Let me start by saying that quarantine has been a mental health nightmare. There are so many uncertainties right now and there are so many things changing day by day. I have struggled to keep a hold on my mental health throughout the process and these are the things that have helped me manage my anxiety throughout my time at home. My 5 points, at times, contradict each other and that is because it is about balancing them in a way that is best for me. They are all valuable in reducing my anxiety and I use each one as needed throughout my day and routine (or lack thereof).
This is not the end all cure for anxiety nor is it the solution for everyone but I want to talk openly about my struggle with mental illness and talk about how I am doing my best to remain healthy during crazy times.
1. Do Something Relaxing With Tangible Results
It sounds fancy but I am talking about simple things- mindless things. I personally have been crocheting and doing puzzles. They don’t take a ton of brain power but at the end I have something that is tangible and that I can be proud of.
My husband and I have had this project that we started at the beginning of our relationship where we bought a bunch of puzzles that were really pretty paintings of Disney scenes and frames for them. When we first started we were excited about it and did them one after another but as we got busy with life the rest of the project stayed in the back of a closet. It has been nice to pull them out because it not only reminds me of the ridiculous and spontaneous stuff we used to do when we were first together but it is satisfying to finish a project that we have had sitting around for years.
Similar to the puzzles, I have had tons of yarn sitting around the house. I actually found another half crocheted blanket just yesterday...but not only is crocheting relaxing- it helps me to put down my phone. When I finish the miles of yarn that I found all over the house I will not only have two huge blankets but I will actually feel like I have achieved something during my 4+ months at home!
2. Stay Active
I have found it sooo easy to become a lump on the couch. I get absorbed into my phone or a Netflix show I’ve seen a million times and before I know it a significant portion of my day is gone. I am currently working through the obstacle of measuring self worth by my productivity and I know that I don’t always have to be active but at the end of the day if I have done nothing all day it just adds more to do tomorrow.
Being active means something different to me than going for a run or doing a heavy workout. I know that these things are good for me but because I suffer from chronic pain it is not always in my best interest to make myself sore or overexert myself. It is important for me to recognize my physical limitations and respect them. I have to do what is best for my body where I am right now and it is important for me to know that that is enough.
For these reasons sometimes being active literally means going in the backyard and sitting in the sun or doing light stretching. It means going for a walk around the block or just folding laundry. It doesn’t take much but getting my body moving really helps to prevent my muscles from becoming stiff causing me further pain.
3. Clean & Organize
As I have settled into adulthood and realized how many moving pieces there are to being an adult I have found that one of my major stressors is being disorganized. There is nothing more frustrating than losing my keys or not knowing where something is in the house. It causes me stress and stresses Marcus out as well. I realize that relaxing is a valuable part of taking care of myself but if my life is not in order the time I devote to relaxation is spent feeling guilty about unfinished tasks or trying to remember all the things that I need to get done.
I am a firm believer in a good, old-fashioned todo list. When I have a bunch of things to do my anxiety brain will cycle through the list over and over trying to remember everything and when I lose track of one thing from the list I become more anxious. Making a list of these things frees up my brain to not think about them anymore and allows me to focus on other things. It also relieves the stress of forgetting a deadline that is important and having to deal with the forgotten thing after the fact.
I also have found that over the years doing house work is a form of selfcare. I spent years thinking that selfcare was limited to face masks, hot baths and a glass of wine but I now realize there are so many other options. When I clean and organize not only have I removed an item from my list but I have also created a space that is easier to live in. When I need water from the sink and it is full of dishes it’s annoying to move them just to use the sink. When I am looking for something and it is right where it should be I avoid being frustrated by running around the house trying to find it l. I don’t want to go all Marie Kondo on you but I have found that organization and decluttering can greatly improve my mental health. Plus there is the added bonus of feeling satisfied when I finish cleaning or organizing something.
4. Put Down My Phone
I often find myself lost in my phone. Sometimes I scroll through content that I have seen before just to fill time or to distract me but for several reasons this is at no benefit to me. In the current state of things there are a lot of violent posts on social media and with violence being a trigger of my anxiety it is important for me to give myself permission to step away. I have to go on a “news diet” to put managing my anxiety first and put being an informed citizen second. It is definitely a balancing act to do this but I have learned that taking a break does not make me a bad person, it does not make me a bad advocate for social justice and it doesn’t make me uninformed.
As a business owner it has been easy for me to become absorbed in numbers- likes, follows, views, sales. It is easy to try and measure my success in the number of followers I have gained. In the same way it is easy to become disappointed when someone unfollows or when a post doesn’t reach a certain threshold of likes. It is important for me to change my focus to other things and be proud of the things I have accomplished rather than focusing on the negative.
There is so much of my life that is dependent on my phone and I understand that it is part of life but finding a healthy relationship is and will continue to be a battle.
5. Affirm Myself- Productivity Is Not Self Worth
Yes, I did say that productivity is valuable to reducing my anxiety. Achievement feels good and there is no better feeling than physically drawing a line through a todo list item but like everything on this list it is a balancing act. As I mentioned before I suffer from chronic pain. On my best days I wake up with low burning pain that I can ignore and on my worst days I wake up with a headache so severe that I can’t function. There have been days I have gone to work in severe pain and I have gotten my job done. Was that the best choice for me? No. When I am at home and in pain I often feel guilty for not getting tasks done. I think that Marcus will be mad at me that the cleaning was left undone. (Note: Marcus would literally never get mad for me not doing something when I am in pain. He’s the absolute best!) This guilt that I feel for not being productive is literally something I have made up.
I am learning to remind myself that judgements I feel are often scenarios that I have created. I have had overcritical bosses who demanded constant productivity out of me and there are also societal pressures that make me want to be productive. The fact of the matter is until someone tells me that I have done something wrong by taking a day off or by not being productive, these judgments are not real.
I have to affirm myself and tell myself that Marcus knows I am in pain and he is not expecting me to do anything but what makes me feel better. I have to tell myself that days off are okay and that physical rest is needed sometimes. I am learning to make these changes in my thinking patterns but I hope that if you can relate that you know that you are enough no matter how much you did today. You are enough no matter what and it is important to tell yourself that repeatedly until you start believing it.
I will never pretend to be an expert on mental wellness. I have my own struggles everyday with anxiety and depression but I am learning what works for me. I am learning to set boundaries, affirm myself and to give myself permission to do what is best for me. The fact of the matter is that a year from now these things may not be so helpful to me but I know that it is important to make the adjustments in my life that help to make my mental illness better. Trust the process, adjust as needed and remember that where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.