With news of the COVID-19 virus coming at us from all directions, anxiety is running high, and it's important to stay mindful of self-care. During these unprecedented times of self-quarantine and social distancing, we must all take steps to ensure we stay healthy.
MD Anderson experts have offered the following advice:
- Find a healthy balance: Limit the time you listen to news about the virus and instead participate in healthy activities. It’s important to engage in a lifestyle that encourages resilience and a healthy balance between work and home life.
- Keep perspective: Use reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization to find your information. Being educated can help relieve anxiety and speculation.
- Take care of your body: Stress can impact many parts of our bodies, and can cause shortness of breath, sore muscles and even fatigue. To avoid these side effects, it’s important to take care of your body. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga can all help.
Rapidly changing news can cause anxiety, and your physical and emotional wellness are equally important. Please be mindful of your own personal needs and practice self-care.
Online support groups
As families face the uncertainties of a cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, MD Anderson's Social Work department is hosting WebEx support groups for patients and caregivers. Learn more about these sessions an how to register on our support groups information site.
Practicing social distancing is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of infection but it makes it hard to connect with others. If you would like to talk to someone who’s had a similar diagnosis, treatment or cancer experience, our survivor volunteers are available to connect with you by phone. You can use MyChart to request a unique match with a survivor volunteer. Send the myCancerConnection team a message asking for support or if you would like to give someone else support. myCancerConnection is a cancer support community of trained survivor and caregiver volunteers that offers free support to patients, caregivers and survivors regardless of where they receive treatment. Learn more about myCancerConnection.
If you’ve been feeling even more stressed than usual lately, you’re not alone. Many of us are struggling with so-called quarantine fatigue.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has completely upended life as we know it, requiring us to stay home a lot and adopt new habits like wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces frequently. It’s changed the way we work, made it harder to plan ahead and kept us from many of the activities and social interactions we enjoy. And, with the number of confirmed cases continuing to rise, life is unlikely to get back to “normal” any time soon.
So, what can you do to cope with your quarantine fatigue? Here are seven tips.
1) Understand that your feelings are normal
It is absolutely normal to be frustrated with the current situation. A lot of people report feeling “over it” or “done” with the pandemic. They’ve been cooped up for months, they’re bored and financially stressed, and it seems like the coronavirus is destroying their lives.
If you’re one of those people, please understand that there’s nothing wrong with you. Everyone is struggling right now. And it is totally normal to feel that way. This is a natural reaction to an unnatural situation. But it’s important to acknowledge these feelings without giving yourself permission to act on them in unhealthy ways.
2) Reframe your thinking
It can help to validate how you’re feeling — even if only privately — and then try to look at it from a more positive point of view.
For example, you might think, “I am so sick of this! But I’m going to keep doing it, because I care about other people, I know it’s important, and it takes everyone doing their part to make a difference.”
Focusing on the “whys” might seem silly, but it really does matter. So, consider what your sacrifice is actually accomplishing, and the lives you might be saving, including those of cancer patients, who are very vulnerable to COVID-19.
3) Redirect your attention to what’s possible
When your social life is very limited, it’s natural to imagine all the fun activities you feel like you’re missing out on. But the coronavirus pandemic isn’t just affecting you — it’s affecting everyone, across the globe. No one’s life has been untouched.
To counteract feelings of restriction, try focusing on what is available to you, rather than what isn’t.
For instance, you might think, “Well, I can’t go to a movie theater just yet, but I can still have a movie night here with my family.” Or, “I can’t go jogging with all my running buddies at the park right now, but I can still take a walk in the neighborhood with my dog.”
Because you do have options. You just might need a slightly different perspective — and some flexibility — to recognize them.
4) Don’t underestimate the value of a simple routine
Routines have gone out the window for many of us, but a little routine is still good. It helps you feel more stable and life feel a little less unpredictable.
So, try to establish at least one simple routine each day, even if it’s just getting up and getting dressed every morning. It’s fine to stay in your pajamas once in a while, but if you suddenly realize your entire wardrobe consists of “daytime” pajamas and “nighttime” pajamas, it might be time to reconsider your choices.
Even a change of scenery can improve your mood, so commit to going for a drive or a walk once a week in a direction you’ve never headed before or exploring an unfamiliar neighborhood on your bike. Sometimes, just stepping outside to retrieve the mail each day can make you feel less confined.
5) Step up your self-care efforts
Humans are hard-wired to connect with each other, so we do not hibernate well. That’s why taking good care of ourselves is more important than ever. It starts with getting enough sleep, staying physically active and eating healthy foods. But it can also mean indulging yourself in small, meaningful ways.
That may be something as simple as taking a leisurely bubble bath with soft music playing and candles around the tub. Or, planting a vegetable garden or taking up cycling. Always wanted to learn how to knit or sew or cook or meditate? Take advantage of the many free lessons online.
New experiences — even those undertaken solo — can make time feel less like a burden and more like a gift. So think about the things you’ve only dreamed about doing until now and consider ways to make them a reality.
6) Know your red flags
Everyone has limits. So, recognize when you’re about to hit yours, and take whatever healthy steps are necessary to feel better. For some people, that might mean phoning a friend to vent. For others, it might mean taking a walk around the block to calm down. For those in recovery, it might mean calling a sponsor.
Whatever it is, don’t judge yourself for craving relief. Most of us are getting really tired of being isolated. And, there is nothing wrong with you for seeking support.
MD Anderson patients who want professional help can always request a referral to one of our psychiatrists or social work counselors. Many are now offering virtual office visits. Patients can also contact one of our chaplains for spiritual support, or join one of our virtual support groups.
If you or someone you know is in danger of hurting themselves, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255 immediately. Counselors are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and offer free and confidential support.
7) Remember that everything is temporary
As hard as things might be right now, it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. Everything is temporary. So, know that there’s an end in sight. And someday, we will get past this crisis — even if “normal” never looks quite the same way again.
Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in our Integrative Medicine Center.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Karen Basen-Engquist. Ph.D., has managed to stay physically active during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to a recent study, she may be in the minority -- and she understands why.
In the unpublished study posted on Cambridge Open Exchange, researchers found that people who got the recommended amount of physical activity before the pandemic exercised about 32% less once the pandemic – and stay-at-home orders – took hold. People who were not getting the recommended amount of exercise before the coronavirus pandemic stayed at about the same level of activity.
“I’m not surprised by these study results,” says Basen-Engquist, director of MD Anderson’s Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship. “I think that when people are in stressful situations and there are barriers to healthy choices, healthy habits take a backseat.”
If you are struggling to stay active during the coronavirus pandemic, try this advice from Basen-Engquist.
Find tools that can help you stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic
“Videos and apps can provide you with structured routines that are easy to follow,” says Basen-Engquist.
Workouts that include body weight exercises like pushups and sit-ups and cardio exercises like jumping jacks and burpees can be done in small spaces with no weights or machines.
If you are worried about your joints, or your downstairs neighbors, low impact exercises and yoga are good options. You may even discover a new exercise routine you enjoy and will continue once social distancing guidelines are eased.
Build new habits during the coronavirus pandemic
A habit is something you don’t have to think about, triggered by consistent cues and strengthened by repetition.
Before the pandemic, laying out your running clothes each night may have been your cue to take a morning run. Over time, laying out the clothes and going for a run became a habit.
When your old habits get disrupted, says Basen-Engquist, “You have to accept that you need to do something different.”
Start by setting goals that are achievable under your current conditions. Decide how often you are going to exercise, and set yourself up for success by putting your workouts on your calendar.
Then create a trigger by getting comfortable clothes and shoes ready the night before. Finally, make exercise convenient by having your favorite workout videos bookmarked and easy to find.
By setting reasonable goals and removing barriers, you are more likely to create a new habit that sticks.
Get up and move every hour
Being stuck at home can mean long period of screen time and lots of sitting. It’s important to get up and move throughout the day.
“Sitting is risk factor for a number of health problems, even for people who exercise,” says Basen-Engquist. In other words, a strenuous workout won’t make up for a sedentary day.
To break up sitting time, get up and walk around your house or apartment for at least 2-3 minutes every hour. You can even march in place.
It’s OK to take a walk outside if you can maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.
Short breaks can boost your productivity, improve your cardiovascular health and ease the strain on your shoulders and joints that comes from sitting for a long time.
Don't wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end: start exercising now
It’s tempting to put exercise on the backburner with so much disruption and uncertainty in our lives. But putting a pause on exercise will just make it harder to start back up again.
“As soon as you stop exercising, you start losing fitness,” says Basen-Engquist.
Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week and perform strength training exercises at least twice a week.
Basen-Engquist’s recommendation: Do the best you can.
“If you can be physically active during this time, give yourself a pat on the back. It’s not an easy thing, and you are doing something really good for yourself,” she says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
As we each do our part to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by practicing social distancing and staying home, many of us are experiencing boredom, anxiety or even social isolation.
“We’re all going to have a new normal for a while,” says Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in our Integrative Medicine Center. “Try to be flexible and take it one day at a time.”
Despite how different your days may look now, you can still connect with loved ones and find satisfaction in what you accomplish. Here, Powers-James shares advice on ways to reduce the emotional effects of social distancing and stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay connected through virtual dates
“Luckily, we live in an age of technology,” says Powers-James. With apps and software supporting mobile video chatting, you can connect with many people around the world from your device. And, because we’re spending more time at home, we have the time to check in more often.
“Especially for people who live alone – trying to connect is very important,” says Powers-James. She suggests scheduling times to meet over video the same way you’d schedule an in-person get together.
Also, many gyms and churches are offering online sessions, which allow you to stay connected with your community, even when you can’t be with them physically. MD Anderson is offering online support groups for patients, family members and friends so they can meet others facing similar challenges.
Schedule some “me” time
With school closures and stay-at-home orders, many of us find ourselves home with our families more than ever. “We’re not meant to live in close quarters 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Powers-James says.
She suggests looking for opportunities for alone time, even if it’s just for a few minutes. “If you’re burned out or depressed, you’re not able to give your loved ones the attention they need,” Powers-James says. Take time for yourself to read, meditate or do a hobby you enjoy to help re-energize so that you can better support the people you love.
Have fun with your free time
Powers-James also recommends looking at this time together as an opportunity to connect. “Pull out a favorite board game and watch home movies, or do anything else that can bring you closer as a family,” she says.
Finding and trying new recipes, gardening or writing chalk messages on your driveway can be fun ways to spend time together.
And although it’s easy to spend more time in front of a screen, Powers-James recommends unplugging as often as you can. “Think about projects you can get done while you’re home,” she says. Organizing closets, cleaning out your pantry or finally vacuuming out your car are all things you can accomplish with your newfound free time.
If you’re just not feeling up to it, that’s OK, too. “Many of us are having difficulty focusing or we don't have the mental reserves to learn a new skill or be extra productive,” Powers-James says. “The most important thing is to take care of yourself.”
Make working from home work
If you’re working from home, it’s important to maintain a schedule, if you are able. Powers-James suggests logging in at the same time you would if you were in the office, but be realistic about what you’ll be able to accomplish in a modified work setting. “You’re probably not going to be able to give 110%,” she says. “Do what you can, and know that this is only temporary.”
“Most of us have never experienced anything like this to this extent in our lifetimes,” Powers-James says. “So be compassionate with yourself — and with others — as we all find our new normal.”
Focus on the positives
Although it’s natural to be concerned about contracting COVID-19, you shouldn’t let those thoughts consume you, Powers-James advises.
“Try redirecting your thoughts to something more positive,” she says. Doing things you enjoy, like listening to music or re-reading a favorite book, can help you get back to a better frame of mind.
Try taking walks outside, as long as you maintain a safe distance. “Seeing other people and getting fresh air can really help your mental health,” Powers-James says.
Practicing meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or Tai Chi can also help you manage anxiety in a healthy way. MD Anderson patients and caregivers can reach out to our Integrative Medicine Center for help accessing these services.
If your anxiety is significantly worse now on a regular basis than it was before COVID-19, Powers-James suggests seeking professional help.
Stay healthy at home
And, remember that we’re all going through similar challenges during this pandemic. “Not every day is going to be a good day, and that’s OK,” Powers-James says. “Try to maximize your good days, and be kind to yourself on the not-so-good days.”
Due to our response to COVID-19, all blood donations at MD Anderson
Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.