Friday, March 27, 2020

Cope With Loneliness and Stress (Part 2)





Perhaps you're feeling melancholy and isolated at home during the current unprecedented situation.  Your anxiety levels may be up as you worry about world medical events, the economic fallout of Covid-19, or even shortages of fresh food and toilet paper.

We do need to remember that for the vast majority of people who get sick, hospitalization won't be necessary.  They can self-quarantine as if they have a bad cold, and they're going to be okay.

We don't know how long it will be until things return to normal, so it's important to create a "new normal" in your schedule at home.  Psychologist Dr. Robin Henderson believes it's best not to think too far ahead.  "I like to think of things in two-week chunks," she says.  "What's my life going to look like for the next two weeks, and how am I going to manage that?"

So let's continue to look at strategies for coping with stress and loneliness that don't require medications or shopping.

Important note:  If feelings of sadness and depression persist over a long period or deepen to the point where they are seriously impairing your life, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.  Occasional melancholy may be part of normal human experience, but prolonged periods of depression indicate a serious condition that deserves proper review and treatment by a medical professional.


5 More Coping Strategies


6.  Eat a healthy diet.
Sometimes feeling sad can nudge us toward unhealthy foods, which will actually sustain a low mood.  But a 2019 meta-analysis of data from 16 studies showed that adopting a diet of nutrient-dense meals high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables, while cutting back on refined foods and sugars, improved symptoms of depression.

Even if fresh fruits and vegetables are currently difficult to find in your local market, frozen foods are just as healthy and beneficial.  Look for all kinds of berries, cherries, peaches, carrots, broccoli, spinach, green beans, onions, bell peppers, and winter squash.  In the canned foods aisle, consider tomatoes, pumpkin, sauerkraut, and all kinds of beans.  Buy oatmeal, brown rice, lentils, and raw nuts.

Stick with this habit long enough that a day doesn't seem normal without an apple (or some other fruit) for a snack and veggies at every meal.  Eventually, you won't even have to think about it, and your body and your mood will improve for the long term.


7.  Limit screen time.
There is ample evidence that more screen time depresses our mood, and reducing screen time lifts our mood.  This is especially true for children and teenagers.

I find that my mood and energy level spirals downward if I spend more time in front of a screen without creating anything.  In other words, if I'm actively writing, it doesn't negatively affect my mood.  But too much social media, television, web browsing, or shopping without a purpose makes me feel wasted.

Use these strategies to take control of screen use:


  • Practice hobbies that don't involve screen time.
  • Intentionally limit non-work screen time.
  • Do things with other people face-to-face (I realize this is more difficult right now).
  • Turn off notifications on your phone and computer (except from family members who need to be able to contact you).
  • Make sure to take a break from news coverage of the pandemic, including stories on social media.

8.  Meditate or pray.
Many medical studies have found that meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, while providing many other positive benefits.

Make this very simple.  Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breath.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Your mind will wander and that's okay -- when you notice that it has, bring it back to your breath.  Do this for one minute at first, gradually increasing the time.

You could also pray what is known as the Jesus Prayer:  "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  The benefits to this are subtle but real, but you must stick with it and give them time to grow.


9.  Laugh.
The Bible tells us "A merry heart does good like a medicine" (Proverbs 17:22), and now medical studies have proved it.

The problem is, you can't just sit around and laugh.  It helps to have things in your life that stimulate laughter, such as:

  • Your kids or grandkids -- just be silly and lighthearted with them.
  • Comedic films.
  • Comic strips or jokes.  I especially like Gary Larson's The Far Side, and Baby Blues by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott.

10.  Read.
It turns out that getting lost in a book is a great way to lift your mood.  Reading reduces stress, slows cognitive decline, increases empathy, and satisfies our need for human connection because it can mimic what we feel during real social interactions.  Reading transforms you.

Some tips to improve your reading experience:

  • Remove distractions.  Go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, turn off notifications, find a comfortable chair with good light.
  • Give yourself time.  Don't just read for five minutes and then stop -- give yourself plenty of time to become engrossed.  An hour is good.
  • Make reading a shared experience.  You can join a book club, but I've found reading aloud to my kids to be the most wonderful opportunity to create shared memories and closeness.




P.S.  If you missed Part 1 of "Cope With Loneliness and Stress," find it here.



Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.





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