Coping with the Coronavirus

I have been going to therapy on an almost-weekly basis since August 2018. During that time I have been able to assemble a host of coping skills to help me battle my depression and anxiety. Given that we now all find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, socially distancing ourselves and seeing the world turned upside down, I thought it might be helpful to share some things that keep me grounded when my feelings seem out of control.

  1. Keep your hands busy. The more anxious I am, the more fidgety I get, and it really helps me to have something to manipulate with my hands. I have this therapy dough in the “Spa” scent that I love to play with. It may seem silly to play with something that is very much like play dough, but trust me on this: having something in your hands can be a great distraction. And if you want to go a cheaper route, Silly Putty also works great for this.
  2. Try mindfulness activities. Mindfulness activities are meant to help keep you grounded in the present moment, and they are a great way to take your focus out of your chaotic thoughts and into the current reality. A few I like: try writing the alphabet with your non-dominant hand; pick a color and make a list of things that are that color; pick a color and find objects of that color in the room you are in; write a description of the room you are in, focusing on as many details as possible; play 5-4-3-2-1 (pick 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can touch).
  3. Go for a walk. Physical activity is a great weapon against depression and anxiety, and it’s something that we are still able to do while social distancing. Being outside not only feels good, but if your walk is strenuous enough, your body will release endorphins and give your mood a boost.
  4. Create positive experiences for yourself. Find little ways to inject pleasure into your days. Are there flowers for sale at the grocery store? Grab some while you’re making your grocery run and brighten up a room. Is there music that calms you? Spend 5 minutes and listen to it. Feeling stressed? Take a soothing bubble bath. Small, simple gestures like these can go a long way in making the day more pleasurable.
  5. Practice deep breathing. This is one of my favorite calming techniques, and it’s super easy. All you do is focus on your breath, taking in slow, deep breaths through your nose, holding for a few seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth. The slower your breaths, the calmer you feel.
  6. Journal. Keep a journal of your experience during this very unique, crazy time we are living. It will not only help you process all that you are thinking in feeling, but it will be an interesting document to revisit after this has all passed.
  7. Reach out to friends. Stay connected through calls, texts, emails, Marco Polos, etc. Any way that you can maintain relationships during this time of social isolation will help boost your mood and decrease anxiety. We are all in this together, and we can fight it best together.
  8. Memorize Scripture. Pick some of your favorite passages and work on setting them to memory. Hang them up around your house in places where you will see them frequently. God’s Word is the best antidote to anxiety and depression.
  9. Color. I really enjoy coloring, and it is a great way to focus on the present moment and relieve stress. Coloring isn’t just for kids! There are a lot of great coloring books for adults.
  10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is essential. Without it, it is easy to become lost in all of the negative things happening. But there is always something to be grateful for, so spend some time each day making a list of simple blessings.

This is just a sampling of things you can try to lower stress and anxiety. Get creative and be intentional, and if you really want to dive deep, here’s a list of 99 coping skills you can try! I recognize that these things will not change our current reality, but it is my hope that by practicing these coping skills, you might feel better equipped to face these uncertain times.

What is your favorite coping skill?

Far from Home, Part 2: Dance to the Music

This is part 2 in a series about my time in residential treatment. Part 1 is here.

The schedule at TK was very similar each day. The only thing that varied was the content of the groups. There were multiple groups that met at the same time each day, and I picked the groups I wanted to attend with the guidance of my therapist.

Here’s the basic schedule for my lodge: 

7:00 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30 a.m.: Morning commitments (We had small groups in the lodge, and each morning we had to check in with our current mood and goals for the day. It wasn’t at all awkward or uncomfortable to rate my depression on a scale of 1 to 10 in a room full of other women, haha.)
9:00 a.m.: Group therapy
10:00 a.m.: Break (for phone calls, snacks, meetings with therapist or psychiatrist, etc.)
11:00  a.m.: Group therapy
Noon: Lunch
1:30 p.m.: Community meeting (entire lodge met to talk about any announcements, concerns, issues)
2:00 p.m.: Group therapy
3:00 p.m.: Break
4:00 p.m.: Group therapy
5:00 p.m.: Dinner
7:15 p.m.: Group therapy
9:00 p.m.: Mindfulness (A staff member led us in various activities meant to help us focus on the present/be mindful) 

The first group I went to at TK was called Dance Movement Therapy. When I saw this on the schedule, I immediately balked and was tempted to skip it. The interesting thing about TK and something that distinguishes residential treatment from inpatient treatment is that no one makes you go to any of the groups or activities. You could theoretically sleep all day (and some residents did that, much to my deep confusion–that’s an awfully expensive way to get in some naps). However, I’m a rule follower and schedule freak at heart, so the thought of skipping the very first group didn’t sit well with me, so off I went, not knowing what in the world I was getting myself into. 

There’s not really a good way to describe Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), except to tell you what it’s not. It’s not Zumba or Jazzercise or any kind of choreographed dance. The class is basically all about connecting the body with the mind and showing that through movement. There were 2 therapists for the session, and they played different kinds of music for us while we expressed ourselves through various movements, walking around the room, skipping, twirling, or really whatever we wanted to do. Some of it was guided movement, but a lot of it was independent. The point of DMT is to be content with your body and allow it to move in a way that is comfortable to you. That meant some people hardly moved at all but instead sat quietly, while others danced freely all around the whole room. I fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not wanting to make too much of a spectacle of myself but also not able to resist the way the music spoke to me and made me want to move. Even though I felt ridiculous doing some of the things we did, it was also very freeing. I was in a safe space where no one was judging what I was doing, and no one was really even watching what I was doing because everyone was doing her own thing. I love music, and I found it very soothing to let myself get lost in the rhythms of the songs and move the way I felt like moving. I probably looked clumsy and awkward and completely unskilled, but I didn’t care, and neither did anyone else.  (If this all sounds a little kooky to you or like the dumbest thing in the world, I understand. I would feel the same way if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.)

Towards the end of our time in the group, the lead therapist had us all find individual spaces in the room to retreat and be quiet. She put on soft music and instructed us to relax and let our minds and bodies simply respond to the words she was going to say. She named off two words I don’t remember, and then she said the word “belonging,” and I felt the tears spring to my eyes. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face, and I knew that the word had touched a point of pain in my heart. I have often struggled with feeling like I don’t belong and have wanted desperately to find a place of belonging, and there in that room I was free to admit that to myself and tell myself that wanting that was a natural thing. I prayed that God would help me know that I belonged–heart, mind, body, and soul–to Him, even if all else was in question. I left that group feeling lighter than when I came, and DMT cemented itself as my very favorite group at TK. I still give myself time at home to dance around to music that makes me feel happy and confident. I don’t worry about what I look like or how much space I’m taking up or how ugly or fat I feel; I dance, and I feel free and loved. And for those few minutes, that’s enough. 

Some songs that make me happy (it’s a very eclectic list):

“Calling Me Home” by Emily Brimlow
“Almost (Sweet Music)” by Hozier
“joy.” by For King and Country
“123” by Jess Glynne
“Love Broke Thru” by TobyMac
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
“God Is Enough” by Lecrae
“Like We Belong” by GAWVI
“Hard Love” by Needtobreathe
“Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)” by Crowder
“Love Me Again” by John Newman
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
“Holy” by Jamila Woods
“Glorious Day” by Passion

Weigh-In Wednesday: Weekend Derailment

Last weigh-in (2 weeks ago): 200.2
This week’s weight: 201.4
GAIN of 1.2 pounds

Well, given the fact that last week was not a shining moment for me, I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. I weighed myself on August 1, and I was 201.6. I wasn’t happy with that, but I knew I would get myself in gear and thought I could at least lose a little bit before today. I rocked the running and did another 4 miles on Saturday, along with a 3 mile walk and 2 other runs. I felt proud and strong.

If I am honest with myself, however, I know what did me in–the weekend. For some reason, my brain just shuts off on the weekend and I am not nearly as careful with tracking. I didn’t track a bite of food on Sunday, and I know I ate way too much.

If I am ever going to lose this weight, I have to be more diligent on the weekends. So my one goal for this week is to track every bite I eat. Knowing I am going to track it makes me more accountable, so I am hoping that will make me think twice about overeating.

I would LOVE to be in the 190s next week. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Weigh-In Wednesday

Last week’s weight: 204.2
This week’s weight: 200.2
LOSS of 4 pounds

Wahoo! I am thrilled with this result. I worked hard over the past week, trying to diligently track my calories and make better food choices. I wasn’t perfect: the weekend was difficult to track everything because we ate out a few meals, and I ate over my range on at least 2 days. But even on the days when I ate over my range, I am sure I still ate fewer calories than I was before I started paying attention to my intake. I exercised 3 times, and I didn’t eat past 8 any night.

Sometimes it seems like the scale doesn’t reflect the work (or lack thereof) that is done, but today, I feel like it did. It is just the motivation I need to stay strong and keep trying.

One pound at a time, one day at a time, one choice at a time.