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How to Give Your Brain Some TLC During Quarantine

Healthy Lifestyle
Published: May 28, 2020


You might swear that you’ve settled into a new norm and routine – that this whole pandemic thing is hardly an issue anymore. But yet remembering things, keeping track of responsibilities and staying focused on tasks seem harder than ever. Sometimes your mood and temper seem outside of your control. Irritability often easily takes over. And what is the deal with those crazy, vivid dreams you keep having?

Let me cut to the chase: It’s all normal. But you may need to start making your mental health just as much of a priority as your physical health.


Get organized

News of this pandemic is everywhere. Every time you turn on the TV, scroll through your Facebook feed or connect with a loved one virtually, COVID-19 is often the topic of conversation. And that constant barrage of information and opinions can cause unrecognized stress and anxiety, which affects your attention and memory.

Write it down! Everything. And as soon as you think of it. Give your brain a break from having to do or remember something later.

  • Keep a running grocery list in your phone. The second you notice you’re running low on toothpaste, add it to the list. Don’t try to think of all the things you need the morning you head to the store.
  • Make a to-do list at the start of every day. And if a task comes to mind or is given to you at 2 p.m., add it to the list right then and there.
  • Set alarms and important reminders. If your daughter tells you on Monday about an online test she has scheduled for Friday, stop what you’re doing. Set an alarm for Wednesday night to go over the material with her, ensuring she’s prepared.


Stay focused

Distractions are at an all-time high. They can zap our mental energy, and they can set us up for mistakes. Avoid them!

  • Turn off push notifications. Alarms and reminders are one thing. But do you really need every COVID-19 update coming through on your phone?
  • Rethink your work space and hours. Keep your at-home office as far away from the rest of your family’s favorite rooms as possible. If you’re home with the kids during the day while your spouse goes to work, save the tasks that require more mental energy and concentration for when your spouse returns home.
  • Schedule time to check your phone, news sites and social media. Maybe it’s few times a day. But give yourself a set amount of time so you’re not tempted to scroll aimlessly when you need to be getting work done. And think of news consumption as a diet – too much of it can be unhealthy. 30 minutes a day can help you stay informed without weighing you down mentally and emotionally.

Despite every honest attempt at avoiding distraction, mistakes are inevitable during stressful times. Now, more than ever, it’s a good idea that you double-check, proofread and give that document, email or instant message another once-over. While many people are forgiving when it comes to mistakes these days, it’ll save you from unnecessary embarrassment and stress.


Maintain a sense of calm

We all know what it feels like when we’re about to lose it. Our breath becomes quicker, our body feels warmer, and our patience gets thinner. Recognize the moments that you begin to feel stressed or frustrated. Those moments signify the need for a break.

  • Get up, stretch or go for a walk. Removing yourself from the situation is oftentimes all it takes to regroup. Some form of regular mild exercise can decrease our body’s response to stress. It can also improve sleep quality and increase daily energy levels.
  • Make a cup of calming tea, or grab a healthy snack. Popcorn, pretzels or even a handful of healthy cereal can help elevate your mood, as healthy carbs increase production of serotonin in the brain. Just avoid the high-sugar, high-calorie and high-fat treats like ice cream and cookies to avoid a crash later.

And remember: Consistency is key. Our bodies and brains feel less stressed with a more consistent routine. Keep some regular structure in your days including consistent meal and exercise times.

 

Get plenty of rest

Random, unexplainable and often stressful dreams are becoming more and more common. The same was reported after 9/11 and World War II. And they’re possibly being brought on by what experts call REM debt.

REM – or that deep, rapid eye movement stage of sleep – is a necessity. But many of us haven’t been getting enough. And when we rack up enough debt, our minds eventually compensate by crashing hard into REM sleep – the stage in which we dream. The more vivid dreams we have, the easier some are to recall. These dreams aren’t a bad thing. They’re thought to be the brain’s way of processing emotions.

While there’s not much we can do about our dreams, we can make sleep a priority. Keep it consistent. Work at keeping a set, reasonable wake-up time. This helps you maintain a healthy sleep pattern. If you’ve never had a calming bedtime routine, now is the time to create one.

Here are some examples:

  • Drop the phone when you hit the sheets. Avoid scrolling Pinterest for tomorrow night’s dinner, and save any emails for the morning. If you can, try to avoid all screens one hour before retiring.
  • Become a bath person. When is the last time you drew a bubble bath … for yourself? The same nighttime rituals your children have can do wonders for you, too. Bonus points for adding relaxing aromas and low light.
  • Pick up a book. Read an uplifting devotional or inspiring page turner while sipping a relaxing tea. While it’s best to reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy, it’s fine to relax with a book under the sheets if that’s what calms your mind.

Again, sleep is important. If you feel you need additional support in getting quality shut-eye or if the stress and anxiety of this pandemic is becoming too difficult to manage on your own, contact your health care provider.

You can also call the Methodist Emotional Support Line to speak with a licensed professional counselor from the Methodist Hospital Community Counseling Program. The free, confidential service can be accessed by dialing (402) 815-8255 (TALK) and is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Counselors can help by answering questions, addressing concerns, scheduling counseling appointments for additional care and providing referrals to community resources.

More resources

Kevin Keeley

About the Author:

Kevin Keeley, LCSW, a clinical therapist at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center, has more than 20 years of experience working with patients and families coping with cancer diagnoses and treatments.

No matter where patients are in their cancer journey, Keeley’s mission is to help enhance their quality of life.

See More Articles by Kevin Keeley