This is the second of two parts about what we can do for our health and wellness during the Covid pandemic, from breast cancer survivors on the Pathways Study Community Advisory Board. Here they share how they cope: connecting with people; taking a break; breathing deeply, meditating or praying; asking for support; getting sleep; gratitude; and focusing on moving forward. Research has shown that all of these can help our mental and our physical health. (Check out the first part for ideas on moving our bodies and eating well.)
Connect with people
It’s so important for us to be with others and not be alone all the time. Mia, like some other CAB members, lives alone. She said, “Staying connected to people (beyond work Zoom calls) has been difficult.”
Spending time with family and friends was a big part of Pam’s life. Many of us are finding new ways to get together, through video calls, online gatherings on Zoom, or meeting in parks and other outdoor spaces at a distance. For Pam, camping is her happy place. While she can’t hang out with family and friends like she did before Covid, she said, “we did start to camp again at some point and it has made a big difference. It's different, but since it's outside it provides a way to see some of our family and friends.”
Mary is enjoying “prayer sessions and book club geared to self-help, both are on Zoom.” And she’s making friends online. “I wouldn't have met these people if I hadn't participated in the online activities,” she noted.
Still, many of us miss being able to touch others. “The biggest change,” said Mary, “is the physical contact. I miss the hugging. I miss social gatherings.” Pam has been looking for a safe way to hug her grandson. We each need to decide for ourselves about what risks we are willing to take.
In June, Mary and her husband found out that we are going to be first time grandparents! “I was excited, but sad at the same time because my daughter lives in the Los Angeles area. We got a trailer to keep our distance from strangers while we headed down to see my daughter. I am grateful and thankful that I am able to go visit, especially when the baby is due.”
Take a break
Not everyone is alone. Some of us are now spending all our time at home with many other people, trying to work there while kids are doing their schoolwork. Listening to music, watching a comedy, and reading or listening to a book can take us away from our daily stress. Mia said, “I listen to books while walking and it is a time when I can just get away from it all. The exercise is good for my body and getting taken away into a plot is great for my mental health.”
Sara told us that when she feels depression is pulling at her, she tries “to help other people with their problems to keep busy and my mind occupied.” Another way to lower stress is to take a break from news or social media. Experts suggest limiting our time with bad or negative news which can make us anxious. Check in with what your body is feeling and find something else to do, like play with a pet or go outside when you are getting stressed.
Breathe deep, meditate or pray
Meditation and deep breathing can calm us immediately. In only one minute we can reduce stress and anxiety! Mary finds praying quiets her mind. When we take time to slow our breathing, we can slow our pulse. When we are aware of our thoughts and feelings, we are better able to manage our responses to them.
Check out apps on a smartphone or tablet to guide you:
- Headspace (guided meditation and mindfulness)
- MyLife/Stop, Breathe & Think (guided meditation and mindfulness)
- Insight Timer (meditation, yoga and sleep)
- UCLA Mindful (mindfulness meditation)
- Mindful USC (meditation and mindfulness)
- Virtual Hope Box (coping with depression)
- Smiling Mind (Australian, meditation, sleep, mindful eating)
Some healthcare systems have live, online classes on these topics and cancer centers may have some especially for cancer survivors. The AntiCancer Lifestyle Program has lessons, videos and more information about how to practice reducing stress.
Walking alone can be a moving meditation, a chance to look at trees, flowers, water, birds or other homes and breathe deeply. Just being in a park, in a garden or on a street with trees can lower stress. Being in green spaces, or near water, has been shown to improve mood and mental health.
Ask for support
We all need help from time to time and it is okay to ask for support. Talking to someone in a safe space can help us figure out what we’re feeling. Sharing those feelings can help ease the burden of keeping whatever it is that’s bothering us a secret. And, by talking to someone and sharing our experience, we form closer connections with the people we trust.
We may need support from someone outside our circle. Women sometimes feel that we can’t ask for help because we are supposed to care for others. People in some cultures may not be used to talking about emotions or mental health. Sara shared that she has always suffered with depression and other health issues. Since the pandemic, she said, “I started to reach out to my doctor for some kind of therapy.” If you are struggling or wondering about your mental health, Mental Health America offers online screening, tools and support. Check your health insurance or find local community sources of help or use a national helpline.
Get your sleep
Sleep has a big impact on both our physical health and emotional well-being. Stress can affect our sleep and lack of sleep can make stress worse. You can prioritize sleep by setting a bedtime for yourself, keeping devices and screens out of the bedroom, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine. In addition to apps (like Insight Timer), there is a lot of advice for improving our sleep, including 10 Tips to Beat Insomnia and 27 Tips to Help You Sleep Better or a shorter list A Good Night’s Sleep (especially for older adults).
Did you know that seeing the good in our lives can help us feel better? Mia is committed to practicing gratitude every day. What does this mean? Just take a moment every day to think about 3 things that you are grateful for in your life. It helps to keep things in perspective and increase our positivity. You can learn more about the practice of gratitude online from 3 ideas in a short article to a list of 40 things you can try.
Mary says that we may have “the thought that you can't do this, that you can't do that. But you can actually do many things with caution and mindfulness. You can do it but you do it differently. The mentality has to shift.” For Pam, the pandemic has made her think about what is important and remember what she wanted in life. She is planning a big change!