Rising suicide rates... Surges in domestic violence... Sky-high unemployment... A pandemic with an increasing (though likely inflated) death count...
And folks are scared out of their minds that it could take months – if not years – for our economy to recover.
It's an understatement to say we're living in an anxious time.
Over the past few weeks, I've shared some of the ways this has changed our stress levels, altered our sleep, and raised concerns about suicide levels.
But we're still facing longer weeks of quarantine. Despite the lifting of the statewide stay-at-home order in Maryland, for instance, many of my team members live in jurisdictions that have decided to prolong their stay-at-home sentences for an indefinite amount of time.
For them, and for most Americans, there's no end in sight. There's even a name for what we're feeling right now: quarantine fatigue. It's a state of perpetual anxiety. And even if you're safe and lucky to still be employed, the sheer weight of having your normal routine upended and a stifling shelter-in-place order forced upon you is enough to exhaust anyone.
This pandemic is clearly taking its toll. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of Americans say COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health.
So it's fitting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And that's why today, we want to urge you to make your mental health a priority, too. Put it right up there with movement, sleep, and eating right. So here are three of the best tips I have for calming yourself during this time...
One of my favorite ways to calm anxiety is meditation. I've written many times about it before, but anyone can try it just 10 minutes a day.
But maybe you find your mind racing too much to sit in silence with your thoughts. If you want to ease into a meditative practice, consider something else. Journaling, listening to music, sipping tea, sitting in the sun for a few quiet minutes – there are plenty of ways to calm your mind and reflect on your day. Expressing gratitude, in particular, lowers stress and reduces anxiety.
I would also recommend a few breathing exercises. I've written about these in the past, but continue to use them and find them useful. Try this next time you're trying to fall asleep too.
- The 4-7-8 method. Inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Do this cycle four times.
- Count your breaths. You can also go for a longer period and count your breaths. Always count as you exhale. Take five breaths and then start over with "one" again. Don't go over five. This is a good way to keep your focus – if your thoughts become distracted, you'll find yourself counting past five. Set a time to do this simple breathing meditation for at least 10 minutes.
Finally, a way to calm anxiety is to focus on grounding yourself. This works well during panic attacks or sudden bouts of anxious thoughts or feelings. Focus on your five senses:
1. Name one thing you see
2. Name one thing you smell
3. Name one thing you can touch
4. Name one thing you hear
5. Name one thing you taste
So you might take a moment and think... I can see my hands on my keyboard. I can smell the fresh air coming in through the office window. I can touch the leather on my desk chair. I can hear the whir of the fan overhead. And I can still taste a bit of coffee that I just drank.
This practice allows you to focus on the moment, which can pull you back from worrying about the future.
In the midst of all the uncertainty, we do know one thing: We can continue to empower you to take care of yourself. Because you're the best person to look out for you.
Don't forget to keep up to date with our weekly Coronavirus Briefings – you can watch the latest one here. And please, share Health & Wealth Bulletin with your friends and family. We're in this together.
What We're Reading...
- If you or someone you know faces domestic abuse, get help now.
- Did you miss it? My essay on motivation and mindfulness during COVID-19.
- Something different: These might be the best-dressed museum visitors.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 21, 2020