Shayna Fendley, LCSW

School has been cancelled, social distancing timelines have been extended, and summer plans are starting to seem like a pipe dream. What we thought might be a brief hiatus from our usual routines (remember when school was only cancelled through spring break?) has turned into a long game. Our strategy of bingeing Tiger King in Cheeto-stained pajamas is starting to seem a little… worn.

That’s because we can only sustain ‘crisis mode’–where parts of our brain shut down to marshal resources and operate in fight, flight, or freeze response- for a short period of time. Eventually, that high-level, steady production of stress hormones in the body begins to have a break-down effect. This can lead to mood swings, panic, weight gain, and/or a strained immune system. Not exactly what you want during a pandemic!

Creating a ‘new normal’ is a major factor in what we call resilience- the ability to adapt to changing circumstances with our well-being intact. And when our circumstances are unpredictable, we have to do it on purpose. But how?

Create a structure

Adequate, quality sleep is a key factor in managing depression and anxiety symptoms – but sleep disruption is a common complaint during this time of social distancing. Stress levels are higher, we have less stimulation during the day, and we may not have to get out of bed at the same time every morning anymore. Because of this, the circadian rhythm – the combination of hormones and brain signals that helps us tell the difference between night and day – can get really confused.

To help it stay on track, make sure you get up at roughly the same time each morning and get sun exposure as early as possible after waking. As you consider your plan for the day, think of it like parenting yourself- making sure that what you eat is (mostly) nutritious, that you get enough exercise, and that you (try to) get a decent amount of sleep each night.

Have expectations, but keep them easy (and flexible)

When adjusting to a new normal, we don’t have the same capacity for productivity that we do when things are stable and predictable. Our brains are using energy to do things on purpose that used to be automatic. Because of this, it’s important to lower our expectations about the number of things we’ll get done in a day.

Compare these two lists for weekend house cleaning:

Put away vacuum

Clean the bathroom
Change sheets
Take out trash

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and adjust our expectations for our homeschooling kids, our partners working from home, and/or our extended family members who can’t seem to stay out of Home Depot. We are all doing our best.

Grieve the losses

Some days on the Corona-Coaster are high (“I got so much done! I can totally homeschool/work from home/stare at these walls for as long as I need to!) and others are low. We remember what we have lost- time with loved ones, lost income, lost time with teachers or students, special events that can never be repeated. The waves of grief can hit hard, and it’s okay to let them wash over you. No feeling lasts forever.

Find your (online) tribe… but take a break from the news

How we spend our time online now can make a big difference in how we recover from pandemic stress in the future. Try limiting your news exposure; instead, look for opportunities to spend time with loved ones over video chat and with old-fashioned phone calls. Research tells us that we are wired to respond positively to the faces and voices of people we love, which get lost in back-and-forth text conversations and scrolling through social media.

Finally, remember that normal does not equal easy. At Cardinal Counseling, we are here to walk with you through these difficult times. With the use of our simple, HIPAA-safe video platform, we can provide you with the tools you need to navigate these strange times while you stay in the comfort and safety of your home. Call us at 501.408.3431 or click here to schedule. Together, we will help you find your way into the new normal.