a little extra nurturing.

DIET AND EXERCISE

  1. Eat a Heart Healthy Diet!  Remember this tip… “Good care of your heart = Good care of your brain!”
  2. Exercise and dance, if medically permitted! Research shows that regular exercise helps to improve mood, sleep, and memory. Exercise keeps your blood vessels and brain cells healthy!  Dancing has the most profound effects!

SLEEP:

Get good sleep! Good sleep can help you feel cognitively sharper, help you pay attention, and help you cope with stressful times such as these.  Poor sleep has been associated with many chronic health problems and especially during these unprecedented stressful times, it is important to support a good immune system. Here are good bedtime habits for good sleep.  Stick to this routine for at least 60 days:                        

  1. Don’t drink caffeine after 3:00pm.
  2. Create an environment that is conducive for sleep and relaxation.  Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only.  Make sure your lighting, bedding, and room temperature are comfortable.
  3. Pick a reasonable time to go to bed.  Plan on needing approximately 8-9 hours of sleep per night.
  4. Plan to spend a half-hour “winding down” before going to bed.  Use a relaxation CD, meditate, read a book, or pray.  Avoid stressful TV shows, news, or radio. As much as possible, avoid screen time right before bed, as blue light from the screen can interfere with circadian rhythms.
  5. Take a warm bath or shower.  You may want to try aromatherapy: lavender and eucalyptus are thought to promote relaxation and may have calming effects. 
  6. If you find you can’t quiet your mind, and you have tried using structured relaxation techniques for at least twenty minutes in bed, get up, go into another room, and write a list of your worries.  Do a relaxation exercise, DON’T TURN ON THE TV…when you feel sleepy again, return to bed.

MOOD:

  1. Seek professional support, if needed. Our neuropsychologists at San Francisco Neuropsychology are here to support you.  We are providing psychotherapy and cognitive rehabilitation via videoconferencing or telephone for those that may need some added support during these difficult times. For details please contact suppport@sfbraindoc.org
  2. Do activities that make you calm and happy.  Whatever those are!  Hobbies, exercise, talking to loved ones, anything!
  3. Support forums can be helpful to share your experience and be involved with others.
  4. Mindfulness techniques are helpful to reduce anxiety and increase your sense of well-being.  Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and grounding exercises are examples of mindfulness.  Check out apps that may help: Calm, Headspace, The Mindfulness App
  5. The following are hotlines that provide free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: English 1-800-273-8255; Spanish 1-888-628-9454
    • Access and Crisis Line: 1-888-724-7240