As the situation with the coronavirus unfolds among our nation, the mental load it is taking continues to reach new heights.
Two weeks ago my husband and I were passively discussing a late spring vacation, and today, like so many other families, we are confined to our homes with our kids out of school for an indefinite amount of time.
Each day—actually each hour—tends to bring more breaking news...more deaths, more virus cases, more closures. And it is taking a toll on all of us.
Last week, I obsessively consumed online media and news about the coronavirus well into the late hours of the night, and way past my normal (8:30 pm) bedtime. I thought about it as I went to sleep and as soon as I woke up. And not surprisingly, I could feel the anxiety taking over, especially as I tried to fall asleep.
I am a pediatric sleep consultant, so I know how important sleep is. Right now, quality sleep is particularly vital to our physical and mental health. Getting a solid 7-9 hours of sleep at night for adults (and 10-12 hours for kids) is one of the best ways to keep our immune system healthy and equipped to fight off illness. But we can't do that if we are replacing rest with worry and stress.
If you are feeling anxious, mama, you are not alone. But it is crucial during these extraordinary times that you prioritize your mental health—including getting enough rest.
Here are a few ways you can make that happen this week:
1. Turn off your devices two hours before bed.
It is important to stay informed, especially so we can do our part to flatten the curve and protect our families and our communities. But we need to set a limit on our consumption of media now more than ever and especially while our children are watching.
Instead of looking at your phone or watching tv before bed, try reading a low-key book or engaging in conversation with your partner or a friend (talking about something other than the coronavirus).
2. Take time to check in with yourself.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and anxious in the evening, make a cup of tea or hot water and take some calming breaths. Maybe try a short meditation or prayer. When we stop and breathe intentionally, we invite fresh oxygen into our brain and our body's relaxation response is quickly ignited, helping to suppress anxiety and stress.
3. Set a bedtime for yourself.
Think of it as a date or an appointment in your calendar and do your best to stick to it. Without having an idea of when you should be in bed in order to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, it is far too easy to watch one more Netflix episode or spend 10 more minutes on your phone (which let's be honest, easily turns into hours). During this time where things feel a bit unstructured, sticking to a bedtime for your entire family can help bring back some normalcy.
4. Find a way to exercise.
Even though your weekly workout class might be canceled, there are so many other ways you can move your body throughout the day. Many individuals are offering free online classes right now from the popular Tone It Up community to yoga studios, as it is so important that we all keep moving and stay as active as possible. Not only will this get your heart rate up, but it will also help you get more sound and restful sleep.
5. Journal your thoughts.
For years, I have kept a journal on my nightstand so I can jot down the things that inevitably come to mind as soon as I lay down. Research has shown that writing down your thoughts before bed can help promote sleep and decrease anxiety. (Specifically, if you are focusing on the things you are grateful for.)
The daily load that we carry as mothers is already heavy. And it has now just become monumental for millions of parents around the world as we struggle to balance working from home, caring for our children (or potentially sick loved ones), drastically changing our daily routines and trying to do so with as much grace as possible.
The reality of this situation is that things are going to look different for all of us for the foreseeable future, and most of this is completely out of our control. So doing what we can to take care of ourselves and our families—including prioritizing rest to overcome those feelings of fear—is what you need right now, mama.
It's what we all need.