Did you know that continuous, prolonged stress is bad for the system? Like, really bad. In the beginning of the pandemic, I couldn’t believe how stressed I constantly felt. The weight was unrelenting. A few weeks in I realized I had to do something about the stress. I was hardly eating and I didn’t rest well. I had to find a healthy rhythm during COVID-19.
As an auditory person, I like to think of stress levels in terms of noise. I’m bombarded by a variety of usual stresses or noises. Some sounds from the outside world make it into our home, like a neighbor mowing the lawn at nap time, or a siren blaring on a nearby street, but for the most part, the noise comes from within the home. The kids fight, someone turns a record player up, the air fryer is loud, and then there’s the sound of a basket of toys being dumped. Our day to day is often about navigating our own noises, our own daily rhythm, and stresses.
Since the onset of COVID-19, things have been different. It’s like John Cusack from that 80’s movie with the boombox over his head has come to my front yard, only he’s playing really loud death metal and I’m not sure if he’s ever going to leave. The loud noise from the outside makes it hard to focus, hard to listen, and hard to maintain a healthy rhythm during COVID-19.
Well, since John Cusack won’t go away, I’ve had to find ways to quiet him, to better insulate our home from the noisy stress of the outside world, and to even just turn down the volume in our own space.
Here are some of the steps I’ve taken to get into a healthy rhythm during COVID-19.
I fortified my daily quiet time.
I keep a daily journal. Every morning I write according to four prompts: Word of the Day, Lord Teach Me, Thankful For, and Prayer Requests. In order to maintain a healthy daily rhythm, I have become very protective of my time with my journal. I make time for it no matter what. I find that taking a few moments to focus on each of these things leans my heart in the right direction for that day.
We have lost many things because of COVID-19. We lost our routines, the ease with which we could see friends and family, the security of a fast trip to the store, and the plans we had made for months to come. We’ve lost jobs. Some of us have even lost loved ones. It’s good to know that we have permission to grieve that loss, no matter how big or how small. But when? In this new normal, there’s no time set aside for mourning. Funerals are not even happening. As a part of a healthy rhythm during COVID-19, I sometimes have to stop and I let myself feel the loss. Maybe I reach out to my husband or my sister about how I am feeling. Or, I listen to sad music and let myself fully feel it, fully grieve the loss.
I talk about stress with my husband.
It is not natural for me to vocalize when I am having a hard time. As an enneagram 3, I like to appear as if I have it together all the time, but I am making an effort not to do that. Just this week I told my husband I was having a hard day at like 8 in the morning. Seriously though. I told him I was feeling off and I knew it was going to be a hard day. He asked what he could do to help and then began offering some suggestions. He told me that he could make dinner, or that maybe at bedtime I could go for a walk while he put the kids to bed. Just knowing that he understood and would do what he could to help really helped me that day.
I apologize to my kids and ask their forgiveness.
As Mom, I sometimes feel like I’m supposed to be right all the time. I mean, I am in charge of this brood. But I’m not always right. I make mistakes. I say the wrong thing. I lose my temper. I don’t properly plan. And when this happens, I’ve found the best thing to do is to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness. Not only does this relieve the pressure and reduce the stress, but it enhances the bond I have with my kids. It’s very much a helpful part of having a healthy rhythm during COVID-19.
I exercise daily.
When COVID-19 raised its ugly head here in America, the first place I stopped going to was the gym. I still worked out at home, but not routinely. About a month later, I found a trainer online whose methods were perfect for me. Since then I’ve maintained a commitment of 30 minutes a day, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Routine exercise helps to regulate my hormones, clear my head, and make me feel good.
I take time to talk to distant family members.
It’s been years since I’ve been good about phone calls. Now that we are not seeing people in-person much, it’s amazing how nice it is to just talk on the phone and catch up with someone who knows me well. I love talking to my sister. And since I’m not sure when we will get to see my 89-year-old grandmother again, getting to have video calls with her is truly a huge gift. I always feel so thankful for that time with them after a call.
I diminish my consumption of unhealthy social media.
Hide, unfollow, snooze, unlike, and unfriend have all become excellent tools. Unfortunately, people behave badly when they are stressed. If the adults on Facebook were a bunch of kids, many of them would be in time out for the duration of this pandemic. In fairness, much of their behavior can be explained by science and how the brain behaves when core beliefs are threatened or when agitated by high states of stress. Since that only explains and doesn’t fully excuse the behavior, it’s important to take responsibility for our own responses. That’s why, for me, removing those posts from my view is very helpful.
I nap with my kids sometimes.
Yes, my kids still nap. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. At 5 and 3 I realize this is not the norm. Some days they definitely try to avoid it, which is why sometimes I just lay down and nap with them. Nothing gets them to nap better than my reading a few books to them followed by all three of us closing our eyes. And while yes, I probably have a hundred things I could be doing, rest is important, and I always feel better after a nice nap with the kids.
I plan the day.
Every night I glance at the calendar to see what we have planned for the next day. These days our calendar is sparse, but from time to time something is already planned. That night or the next morning I make a basic plan for the day. This is really helpful at keeping me present in the day-to-day.
I find ways to bless others.
For all the hard things about this age of COVID-19, there have been so many beautiful things too. Experiencing something hard has a way of growing our empathy muscles if we allow it. Just the simple fact of not having easy access to a grocery store has made me so much more aware of how comfortable a life I’ve been living. It has made me want to live more simply so that we can do more with what we do have. Certainly part of our routine for a healthy rhythm during COVID-19 has been for us to see what good we can do in our community and for those who are in need. We are much more aware of paying attention to where we can donate toys, clothes, and books, and of how we can give money to those who are doing the good work of caring for others.
I don’t think about the distant horizon too much.
We are in such a weird place as a society right now. So much can change in a matter of days. Because of this, I’ve found it very unhealthy for me to give a lot of thought to anything very far off in the horizon. It adds unnecessary stress. Sure, we still think about important, long-range things like career paths and family planning, but exactly what we are going to do for the holidays this year is not something we need to be worrying about. It will work itself out. I like to focus on my daily rhythm with the kids, the plants I need to tend to, the animals I need to feed, and how my husband and I can manage to have some good time together this week. Focusing on this day is a huge part of having a healthy rhythm during COVID-19.
I try to be flexible.
Some days just don’t go as we would like. As my five-year-old would say “that’s just life.” Maybe we had something fun finally planned, but then it rains. Well, that’s a great chance to go splash in the muddy puddles. A few months ago we noticed a leak from the upstairs bathroom. So my husband has learned how to tear out a shower, rebuild it from the ground up, and lay tile. And while it hasn’t been easy, we have saved money by doing it this way and at some point, we will have a nice shower. These things aren’t what we planned, but that’s okay. Maybe in the end what will actually happen will be far better than what we would have planned anyways.
These are some of the steps I’ve taken to get into a healthy rhythm during COVID-19. If you try any of these steps or have some of your own, please share. I’d love to know how they are working for you.
Additional resources: If you are having a particularly hard time regulating yourself or your child, please do not give up. There is more help out there. You can find free handouts here with good information from a Tampa mom who is a licensed psychologist working with children and families.