Well, hello everyone!
How have you all been holding up as we enter our third calendar year into this pandemic? Do you feel like you’ve been living in the movie Groundhog Day, minus the humor and fun antics? I know I’ve been feeling that way! Every day runs into the next.
If it seems like it’s been forever since I’ve written anything on my blog, it’s because it has been! My last post was over a year ago. With everything going on in the world, posting seemed in-authentic to my day-to-day existence over the last two-plus years. Honestly, my days have consisted of watching the ducks in my backyard on Lake Champlain, keeping up with the CDC recommendations, and binging reality T.V.
I kept waiting for everything to calm down, but the hits just kept coming. Even though I consider myself and my family extremely fortunate since we have not lost anyone to the virus, the perpetual trauma of the news has impacted my mental health, making it hard to get back to daily life. That’s why I decided to focus on dealing with stress in the age of COVID because I know many of you can relate.
I never liked rollercoasters, and I certainly despise the one we are on right now! As I write this, we are still reeling from the newest variant, called Omicron, which spiked the number of cases throughout the holiday season. The new wave of Omicron cases forced my husband and me to essentially go back into isolation, besides leaving for the necessities. Shockingly enough, we still have not caught COVID, which I attribute to being overly cautious along with being a miracle since we are both immune-compromised.
It feels like we will never find normalcy again. Is this our new normal? I sincerely hope not! It’s just difficult when there is no light in sight at the end of the tunnel.
The unknown has been the most challenging part for a control freak like myself. Even if you feel as if you don’t have immediate stressors in your life, the endless bad news is subconsciously putting you on edge. Feeling this way makes it impossible to get motivated and be productive. Even completing one or two tasks leaves me feeling exhausted.
Time has me so confused as well! Trying to figure out when all this started makes my brain hurt. We are over two years into this global pandemic and everything that has come along with it. The problem is that the days feel long, but the weeks and months fly by.
There is not one person this pandemic has not affected in some way. For us, our oldest daughter lost her job that she held for over five years. That job will not be returning. It was, of course, devastating for her to handle. Unfortunately, she is not alone. Many people lost their jobs during this time.
Those who haven’t caught COVID yet still have dealt with family members or close friends who have contracted the virus, with the effects being so diverse. There are those in our community who have lost loved ones—combined with not being with them in their last days. The tragedy of that is unimaginable. Even if you have not lost anyone, many people haven’t seen their family in person since this started because of travel concerns or restrictions. My point is that COVID has affected us all in one way or another. Fear for ourselves and our families has kept us awake at night with worry.
One of the things I miss most is the ability to believe in the future. By that, I mean just even making the smallest of plans and knowing that you will have something to look forward to without worrying about the virus. Whether it be traveling out of the country, a weekend away, or even feeling comfortable enough to go out to dinner or the movies, I will never take it for granted again!
So how can we deal with and reduce stress? Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful during this time.
The first is Meditation.
Now hear me out! When people suggested meditation to me in the past, I could feel myself rolling my eyes just as an automatic response. The idea of sitting down and purposely doing nothing is anxiety-inducing for someone like myself. It wasn’t until I experienced firsthand at a spa called Miraval what meditation can do for your mental health. After Miraval, I tried incorporating meditation into my routine quite a few times, but I found it challenging to continue the practice. I can be a high-strung person, and slowing down has proven to be an issue for me.
I have been using a free app on my phone called Calm for the last year. You’ve probably seen it advertised before, with celebrities such as Harry Styles partnering up with the app to read bedtime stories, which you can find in the “Soothing Sleep Section.” (Just an FYI, I am not being sponsored by them.)
The app allows you to choose from an extensive list of meditations to help with anxiety, sleep, concentration, and mindfulness. My favorite section is called the “Daily Calm.” Before the house starts waking up, I have started spending 15 minutes meditating in the mornings.
I also really enjoy another section called “Calm Body.” This option incorporates stretches to help with mindfulness and stress. It’s perfect for winding down at the end of the day.
There is also a section that will help you fall to sleep. Now, I know if you are a woman (and I swear I have not talked to one woman that does not deal with this), you wake up in the early hours of the morning struggling to fall back to sleep. For me, it’s often around 3 AM. I find myself staring at the wall and urging myself to fall back asleep while the clock ticks by, eventually being accosted by the sound of chirping birds outside my window.
Sleep problems seem to be most common in women. I don’t know how but my husband can lie down on the pillow and be in complete REM sleep within 10 minutes. It’s always amazed me how easy sleeping is for him. I have a whole ritual I need to complete even to get ready for the prospect of falling asleep.
The Calm app, 7 Days of Sleep, is an effective and relaxing way to help you fall asleep by learning to relax, eliminate worry, and just let go of any intrusive thoughts. There are also breathing exercises to do if you wake up in the middle of the night to help you fall back to sleep quickly. I can personally say that I’ve used this many times, and I’m always shocked when I wake up just because of how fast it put me back to sleep.
Meditating is something that you can do alone, in the quiet of your home, or even outside in nature. It just gives you a centered start and finish to your day. If you’re not a practiced meditator or just an antsy person in general, the app is a great way to get started.
Sometimes I get to the point where I need to close my bedroom door and disconnect from everything. For someone like me who needs alone time to recharge, COVID has made it difficult to do that since we are all stuck inside. I’m sure I’m not alone in the feeling that no matter how much I love my family, I need a break every now and then.
Closing that door and just taking some time by yourself is highly underrated. My daughters often say, “Mother as taken to her bed” whenever I do this. Very dramatic! It sounds like a character in a Tennessee Williams play, bed jacket included!
What I do is take the phone out of the room, put away the computer, and watch true crime TV. And just zone out. Napping is certainly included in this ritual. Chocolate-covered peanut butter cups are necessary. Big fluffy socks help. Yup, it’s just me secluding myself until I feel like a human being again.
Disconnecting by cutting out any social media or avoiding the daily news will allow you to decompress. I know I shouldn’t do this since I am a blogger, but staying off social media for a week or two is a huge relief for my mental health. It allows me to be in the moment and not have FOMO (fear of missing out) looking at other people go about their lives when I feel so stagnant in mine—or even feeling like I should be doing something meaningful with my day when I’m stuck in the house.
Not scrolling through my Apple News or watching it on TV is another way I can give myself a few days of not focusing on the perpetual doomsday headlines. Everything from natural disasters to political divisions, social and civil injustices, and the list goes on. I do feel like it is a privilege to be able to disconnect completely, and I try my best to stay informed, but to a certain point. The headlines just have become overwhelmingly daunting to keep up with.
If you’re an empty nester taking to your own room is easier than having a full house of people. If you are a mother with kids at home, pets, and a husband to take care of, ask him to take over for a day or two. If you’re a single mother, strive for that alone time at night when the kids are in bed. It’s not always easy because women always seem to be doing it all.
If you have to force yourself to enjoy some me-time, do it. Put it in your family calendar and start with just an afternoon. If you can, try it! I highly recommend this little break from life. It will make you a happier and mentally healthier person.
3. CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR
Now, if you find yourself in bed and cannot get out, that’s a different story. I am sure many of us have dealt with depression or anxiety in the last two years. How could we not? I know I have. My husband and both my daughters have. If you cannot get past it and it affects your daily life, you need to reach out for help.
Finding a therapist is not easy. I cannot figure out why mental health is not taken more seriously in the medical community, or at least more easily accessible. We have an excellent family doctor, but when asked for a recommendation for a therapist, we were just handed a list of names to call. Most are fully booked and not accepting new patients, and some don’t accept specific health insurance plans.
On the positive side, if you find a therapist taking on new patients, COVID has made it possible to conduct virtual therapy sessions. Years ago, when I was dealing with depression while going through menopause, I reached out for help from my family doctor; all the names he gave me were over a two-hour drive. Virtual sessions make it easier to schedule it around your daily life.
Our one daughter, who was reluctant about seeing a therapist, finally found a woman who is an excellent fit for her! Her therapist has helped her navigate this time in her life and any obstacles that may have come up. I have watched her make such impressive progress, and she has been completely committed to opening up.
I think for our generation, we are less inclined to go to therapy because opening up to a stranger seems like the most uncomfortable situation imaginable. Most of us were raised with the mentality that we shouldn’t talk about our problems with anyone, even with family members. Basically, you should just move on and get over it. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t just buck up. Finding a professional who is not biased is sometimes better than solely relying on those close to you. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to help you start some healthy self-reflection or, at the very least, to vent to about life.
Yes, it does take effort to find someone that works for you, but if you are struggling, make sure to reach out to someone for help.
4. PHYSICAL EXERCISE
We all know that exercise is a great stress reliever. I will be frank and say I have not exercised in the way I used to before COVID. For quite some time, gyms were out of the question, but that was no excuse for just sitting on my butt. Being more active is my one goal starting this year, which always seems to be my new year’s resolution. I’m sure most of you are in the same boat as me.
At the beginning of COVID, everyone was getting out of the house and going for walks in the neighborhood. Then after a few months of lockdown and during the winter months, I think many people turned to drinking as a way to pass the time.
I do believe there are two types of people. Those who have worked out, quit bad habits, and completely transformed themselves over the last two years, such as Adele’s highly publicized weight loss. Then there are the rest of us.
With all the free time at home, it seemed like it would be ideal for getting things done that we didn’t have time to do before COVID. In reality, the constant unknown of the world’s circumstances was not conducive to leading a healthy or productive life. I can say I have not been able to focus on working out, but I plan on changing that. When I do exercise, my mind and body feel better, and I feel less stressed.
Remember that we shouldn’t make working out and becoming a healthier person all about the numbers on a scale. Getting active again is all about making yourself feel better, not worse. I suggest starting slow and doing what makes you feel comfortable. If you throw yourself right into an intense workout regime, you won’t keep up with it. Changing even the smallest of daily habits will make a difference, such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
Maybe a gym membership is not in the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean I can’t get outside for a walk or do some yoga at home. I could even hop on that Pelaton that’s been sitting upstairs calling my name all these months.
There are so many ways that you can incorporate exercise into your life. Mr. Stafford sustained a back injury last year, and one of the things recommended for his physical therapy was yoga.
A great YouTube channel called Yoga With Adriene is perfect for beginners and through more advanced classes. She has specialized videos for everything from back pain, stress relief, relaxation, and even for vertigo which I deal with. I highly recommend checking it out! She has hundreds of videos to choose from for every level. It’s just a bonus that you can do all of this in the comfort of your own home for free!
5. HEALTHY SLEEP PATTERNS
We all know how important sleep is for your physical and mental health. Getting a good night’s sleep is not easy for some of us, especially women, as I mentioned earlier.
SOM SLEEP drinks have become a staple in my nighttime ritual. If you’ve never heard of this drink, let me introduce this lifesaver! Drinking one sugar-free drink 30 minutes before bed gives me a great night’s sleep without waking up and feeling groggy like some other sleep aids. These drinks are drug-free and non-habit-forming.
Mr. Stafford was the one who told me about SOM SLEEP after reading a Sports Illustrated article in a doctor’s waiting room. The article was about athletes’ travel schedules affecting their sleep quality. Obviously, if a professional athlete does not get a good night’s sleep, their performance suffers. They cited SOM SLEEP as one of the ways they found to help with those issues.
Of course, I hopped on the internet to do my research right away. I found the company and ordered our first month’s supply. I was amazed at how much it helped me get to sleep and stay asleep.
Their science-backed formula uses active ingredients naturally found in your body, a healthy diet, and green tea. Magnesium and Vitamin B6 help ensure your sleep cycle runs as smoothly as possible. L-Theanine and GABA help calm your mind, and Melatonin jumpstarts the process of falling asleep.
They have their original formula and a zero-sugar option. I would suggest the zero-sugar option for obvious reasons, which I drink. You can purchase these on the SOM SLEEP site, or they are also available on Amazon. On both Amazon and the SOM website, you can subscribe for monthly deliveries, so you never run out. It just makes life easier, and isn’t that what we’re trying to do.
6. DECLUTTER YOUR HOME
Since the pandemic started, our homes have become our safe havens and our confinement. After some time of everyone being stuck in the house, cabin fever started to kick in. Looking at that small section of peeling wallpaper or a scratched-up piece of furniture that never bothered you before was now staring you in the face every day, driving you nuts. I know I felt this way!
One thing I did during COVID was de-stress our home. By this, I mean getting rid of any clutter and junk that accumulates in one’s home over an extended time. Even though our home is always clean and organized, opening a few drawers and closets totally stressed me out. My Gosh, the things I saved over the 20 plus years we have lived in our home was overwhelming and shocking!
Our daughter Ashley and I took three days and de-cluttered the entire house! Remember I mentioned that she lost her job at the beginning of COVID? She has now opened her own small business, helping people organize their homes. Her company is Tidy Up and Away, such a cute name, right! It allows her to do something she enjoys because she finds it therapeutic while also being her own boss.
So, almost 70 trash bags later and lots of kitchen and clothing items being donated, three floors of our home are now clutter-free. You would have thought we were hoarders from the sheer amount of stuff we had to to get rid of or donate. It was shocking how much we throw in the back of a closet and just let it pile up. After doing such a massive purge, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders!
Since we now spend such a great deal of time in our homes, it’s so important for our space to feel cozy and comforting. I’ve been fascinated by how many people have started doing DIY home renovations. Our youngest daughter Jacqueline has an excellent eye for design. She has done a beautiful job decorating and renovating her condo to match her personality and style.
One project she recently finished was updating her guest bathroom. The space was completely transformed with a few minor and affordable changes. She added a calming sage green to the walls, painted the vanity cabinet white, repurposed some of her art, along with a new light fixture & mirror-she now has an oasis of calm. Adding some color to the walls is such a small thing, but what a huge change it can make to a room!
In other words, clear your space, and it will clear your mind.
These are just a few small tips that have worked for me, and I hope they will help you. Let me know how you’ve been doing during this time in the comment section. I’d love to hear how you’ve managed to stay sane and been able to get out of bed in the morning and face the next crazy day.