Dealing with Stress During Covid 19
This is a tumultuous time! During the various shut downs that are happening across the world and election uncertainty, everyone has different ways to deal with stress. As Christmas approaches, those feelings intensify for most people. I am going to diverge from service dog training on this post and share what I do for self-care in case it might be helpful to some of you! All of these things help me to cope with the stress that is going on in the world. If you want to learn more about what happens to the body during stress, check out our "Stress and the Service Dog" webinar. It applies to us humans as much as it does the dogs!
Remember the Serenity Prayer
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Let things go that you can’t control. Have you ever looked up the definition of ‘worry’? Look it up now! Avoid worrying about things you can’t control. Do what you can now, but be realistic about your level of control over a specific situation.
Turn off the Media
The media is focussed on the negatives in the world. While you can certainly stay in touch with a daily read, watch or listen, avoid living moment to moment all day with it in the background. Most of the topics they publish are designed to earn advertising dollars. Most of it is doom, gloom and hype at least in my opinion. Negativity and death sells. Positivity does not. In fact the media has a separate category for “feel good” stories that’s how few and far between they are! Monitor yourself after you want a newscast. Do you feel better or worse about your situation? If it’s worse, you definitely need to cut down how much you want. See your definition of worry in the paragraph above.
Do What you Enjoy Doing at Least Once Every Day!
Allow yourself to get lost in it. Turn off your phone, computer and tv. Turn on some music you enjoy. For me, nature makes me happy and the hours go by quickly and enjoyably. I go for a backwoods walk with my dogs. I collect pine cones. I poke about in streams and ponds. I feed and tend to my fish and raise live food for them. I also enjoy doing crafts. In the evening, I turn on a happy movie and do my crafts. I also love reading both fiction and non-fiction. Right now, I am rereading Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It's a perfect topic for now!
Connect With Others
Connecting can help us to feel less alone. I phone my mom and stick to positive topics. I web chat my sister and we do crafts together. It feels like we are sitting in the same room crafting together. I call up friends and colleagues for a chat or in-person outside walk. Bruce (my spouse) and I do activities together a few times a week (watch movies, take the dogs out, do a craft we both enjoy, do something towards home improvement etc). That might be something as simple as putting up the Christmas lights, raking the yard or more complex like building a stand for our aquariums. Anything that is sure to be stressful such as big projects have been shelved for now as we don't have the spoons or bandwidth to deal with them should they go sideways. Big projects tend to do that! Smiley wink!
On Thanksgiving (early October in Canada), I took Lucy (my dog) for a walk and I noticed a woman sitting on a bench near our local arena. Since she was by herself, I thought she might appreciate someone wishing her Happy Thanksgiving! She did and 2 hours later after discovering we had so much in common, we had developed a fast friendship! Plans were made for another meeting! I forgot to mention, this woman is 91 years old and still living on her own! I thought she was much younger! Now that’s highly motivating to meet someone like that!
Spend Time with Your Dog
I train and play with my senior dogs. I may teach them something new or polish something already known. Sometimes we just hang out and cuddle on the couch watching TV. I make sure to get them both out for a daily walk. Sometimes it’s just a sniff walk, others it is a long brisk walk to the Post Office. They enjoy a massage now and then as well as husbandry stuff like doing teeth, nail and ears. That can be fun too if you take it slow and use food and toys to desensitize.
Find Ways to Help Other People
That takes your focus off you and you can help other people. Three examples come to mind. My senior neighbour went into the hospital a few months ago and she was just admitted to a senior care home. She is sitting in there alone and knows no-one in town but us and her house cleaner she’s had for years. Her son lives a 4 hour ferry trip away. So I make her cards, write a chatty note in each and often include a small home-made gift to cheer her up. Then I drive down to the hospital and drop the card/gift at the front door. I know she appreciates it as I got a phone call one night from her after we came home. I can hardly wait to call her once she is settled in her new place! I also pick up her mail from home and safe keep it until her son comes as well. These outings double as a car ride for the dogs and I might stop somewhere for a walk with them in a new location.
My second example involves my mom. She is 93 years old and lives in a senior care home that is in total lock down (in another province). That means no access for her to even go for a walk outside her building which my mom loves to do. In the winter they do not even let them out on the patio for fresh air (plus it’s also well below freezing where she lives.) I contacted the head nurse and asked her if I could prepare some craft materials for the residents and ship it to them. She enthusiastically agreed. A week later the parcel arrived and the residents were making happy pine cone flowers for a flower wall. I also send cards and parcels to my mom. Even if she forgets it a minute after she opens them, at least she had a minute of happiness! Everyone likes to receive a present! And occasionally she does remember and thanks me for thinking of her!
A third example is putting some thought into what food or items might be of interest and helpful to someone living in shut down. A care package, if you will! This Christmas, mom is going to get a fruit basket from us. In the care home, they offer a limited selection of both fruit and vegetables and mom misses the ones that the rest of us have easy access to at the grocery store. Believe it or not, apples are luxury, not because they don’t get them, but because of the type of apple they choose to make available. Hard green apples that no-one likes end up getting thrown out. Seniors with dentures have a hard time biting into them. I send softer and well-known apples like Spartans and MacIntoshes. These are easy for a senior with limited hand dexterity and strength to cut with a butter knife and chew. Staff are often too busy to take the time to even slice up an apple! Look at the limitations they have and what you could send that would make life easier and more enjoyable.
Last year, I sent mom a fruit platter just before Christmas and a veggies platter just before New Year’s Day. Of course, she got to share it with the other residents and staff! This was a bonus as she enjoys sharing as it makes her the centre of attention. In previous years, my sister sent a roll of stamps, envelopes and writing paper. Mom loved to write letters and thank you’s so this fit her needs perfectly as she couldn’t get out to a post office! What else might someone need?
Work on Projects that are Meaningful to You!
I love writing and I particularly love writing about things that allow me to spend more time in my happy place! My most recent project is writing up a nature blog for the crafts I am working on and the animals I am culturing. It is so simple with technology now to take a photo every now and then during the creation process. Then I get to write a description up and put a bit of my personality into the writing. I get to lay things out my way! The photos get added in as I write! Fun! Check out my new blog! www.naturecraftsandcritters.com
Get Daily Brisk Exercise
By brisk, I mean your heart rate increases a little above what you normally get when you walk or exercise.The key is to aim for a minimum of 12 minutes. I almost didn't include this as it is so ingrained in my daily activities, but it is key. It doesn't matter what you do, even if you are limited to sitting in a chair, you can get your heart rate up. I made a pledge to every dog that comes in my home that they will get out and do some form of brisk exercise every day. That makes it easy for me to get it too. Be careful not to just toss a ball though as while the dog might get a good work out, only your arm does. That is not enough for your health or to relieve stress.
Another really basic but often overlooked way to de-stress is to eat fresh foods. Even if all you do it swap out some fresh fruit or vegetable for processed food or sugar product, that will help! Sugar causes inflammation and inflammation is stressful on your body.
Sign up for Free Webinars and Group Chats
There are literally tons of them being hosted by great dog training organizations. The one I sign into every week is the Karen Pryor "Live from the Ranch” where Ken Ramirez hosts different guest speakers and they show live training of different animals and also host a weekly challenge! You will get some new ideas about training and if you need CEU’s you can use these for that too! Here’s a link: https://theranch.clickertraining.com/live/
Check to see if online conferences or memberships you have previously signed up for still give you access to the presentations. I attended Fenzi Dog Sports Academy's conference and have not yet made my way through all of the speaker presentations. As an IAABC Supporting member, I have access to a library of webinars. I have watched most of them but new ones are also being added. What do you already have access to that you are not using? Podcasts are another good resource that is free. There are many that I have really enjoyed listening to.
Jenn Hauta and I have also started to check in more often with students in our Service Puppy and Foundation Skills classes. Our goal is to help students connect with others so they can be accountable in training. Nothing heavy, just putting face to a name at first, then setting a simple goal each week. It’s so fun to see the faces week to week! We might even use a Facebook room now and then in the bigger SDTI student and alumni group. Watch for it!
While it might sound like I am going great guns, I also find it important to give myself plenty of down time. That gives me time to process what is going on. I am not busy all the time. I tend to schedule only one activity per day. The rest is just the process of living.
I allow myself twice a day to keep in touch with the outside world via e-mail and social media and do some related research to see the basis of claims I read, but then I shut it off. I try to make sure I am off social media at least an hour before bedtime.
It is so freeing to be able to walk away and not worry about what is happening! At the same time, if I feel I CAN do something, then I will. I will do it and let it go. I find action is the thing that helps me deal with things when I am feeling like the world is out of control. I control the things I can, and let go of the others. Maybe at some point in the future I will be able to do something as things change. I will be ready when that time comes.
Building a Better Balance in Life That Works for Each of Us is Important.
Just like in training a service dog, we will have to experiment a little before we find what works for us! And what works today may not work next month. Life is ever-changing and interesting! More positive things are to come in the future. Hang in there! Feel free to take one or more of my ideas and make them your own!