It has been over 50 days since the stay at home order was given. Our society has been running on adrenaline and cortisol for too long. Due to this, you may be experiencing the same as us, the tip over into hypoarousal. Hypoarousal is when the body begins to shut down psychologically, mentally, and physically. We have no energy to do anything, we have overall malaise and little to no motivation. Some may call it the “groundhog day effect,” in that we struggle to remember the day of the week, what we last ate, and our daily habits are unraveling around us even with our best intentions. You are not alone! Even the professionals are feeling it.
This move to hypoarousal is a survival state. A way for our bodies to protect themselves from stress by shutting us down. It can make our days feel long, overwhelming, and irritating. Leaving us with feelings of depression. Depression is real and a reflection of our current emotional and physical state of being. Depression doesn’t have to get to clinical depression before it affects us. So many of us have been dealing with increased anxiety and worry for several weeks and now we have moved into this depressed blah state of being.
Much like with anxiety, when depressed our goal is to move ourselves back into a regulated state- a functional state of being. So we need to move our bodies and engage our brains with baby steps towards health and function.
Here is what we tell Children & Adults on how to fight those Eeorye feelings:
1. Sleep hygiene! Go to bed & wake up at the same time every day. Sleep in a cold, dark, quiet comfortable space. Sleep is the #1 action you can take to improve your mental health. A weighted blanket may help engage the brakes in your nervous system helping you to fall and stay asleep.
2. Eat healthy and regularly! Eat what your body needs for health, not what it is craving e.g. sugar. Eat at regular meal times 3-4x a day. Avoid grazing, this destabilizes your body time clock.
3. Move your body! 30min of walking, stretching, or playing. The challenge is real! Make the choice to start moving and you will keep moving. Set a timer for 30min, this will help your mind from derailing your goal by letting it know a timer will come, so MOVE IT!
4. Be social! Reach out to one friend a day. Text/call/videochat/marcopolo with someone everyday. These formats allow introverts and extroverts to connect in the way best suited for them. Connection is a human nessecity, without it we cannot survive. Remembering we are all in this together, we are all struggling, we all NEED each other.
5. Play! Play is a natural mood enhancer. Play brings "joy juice"(neurotransmitters) to our brain and bodies naturally. All humans play, think of the hobbies and activities you enjoy. The activity that brings you pleasure. Our need for Play never leaves us. Find a way to get silly, laugh, & giggle. Watch a comedy, hug & tickle each other, play games, get outside and explore! Use your curiosity to get your Play on!
6. Reach out for support. Counselors help you to feel heard, supported, accountable, and informed on how to help yourself and the family, so you can be your best self during these hard times!
7. Lastly, manage screen time effectively- grown ups & children. Managing screen time is imperative right now due to children having to spend more time on screens for education & adults telecommuting. Children need to use screens for school, for socializing (tweens+), and they still want YouTube/minecraft during free screen time too. We all want time to zone out! This has to be done in moderation.
Everyone needs to break up their screen time use-- you will see bigger behavioral and emotional responses if you remove the screen after 6 hours of use, versus 1-3 hours of use at a time. Yes, grown ups, you have the same reactions as kids to screen use. Free screen time should occur later in the day, after school/work is completed. There are 5 more weeks of online school ahead of us, and then summer break. Those telecommuting may have even more time until screen life decreases.
Make sure your child is still spending 2+ hours screen-free! This is time to play outside, make art, read, play board games, or do anything else that they enjoy. This number may seem low, however if you do a careful monitoring it probably is close to the reality. Loss of interest in activities and screen-seeking behaviors are both signs of depression to be aware of in children. You likely struggle to manage your screen use. Your child cannot self-regulate screen time (it’s addictive) and they need your help to set limits and boundaries around screens. It is easier to watch a screen than engage/challenge the brain, and easier usually doesn't mean better.
Remember we are all seeking "easy" as we have moved into this hypoaroused state.
Screen time is a way of multitasking that can lead to other unhealthy behaviors. Watching a show while eating a meal can cause us to overeat and/or not read our body cues about how hungry or full we feel. Setting screens aside for meals is one way to set boundaries on screen time while increasing connection and socialization for the entire family.
What happens when we go back to our normal routines? When school and work start and we are waking up and going to sleep at the same times more regularly just doesn't happen with a flip of a switch. Change isn' that easy, changing our habits even more so. If your child has had unregulated access to screen time now, no sleep schedule, and eats whenever they want when you switch back to stricter limits come next school year, you will see big behavioral and emotional eruptions. While it is understandable that some limits/rules are more flexible during this time, we can set ourselves up for an easier transition back to reality by keeping some basic limits/rules in place throughout this pandemic. Allowing extra screen time, overly flexible routines, and little structure for children and yourself may feel good in the moment, however it ultimately sets you up for a more miserable future.
The epidemic is affecting us all, some with actual illness and others with fear of becoming ill. Our Mental Health is being impacted even more so right now. This dramatic shift in daily functioning in our lives will have a much longer impact to our future than COVID19 will. Eeyore does have brighter days, when he chooses to be mindful.
You can control your choices to live a healthy life now & in the future.
by Cary Hamilton LMHC, RPT-S, NCC, CMHS, CDWF