John P. Shand

John P. Shand

Yes, you should change out of your pajamas this week.

Continuing to get dressed in your usual apparel is one of many ways to keep a sense of normalcy in what is undoubtedly an abnormal time.

We all are waking up each morning to the stress and worry stemming from changes in income, workspaces, child care and routines brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, there are a few things we all can do to quell our anxiety and maintain our civility during this time of uncertainty.

— Get enough sleep.

You may be tempted to let that “autoplay” feature continue to entice you into the next episode of your favorite binge series. However, take a hint when the “Are you still watching?” prompt comes up for the third time. The TV may be smart but lying in front of it until the wee hours is not.

Sleep is profoundly important to your immune system. Studies also show that sleep is important for quelling anxiety. I recognize that sleep may be impacted by any number of changes and uncertainties in your lives right now, so one thing that can further help is making a schedule.

— Adopt a routine.

Humans have a unique ability to forecast the future and, for many of us, this ability is sabotaging our minds. Anxiety can quickly run away with our thoughts and a pessimist will predict the worst-case scenario, which then may be seconded by the 24-hour news cycle.

Maintaining a routine and planning for the next step in each day will help prevent this disruption from quickly becoming unmanageable. Scheduling your days — however loosely — will help you to know what to expect each day when you wake up. Find some semblance of structure in your new normal, while trying to home-school your children or working remotely or facing the day while your job has ceased (WellSpan Philhaven has posted a sample daily schedule for families with children, under the coronavirus section at WellSpanPhilhaven.org).

If you are working from home — especially if you are also managing child care — schedule “office hours” or time to complete a project. Make sure to share your schedule with your family and colleagues. If you have a spouse or partner, switch off child care duties and work time.

Make sure to schedule joy into your day as well, including breaks for exercise, creative outlets, hobbies and other distractions.

— Communicate.

During this time of social distancing, it is more important than ever to stay connected with loved ones (just maybe not that friend who is hunkered down in a homemade bunker eating freeze-dried food).

While you may want to limit your social media (as always), it is a great time to take advantage of that video-chat feature on your phone that you’ve always been meaning to try. If your access to technology is more limited, make a few phone calls.

Connecting with our family and friends in this way can provide respite for those who are feeling overly stressed. It also can provide relief from isolation for those of us for whom physical distance from our greater community is a true struggle.

Also, let your community be there for you. Not only friends and family, but if you feel that you are struggling — physically or mentally — reach out to your physician, religious leader or someone you trust. Ask for help. There are many of us in the community who are prepared to help in any way we can.

— Embrace self-care.

Breathe. Get some fresh air. Take a bike ride. Take a walk in your community or in the local park, while maintaining the proper social distancing from others. Exercise is extremely important and a great stress-reliever.

Write in a journal. Listen to music. Catch up on your reading list. Create. Take a virtual field trip to any number of museums, opera houses or world landmarks that have made their content free during this time.

Take a few minutes to seek the positive news in our community and in the world. Try to take even a few minutes each day to do something that makes you happy.

As I write this, I have paint on my hands and in my hair after sharing my new painting hobby with my toddler. What a great feeling after a stressful day!

Dr. John P. Shand is a psychiatrist for WellSpan Philhaven.