Stay grounded and take it one day at a time.
So, how’s your spring going?
Just kidding, I know how it’s been for all of us: terrifying, unprecedented, and very, very strange. Solidarity, dear reader.
When my county mandated shelter-in-place on March 17th, I quickly regressed into unhealthy coping mechanisms: overeating, oversleeping, stuffing my feelings away in a dank, moldy corner of my mind.
Predictably, this led to joint pain, lousy sleep, and a sour stomach.
Then I realized, oh, duh, this is how I behave when I’m depressed — that makes perfect sense.
All of humanity is going through collective and ongoing grief; the COVID-19 pandemic is depressing.
If you struggle with mental illness, this crisis may have triggered mental health crises of your own. Chronic pain sufferers may also experience heightened pain in stressful periods (I sure am!).
But we can’t fall apart right now, my friends. I’m not usually a “buck up, solider!” kind of gal, but now is the time to grit our teeth and bear it, impossible though that may seem.
With everyone going through the exact same thing and an overtaxed medical system, there’s less help available to us right now. So it’s imperative to work on your health daily.
I’m so glad you asked.
By planning and implementing a daily routine that you promise to work on every day.
I designed a specific, achievable daily routine to pull me out of those unhealthy coping mechanisms. After 10 days of (mostly) sticking to this routine, I’m in a much more grounded state. I’m doing projects around the house, crafting, mailing letters to friends, walking my dog.
The sense of dread hanging over me the first week has receded. I’m doing okay. I credit the structure this daily routine has given me.
So much is uncertain right now. Ground yourself with some self-care tasks you can commit to trying every day.
Before you get started:
- Ditch perfectionism: Aim for something over nothing! You don’t need to be perfect and achieve every task every day. Your list is a guideline, not a mandate.
- Set S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Reasonable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely
- Stay accountable: Write out your daily routine and display it somewhere you can easily reference. You might even take up a buddy system and check in with another person for added accountability!
If I had a Bible, it would be Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” One of the cornerstones of this 12-week course in discovering your creativity is the Morning Pages: three handwritten, stream of consciousness daily pages.
I’ve written the Pages off and on for years. My life and mind are always calmer when I’m writing them regularly. Try to incorporate a “brain dump” each day to get your thoughts, stressors, and lingering anxieties on paper.
Catch a little sun
Daily sunshine is one of the most effective tools I’ve found for managing my depression.
Research backs this up. Since I have no yard, I walk in my neighborhood for at least 20 minutes a day. Sometimes I simply sit in the park (six feet away from others, natch) and happily sniff the air like dogs do on walks.
So get outside! Soak up that vitamin D. Look around you and remember that there’s a world to go back to when this is all over.
Pro-tip: Get a ‘Happy’ Lamp and enjoy the serotonin-enhancing benefits of sunlight at home.
Get your body moving
Walks, hikes, home machines, living room yoga! Can’t walk outside due to weather, accessibility, or safety? There’s plenty you can do at home without any equipment or expense.
Squats, push-ups, yoga, jumping jacks, burpees. If you have a treadmill or elliptical, I’m jealous. Take to Google to find easy, free workouts at home for all levels and abilities, or check out the resources below!
Take. Your. Meds.
If you’re on prescription meds, it’s important that you stick to your doses. Set reminders in your phone if necessary.
Connect with pals
Reach out to someone every day, whether it’s a text, a phone call, a video chat, watching Netflix together, gaming together, or writing good old-fashioned letters.
You probably need a shower
Don’t forget to bathe regularly!
I’ve been embarrassingly bad at this. My husband likes my stink, and I can’t see anyone but him, so showering has fallen off my radar. That is gross and ultimately not good for me.
Get in the shower. By the way, I showered this morning.
For starters, all of the above. Everything in the depression list above will also help chronic pain! It’s all related.
I know, we all procrastinate on our PT and then beat ourselves up about it.
Remember: Something is better than nothing. Shoot for a little bit every day. How about 5 minutes? Even 2 minutes? Your body will thank you. The more you do your PT, the easier it will be to develop a consistent routine.
If you haven’t had access to physical therapy, check out my next recommendation.
Trigger point massage or myofascial release
I am a big fan of trigger point massage. Due to the current pandemic, I’m unable to get my monthly trigger point injections for a few months. So I’ve had to make do on my own.
And it’s going okay! I’m spending at least 5 to 10 minutes a day foam rolling or lacrosse ball rolling. Check out my first chronic pain guide for more info on myofascial release.
Get enough sleep (or try to, anyway)
At least 8 hours (and honestly, during a time of stress, your body might need even more).
Try to keep your sleep and wake times as consistent as possible. I realize this is difficult! Just do your best.
Make a pain relief list — and use it!
When you’re feeling okay, make a list of every treatment and coping tool you have for your pain. This could be anything from medication to massage, baths to heating pads, or exercise and your favorite TV show.
Save this list on your phone or post it where you can easily reference it on bad pain days. You could even choose one thing on this list every day as part of your routine.
- Try a Bullet Journal: I swear by this type of DIY planner. It’s infinitely customizable and can be as simple or complicated as you desire. I’ve been a devoted Bullet Journaler for 3 years and I’ll never go back.
- Pro tip: Any dot grid notebook works, no need to spend much.
- Learn a skill: The shelter-in-place order gives us the gift of time (and that’s about it). What have you always wanted to learn but never had time? Sewing? Coding? Illustration? Now’s the time to try. Check out Youtube, Skillshare, and brit + co.
- Be mindful of substance use: Whatever that means for you. Tread thoughtfully.
And above all else? Be good to yourself — you’re doing the best that you can.
You’ve got this.
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer-day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her on her website.