Coping with COVID-19

By Brenna Topham, RDN, LD


This is not a normal time. Your reactions, feelings, and thoughts about this time, however, are completely normal. We are in times of uncertainty and food insecurity. These are two most basic needs. Therefore, we can’t expect too much of ourselves during the pandemic.


It’s ok to not be perfect.


Are you feeling one of these?

Being definitely not okay.

Being in denial and feeling ‘fine’.

Being overwhelmed and not sure what to think.


Daily life is disrupted, so some mix of emotions is likely going to occur. Maybe you're relieved to be out of school or working from home, and maybe there’s some guilt with that- after all, this is a serious world event and feeling a ‘positive’ emotion seems frowned upon. Maybe you’re feeling panicked, and think you should calm down and not worry. Maybe you’re angry that events got cancelled. Maybe you’re concerned that yourself or a loved one will  fall seriously ill. The situations and emotions are limitless!


Maslow's hierarchy of needs explains this concept:


from simplepsychology.org


You cannot reach the upper tiers until each one below is fulfilled. So, even if your job is great and you have lots of friends, you are not going to meet other needs unless you have security, food, and water.


COVID-19 is interesting in the fact that it affects ALL of humanity. This has never happened before. We’ve never faced a disease this bad AND had the ability to stop it. Before technology, no one had the option of social distancing. This is a novel learning experience for all of humanity.


Be forgiving with yourself.

No one is making perfect decisions right now.


You’re likely to overlook simple tasks at work from being distracted by the news. Maybe you lose your temper and yell at your kids from feeling overwhelmed with stress after trying to get bread at  the packed grocery store. Maybe thoughts from past eating disorders start creeping back in, or behaviors get worse.


Here are some gentle guidelines to help you cope with COVID-19:


Do’s

1. Forgive yourself: Mistakes are more than okay. Emotions will be stirred up, and sometimes regretful actions come with them. Just notice and respond the best you can. No matter how bizarre you think your emotions are right now, I guarantee at least one other human is having the same one.


2. Eat what you have: I often tell my clients that it’s better to eat plain white sugar than it is to not eat. Maybe you don’t have access to every food group on your meal plan. Doing what you can is more than okay right now! Allow yourself breaks in the day to have snacks and a full lunch, even if it’s not a “perfect” (there really is no perfect) meal.


3. Reach out: If you’re financially impacted, let your therapist and/or dietitian know so we can brainstorm how to maintain where you are in recovery. If you aren’t yet with a provider, now is a great time to reach out. It’s never a burden to help you, even in a pandemic!


4. Search for free online activities: Dance parties, support groups, yoga classes are being offered for free by many providers. YouTube has free hobby tutorials and movement classes available 24/7. I personally love Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. Take advantage and keep yourself from getting bored! (links are at the end of this article)


5. Meditate: Reflect on what’s going well. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. This soothes the vagus nerve, which is responsible for fight/flight response and hunger/fullness cues. Let whatever thoughts and feelings come up, like leaves on a stream. Watch them float away.


Don'ts


1. Feel guilt if you’re happy right now: Sometimes a change from school or work is appreciated, no matter the cause. Even if there are people hurting, it’s okay to appreciate the fact that you are not. There’s room for happiness right now!


2. Let your anxiety go unmanaged: This is not the end of the world, but it is SO EASY to believe it is right now. If you’ve noticed, thoughts feel tangled, tummy problems, you’ve become easy to startle, and lack of sleep- you’re most likely experiencing anxiety. Take your mind off the situation by focusing on learning something new- like drawing, dancing, or sudoku!


3. Give up your goals: Sure, some plans might need to be paused; weddings, graduations, conferences, family reunions, etc are being cancelled. Feel sad and mad about it! It’s so normal and expected. But, don’t lose hope that your goals are failures and will never get done. Eventually, the world will return to normal and we will resume with our goals.


4. Isolate: Maybe you can’t physically be there with someone, but you can virtually! Internet providers are offering lower or free internet costs, if this is a barrier. Find a support group, play online bingo, Facetime drinks with friends. Find ways to connect even if you can’t be there in person.


5. Compare yourself to others: You mean you've been home for 1 week and haven't cleaned the whole house, learned how to homeschool your kids, and gotten a promotion at work? Just kidding- It’s ok if all you do right now is sit around and catch up on shows. While some might be learning 6 new languages and doing schoolwork months in advance or pioneer some new way to work, that’s not expected or needed from everyone. We all cope in different ways and it’s okay to take it easy right now.


Anxiety is awesome fuel for creative thoughts.

Use it to try something new instead of focusing on the news! Below are a few of my suggestions:


5-minute Guided Meditation

Full Body yoga

Nature sketching

Baby Yoda cartoon tutorial

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman dance class

Homemade French bread

Disney Sing-Alongs

Houston Symphony Online


Above all- please remember that we are all in this together. I think there's something beautiful about all of humanity coming together at once and pausing for our health.


Take care,

Brenna Topham, RDN, LD



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