Coping with a chronic condition like arthritis can be challenging at the best of times. So during extraordinary circumstances, taking care of our physical and mental health becomes even more important. Self-care is an important part of ensuring we have the energy and strength to be more present for others. Here are 15 tips to help you manage while keeping physical and social distance.

1. Recognize that anxiety and fear are normal

It’s normal to feel some fear and anxiety at times like this. Acknowledging that these are normal responses can help us find ways to cope with our emotions. For tips on how to challenge your worries and anxious thoughts, check out this useful PDF resource from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

2. Take control where you can 

Referring to the work of Steven Covey, Dr. Patricia Fisher states that we have four choices when faced with an unpleasant or stressful situation. “We can accept it, we can change it, we can change the way we deal with it, [or] we can escape from it.” We need to recognize we always have a place to find a sense of control, either over the situation or over how we choose to deal with it.  

3. Create a sense of structure and routine

One way to help regain a sense of control is to set and follow a daily routine. Create and stick to a schedule for work, leisure, chores, meals, physical activity and sleep. Schedule ways to stay active at home. Incorporate relaxation or meditation exercises into your routine to help you manage stress and anxiety. Catch up on other tasks or projects at home. Do things that you normally love to do, like puzzles, reading, watching TV and listening to music.

4. Get off to a good start

Allow yourself enough time in the morning to get ready for your day.  Take the time to shower, brush your teeth, eat breakfast and get dressed. Try to fit in some exercise, stretching or journaling. Keeping up good hygiene and a morning routine can help maintain a sense of normalcy and lift your mood.

5. Have a plan and prepare ahead

There are actions we can take now to help reduce uncertainty. If grocery delivery services are available in your area and within your budget, order groceries and stock up with a two-week supply. Or arrange to have family, friends or a community member pick up groceries for you. If you’re taking medication, ask your pharmacist if they deliver and ensure you have at least a two-week supply. Make a list of important phone numbers and keep it handy, including your doctor, public health office and pharmacist.

6. Stay active

It may be tempting to give up our healthy habits in times of stress, but this is when they become the most important. Look online for activities you can do from home. The Arthritis Society’s Top 10 Exercises and Yoga Video can help you get moving. You may also want to visit our Staying Active online module for more tips.

7. Eat well

Ensure you are fueling your body with healthy foods. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol. Eat fewer foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and increase the amount of whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain vitamins and nutrients that have been associated with controlling moods, and your blood sugar will be more stable, meaning fewer mood and energy swings. Eat fish and skinless poultry more often than red meats and prepare some meatless meals. For more information, visit the Arthritis Society’s Eating Well online module.

8. Practice meditation and mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can help lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce pain and stress hormone levels and enhance our sense of well-being. You may want to try the following simple mindfulness activity: First, take notice of 5 things you can see. Look around and make note of your environment. Next, pay attention to 4 things you can hear. After that, notice 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. For more activities and tips, visit the Arthritis Society’s Mental Health and Well-Being online module.

9. Connect with others

Being physically distant does not mean you can’t stay connected! Make time to catch up with friends and family by phone, email or online video chat. There are a number of free apps or software programs you can download to make video calls to your loved ones. Set up an online coffee date with a friend or play an online trivia game with a relative.

10. Limit your media consumption

While it’s important to stay informed, sometimes the news and social media can be overwhelming. Try to limit checking news to once per day or less and ensure your news sources reference credible organizations, like the World Health Organization, Health Canada or your provincial/territorial Ministry of Health. Set aside time to unplug from all screens (computer, TV and phone). Disconnect for a while from social media. Do something fun and healthy for yourself instead, like reading or exercising.    

11. Seek extra help or support when needed

We all need a little help sometimes. If you’re struggling to cope, tap into people and resources who can help you manage. Reach out to a friend or neighbour if you need help getting groceries or medication. If you’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19, you can learn more about funding and supports for individuals through the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. If you need to connect with community services in your area, visit 211.ca online or dial 2-1-1 from your phone to reach an information specialist. You can also learn about mental health services and resources from websites such as ementalhealth.ca. If you are in a crisis, call Crisis Services Canada for free at 1-833-456-4566 or in an emergency, dial 9-1-1.

12. Practice good sleep hygiene

If you’re working from home, try to avoid working in the bedroom and keep it as a space for sleep only. Turn off all screens an hour before bed and take some time to unwind. You could read a book, take a bath or listen to music. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to establish a sleep routine. For more sleep tips, check out the Arthritis Society’s 10 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep article and the sleep section of our online module on Overcoming Fatigue.

13. Take advantage of free resources

There are a number of free digital resources that can help you manage the stress of COVID-19 and find ways to relax. You can look up guided meditations online or download a free app to your phone.    

14. Talk openly with children

This can be a difficult time for children who may not fully understand why their schools are closed or the purpose of social distancing. It’s important to model healthy responses and explain the COVID-19 situation in an honest way that they can understand. Acknowledge their worries and explain the risk of getting sick as well as what might happen if they do get infected. Describe what you are doing to keep them and yourself safe. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and reassure them that children who do get the virus often get a mild case.

15. Take a structured approach to problem-solving

Sometimes our problems can seem overwhelming if we try to tackle everything at once. Breaking problems down into smaller chunks can make them seem more manageable and help restore a sense of control. CAMH’s resource on Dealing with Problems in a Structured Way PDF can help you take a step-by-step approach to overcoming any challenges you might face.


Sources:
1. Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.  (2020).  COVID-19 and Anxiety.  HeretoHelp.  https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/covid-19-and-anxiety
2. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  (2020).  Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic.  CAMH.  https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19
3. Chief Health as cited in Youthab.  (2020).  30 Ways to Practice Self-Care:  Take Care of Yourself.  Youthab.  https://www.youthab.ca/articles/30-ways-to-practice-self-care-take-care-of-yourself
4. Esposito, Linda.  (2020).  10 Smart, Simple Self-Care Tips for Solid Mental Health.  Wired for Happy.  https://wiredforhappy.com/best-selfcare-mental-health/
5. Huang, Pien.  (2020 March 26).  COVID-19 Self Care:  Tips from the World Health Organization.  NPR.  https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/26/822114301/covid-19-self-care-tips-from-the-world-health-organization
6. MindWell-U Training Inc.  (2020 March 25).  Ten Ways to Stay Well During the COVID-19 Pandemic.  MindWell.  https://www.mindwellu.com/post/mindfulness-during-the-covid-19-pandemic
7. Tend Academy.  (2020 March 26).  Leaders are People Too:  Staying Well During COVID-19 – an interview with Dr. Patricia Fisher.  Tend.  https://www.tendacademy.ca/leaders-are-people-too/
8. Your Happy Place.  (2019 February 28).  18 Self-Care Tips for Managing Your Mental Health.  Your Happy Place.  https://www.yourhappyplace.co/wellbeing/18-self-care-tips-for-mental-health/

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