Shaken not scared: Coping in the time of the new normal

My niece Diana Page is a nurse practitioner who works in a busy outpatient practice in southern Maine. Back in January (2020) she launched a blog called Selfcare Catalyst. Her reason for starting it was to help guide healthcare providers away from burnout to a well-balanced life. And then the coronavirus pandemic hit and her compassionate calming messages are suddenly healing for all of us. In this essay that she wrote for Catching Health, Diana shares how she and her young family are coping and also imparts some of her caregiving wisdom.

Diana Page

I think we can all agree that this pandemic has shaken our lives to the core and our lives have completely changed in an instant. I honestly think I am still shell shocked. Things are changing quickly and it seems like a bit of a whirlwind at times. BUT that being said, I have been trying to step away from fear, uncertainly and anxiety and focus on what I CAN do. This is imperative for my ability to cope and in maintaining some sort of routine and “normal” life amongst the chaos.

Having a routine is hard these days! Parents are homeschooling while also trying to work from home, teachers are working remotely, healthcare workers are risking their lives to care for patients with inadequate equipment and our day to day life has been altered. Every day I still get dressed, brush my teeth, eat breakfast, shower, etc. This helps! Whatever your morning routine typically is, try to stick with it.

I have also become a germaphobe overnight. We are wiping down everything, careful to stay more than 6 feet away from people in public and I have even started to look at our mail differently (you guys are doing this too right?!)… I look at a package on my stoop thinking to myself… hey, where have you been… who touched you… how long does the virus stay on cardboard? These are not thoughts I have ever had in the past and I think it’s a sign I need to decrease my anxiety levels and maintain a level of self-care and community support.

A little bit about me: I’m a nurse practitioner working in the outpatient setting aka not in the hospital. I am working full time seeing patients using telemedicine (which is a learning curve in and of itself). I have two toddlers who are home from daycare and a husband who is now working remotely. Oh, and I write a blog called Selfcare Catalyst. It’s looney!

Initially, when this all hit, I have to say the stress in this household was at an all-time high. Not just due to the uncertainly of the pandemic itself and how it was spreading around the world but also how it was affecting our community, health care workers, and local businesses. It was also having a huge effect on our job structure, families, responsibilities, etc. As time has passed, we have implemented some pretty healthy coping strategies and some level of routine. Nothing is perfect but these things have helped us adjust to the new normal while we weather this storm. Here are some ideas based on what we’ve done!

For the household

Write out what needs to be done in different categories like daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks, etc. Communicate who is in charge of each task and check in with each other. This can evolve it is just nice to have some structure and routine. Oh and added bonus, it prevents bickering!

Meal planning!  Since going to the supermarket is a no-go (hello, social distancing!) and supplies are limited let’s conserve resources and use what we have on hand.  Look in your pantries, freezers, fridge, etc and come up with meal ideas and write out what you will do each day for dinner. Make it fun. This may give you an opportunity to try something new, try a new recipe, or even use that random can of artichoke hearts you didn’t know what to do with. Try not to waste food or go to the supermarket more than once a week!  Be creative with leftovers. If you cook up a huge amount maybe offer some to an elderly neighbor! This has saved us a ton of time and stress.

Have kids?  Put them to work! Give children age-appropriate chores. This will help them feel like they are contributing to the house, help them feel a sense of accomplishment and give them some routine. Kids inherently love to be helpers so embrace it! Just don’t expect them to Marie Kondo your clothes… be flexible! Our son loves to help out so we are embracing that and encouraging it.

Working from home

Working from home is an adjustment for everyone. If you and your spouse are both working from home try to give each other your own working space or take breaks. Switch on and off with kid duties, pet duties, etc. Get up and walk around every once in a while. Make sure you eat meals and stay hydrated. Try to make sure where ever you are working is ergonomically decent and stretch every now and then.  You don’t need more spasm in your neck muscles!

Take care of yourself, too

Schedule time for self-care! On that calendar where you wrote out your daily/weekly tasks also schedule time for self-care and quality time with your partner. I know that sounds extreme but by scheduling it like you would an appointment or a work deadline you will commit to it.  Take time every day to have “me time”, quiet time, time to practice self-care and self-love. You deserve this and your mental health depends on it. Self-care can look different to everyone but the key is finding something that brings you joy, helps you become present and provides some peace and awareness. Some things that have worked really well for me during this time:

  • Breathwork and meditation techniques. I have both the headspace app and the 10% happier app which are both great for this purpose. Last week I had a particularly hard day and was finding it difficult to cope and when I got home I did a short breathwork session (one geared toward nurses) and it was incredible how much better I felt even just after 5 minutes of doing these techniques.
  • Getting outside!  Ecotherapy! It’s amazing what a little fresh air can do!
  • Move your body! You can do this any way you want. Just move!  Be creative. You don’t have to run a marathon. Even just walking, yoga and stretching can help your mental and physical health. Have a dance party with your kids! Aim to move your body every day for at least 20-30 minutes. The more the better. There are a lot of studios steaming their classes for free online and lots on YouTube as well for yoga, dance, aerobics, etc. My husband has been doing yoga DVDs every day and it has been really helpful for him.
  • Journaling can be a great way to process your thoughts. I have journaled for a long time which is probably why I enjoy writing my blog. Combining journaling with your yoga or breathwork can be very healing and calming. You don’t have to show anyone. It is just a great way to make sense of WHAT you are feeling and WHY you are feeling that way. I find it is particularly helpful before bedtime. It’s almost like a metaphorical “shelving” of your busy mind by getting it out on paper and putting it away before lights out. Tip: don’t focus on too much negativity. It’s ok to get it out but also try to channel some positive thoughts. Instead of “why” statements like “why me, why is this happening!?”  try “what” statements like “what can I do to make my mornings less stressful, or “what can I do to support myself better”.
  • Connecting with others: We have been calling and FaceTiming more people than usual. We have been making an effort to reach out to older adults and to friends we haven’t talked to in a long time. The kids and I have also really liked FaceTiming with other families.  It gives the kids a chance to “be kids” with other kids which is so important given that they have been removed from their usual social life at daycare. My 4-year-old son even FaceTimed with his best friend from daycare. It was pretty much a bunch of giggles and random noises but they had a blast! It has also been really helpful for me to talk to and vent with other healthcare providers during this time as well. It has been incredibly stressful at times. It has been really validating and soothing to talk to others about how I have been feeling and hear how they are doing and what they are doing to take care of themselves both mentally and physically.
  • Listen to music and have a family dance party! We have been listening to a lot of music and my kids both love to boogie (although I think my son is already embarrassed by my moves!) Dancing is another great way to move your body and boost mood! We have been listening to all different types of music anything from Shakira and Lady Gaga to Johnny Cash and the Beach Boys. It’s a blast and has brought us so much closer too.
  • Express gratitude.  No eye rolls, please! Really, it matters and it helps to think about what we are grateful for and acknowledge it. I have been taking time every morning to think about three things I am grateful for. You can say it out loud or just think about it. But don’t rush it. Be intentional about it. It’s a really wonderful way to start the day with positivity, hope, and optimism. I even created a 10-day gratitude challenge through my blog which is a nice jump start for anyone having trouble thinking of how to start doing this.
  • Then, of course, all the usual self-care fun stuff like watching a good movie, giving yourself permission to put your feet up with a cup of coffee, taking a warm bath, cooking a nice meal, eating some girl scout cookies, reading a good book or magazine, doing a craft, putting together a photo book, looking at old photos and reminiscing, playing a board game, taking a nap… self-care will look different to everyone but the key is caring for you and filling your cup. By doing so you are stronger, healthier and wiser in your quest to help others. If you feel the news is overwhelming turn it off, take a break. It’s ok to unplug.
  • This too shall past.  Take care of yourselves. By doing so you will be better equipped to cope with the stressors around it will make you a better caregiver to others.

Hang in there everyone!  I will continue to update my blog with helpful recourses for you all. I post quite of bit of helpful tools on Instagram and Facebook as well that you won’t find on the blog itself. I am always here to support you in any way I can!

~Diana Page, ACNP-BC

Resources

Check out some of the resources available on Diana’s blog Selfcare Catalyst.

Something to make you smile

Diana’s sweet babies

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.