18 Tips for Well-Being in Corona Times

By Ann Marie Morrow, AWC Finland

charlotte coneybeer FhfhQUZsy0A unsplash 1LilacI’ve been following the research of professors of psychology and positive psychology in the field of well-being or happiness for many years. As part of this, I’ve taken several courses with experts in the field and helped facilitate a few courses too. Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University is the latest to offer a “Science of Well-Being” course on the Coursera online platform. She gave a live Q & A on March 30 addressing mental health and what we can do to boost our well-being during these challenging pandemic times. I’ve summarized some of her key points here and included a few others from other professors who’ve also been sharing their expertise during this unprecedented world-changing event we are all trying to find our way through. I heard the term "ambient dread" the other day as one way to describe what some of us are feeling and it really spoke to me. I feel it is important to remember these tips below to help us get through these times. They are also good tips for good mental health in general - but even more crucial in these times we find ourselves in. 

  1. Validate. Validate your feelings and emotions and of those around you. It is okay to have feelings that are on a roller coaster. This is an unprecedented time and it is normal to not feel 100%. It is unknown what will happen and it is scary. Validate that. It is okay to be worried and not to be fully productive during a global health and financial crisis. Let those around you know it is okay.
  2. Compassion. Be compassionate towards yourself, your family, spouse and friends. Be kind. Be kinder. 
  3. Downgrade expectations. It is normal and okay to not have everything be as it was or especially perfect at this time. Much unhappiness comes when our expectations are not met. Break the cycle and be okay with a messier house, a bed that didn’t get made perfectly, or a deadline that gets missed.
  4. Be intentional. Be intentional about creating experiences and doing things that you enjoy. If you like reading books, make the time to do this. Do you like cookies? Take time to bake some of your favorite kind. Create the good things that you like to do.
  5. Be deliberate. Choose where to put your focus. How does reading the news all the time make you feel? If you check in and notice that it makes you anxious and less well, then limit the time checking news. Be deliberate in limiting your time doing those things that cause you to feel unwell. Remember to focus on good things that are happening as well.
  6. Routines. Routines help us feel safe and secure. Make sure you incorporate them into your new normal. This is especially important for children as many schools are closed and they don’t have much structure. Trying to build structure into the day: for example - regular meal times and bedtimes can be really helpful in making you and your kids feel calmer.
  7. Reframing. A change in perspective helps a lot. If you are worried you are stuck in your house, reframe it by saying that you are safe in your house and that helps others stay safe. It is a pro-social behavior. This helps build resilience and self-regulation. How can you take something that is challenging you and reframe it into something that is a benefit to you and others?
  8. 3 conscious breaths. A good quick self-regulating tip is to stop and do 3 deep full belly breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. This helps stop the fight or flight reaction and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to help create calm from within. Try it — it really does help.
  9. Meditation. Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to be especially helpful with stimulating compassion without excess empathy, thus reducing burnout. Take the time to do some kind of meditation daily. Research has shown this is proven to help with reducing stress and anxiety. There are many apps that can be accessed for this and resources online. (Calm, Headspace, etc.)
  10. Connections. Connections are important to human mental and physical health. Try to connect online, through social media, though phone calls, etc. Be intentional about organizing this for you and your family. Schedule that call with your grandma; send that card to your cousin.
  11. Rest and sleep. One of the most important things you can do is get enough good sleep. Try to invoke a ritual before bedtime to get your mind into the habit. Leave the phones and news away/off. Read a book, do some stretches, meditate. This helps not only your mental health, but also boosts your immune system.
  12. Causal arrows. While we all think that we will be happier once we can just be more productive, the arrow goes the other way. We will be more productive when we feel better. Now is a good time to focus on feeling better. Doing what you can to sleep, eat and exercise well. Being intentional about adding positive experiences and being grateful. When we pay attention to bumping up our mental health then other areas will follow.
  13. Time affluence. Flipping the perspective. When we have extra time, think of it as a windfall. What are things you have wanted to do, but haven’t had time for? Could you explore a new book, take an online class, learn a new skill, or start a new hobby?
  14. Emotional contagion. Especially for those with kids, it is important to try and model behaviors of calm. Reframe this as a challenge instead of a crisis. Calmness is contagious too. Help children who don’t have the frontal lobe processing capabilities of handling so much unknown. Give them routines. Connect them with friends online. Manage expectations. Expose them to kindness. Exercise together.
  15. Experiences over things. Remember that research shows that experiences more than things are the boosts to well-being that last. Prioritize this with new habits that are good experiences. Fresh starts are possible now. Add some new positive experiences to your routine.
  16. Self-compassion. It can’t be stated enough. You have to take care of yourself to take care of others. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself and say things to yourself that a good friend would say to you in a challenging situation. You are enough and deserve this kindness.
  17. Exercise. Keeping the blood flowing with exercise helps to stimulate stress reducing hormones. Try for at least 30 minutes a day. And get up at least once every 30 minutes during the day to stretch or just walk around.
  18. Nature. Get out in nature whenever you can: walk in the woods; sit in the garden and listen to the birds; appreciate the flowers on the patio. Be intentional and mindful of the nature around you.

Even experts in the field say they know what to do, but it isn't always easy to do. I try to intentionally take just a couple of these tips into my day's actions or thoughts. Bit by bit I hope I can tip the scale to being better able to cope with low moods and stress that come my way. I will still have ups and downs, but perhaps by being mindful of some of the things I can do to help myself (and vicariously those around me), it will help me to bounce back more easily and also be more resilient. It is also important to realize what works for some doesn't work for all. Try out different ideas to see what works for you. Maybe exercise is your boost, maybe it is meditation, maybe it is gardening? Today I will try to limit my consumption of the news, go for a walk in the woods and do some baking. What about you?

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