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Coping tips for these bizarre times

| August 6, 2020 3:59 PM

A survey of more than 1,200 school-age girls released in June by the Rox Institute for Research found 79 percent felt more lonely or isolated than before the pandemic. Forty percent reported feeling more stressed.

Don’t worry, this ends well.

Adults are struggling too. Two July surveys online totaling 5,000 people by Sleep Standards and Ezvid Wiki showed a notable increase in bad habits. The average American is getting 43 hours of sleep each week, compared to the recommended 47. Half or more say they feel anxiety over the election and politics, and aren’t eating well.

Idahoans say they’re exercising 42 percent less (compared to an average 33 percent less exercise nationwide) and watching 35 percent more TV — a habit most said they’ll continue post-pandemic.

The sum of all this suggests a decline in overall health both mental and physical. Too much TV, poor exercise and poor eating are oft-correlated with less health and happiness.

A clinical social worker with North Idaho Direct Primary Care, Donna Samuel, thinks this may be related to a “feedback loop.”

“Everything we choose affects everything else, for good or for bad,” Samuel explained. “For example, when life becomes more stressful our bodies release stress hormones which interfere with sleep. In return, as poor sleep becomes habituated, functional connectivity between different parts of our brain is suppressed, leading to an inability to regulate negative emotions. So if I have already been struggling with depression or anxiety, I will be even more unlikely to effectively challenge my negative or anxious thoughts.”

She said those who seem to thrive despite modern or personal challenges have a positive feedback loop.

What do these “thrivers” better understand? The connection between a positive step in one area and progress in another. Exercise leading to improvements in sleep and mood, for example.

They also set measurable, attainable, and time-limited healthy lifestyle goals, giving themselves credit for achieving steps. Samuel said an element of accountability, such as a friend supportively checking in, helps.

Meanwhile, she offers these simple habits which can make a surprisingly positive difference, right now:

Practice gratitude.

“This seems to be far and away the most helpful (a gratitude journal is helpful but not necessary). No item is too big or small. For example, when I ask people what positive has come out of COVID-19 I have heard about improved relationships, long-forgotten projects or hobbies restarted, and families eating together again.”

Breathe.

“Diaphragmatic breathing actually helps shift your nervous system from nervous to calm. Try an app that helps you get started and remember this one can help improve sleep too.”

Limit virus/politics chatter (including TV and social media).

“There is a difference between staying updated to make good choices about how to respond and listening to the same, often slanted information over and over.”

Set a schedule.

“A schedule helps me choose the one right, next thing even when I don’t feel like it. It’s also a great framework to hang your new mini-goal upon.”

Choose positive connections.

“Isolation feeds mental health difficulties (so) choose to stay in touch. I recently saw a small group of neighbors sitting 6 feet apart, sharing a meal and laughing. Do you have a family member or friend you haven’t checked in with in a while? What would it be like to use Facebook to start a small, closed group of people wanting to work on their personal goals?”

Remember, you’re an example to children.

“Kids pick up on many unspoken things and are watching you to see how you learn to cope and take care of yourself and others. To say that many kids are struggling with not knowing, wondering what will happen next and handling (various types of) loss with COVID-19 is an understatement. Many are showing behavior changes consistent with a trauma response.”

Samuel recommends Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). Originally designed to help foster and adoptive families, she said it’s showing promise in families of all types. TBRI training is offered free online by Texas Christian University at Bit.ly/2XsGkJz.

Commune with nature.

“Watch the sun rise or set, breathe fresh air, watch a hummingbird or a bee. Take a walk with a friend and allow the beauty to help you be grateful that we live in an astonishingly beautiful area.”

To read more about the Sleep Standards study, click here. The Rox study is Rulingourexperiences.com/covid19.

For the Lazy Lockdowners survey, click here.

“You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” — Wayne Dyer

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.