It’s day 195ish, but it feels like forever since COVID-19 and quarantine first rocked everybody’s world. Instead of things clearing up and people going on about their lives, life seems to be getting harder. For many, most days feel like slogging through thick fog and it’s really hard to see the road ahead. 

Perhaps you or someone you know is really struggling at the moment, wondering if the sadness is due to all that has happened or if something bigger is going on like depression or some other mental health issue.

First, let me just say, you’re not alone! We’re living in a moment in time where everything—marriage, parenting, work, socializing with friends, even the most normal things—seem more difficult than they should be for many people.

Second, regardless of whether you or someone you care about is sad or dealing with something else, the good news is, help is available.

Sad? Depressed? How do you know the difference?

Glad you asked!

Feeling sad and down about things like job loss, finances, marital issues, a child giving you a run for your money, or a breakup is normal for a period of time. But, when you:

  • Can’t seem to shake those feelings and you begin to feel hopeless and desperate; 
  • It feels impossible to think clearly; 
  • Making a decision seems out of your reach;
  • Work is consistently challenging;
  • Things that used to bring you joy in life don’t anymore; 
  • Food doesn’t interest you or you are eating way more than normal; and 
  • You’re either not sleeping enough or you are sleeping all the time and still feel like you don’t get enough rest.

These are like blinking caution lights warning you something is not right. There are some things you might be able to do to help move you to a different place, though.

Here Are 5 Ways to Work Through Depression

1. Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends.

Not necessarily people who are experiencing the same thing you are, but people who seem to be mentally and emotionally healthy right now. Ask them to walk this road with you and help hold you accountable for changes you’re trying to make.

2. Create a new bedtime routine.

Lying in bed watching television or scrolling through social media doesn’t count as rest. Stop all screen time at least an hour before you plan to get some shut-eye. If silence makes it hard for you to sleep, download a white noise app or purchase a white noise machine. Maybe you could try a simple fan in your room. Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping… and well, those things that you typically do in bed (like sex). Otherwise, keep your bedroom as kind of a safe place where your body knows it’s time to relax and rest. 

3. Get moving.

Exercise has been shown to be one of the BEST ways to combat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise releases feel-good hormones that can make you feel better about yourself. It also can help you get out of the negative thought cycle that feeds depression. Exercising on the regular can give you more confidence, it’s something you can do with others and it is a super positive way to cope with and manage depression. Don’t forget, being outside, getting enough vitamin D, drinking plenty of water, and fueling your body with healthy foods are all powerful weapons for fighting depression. 

4. Pay attention to how much news and negative information you take in every day. 

Remember, the motto for the newsroom is, “If it leads, it bleeds.” Their whole goal is to be sensational to draw you in. The more you are drawn in, the more it will affect you. It’s a vicious cycle. Your brain doesn’t know it’s the fifth time you’ve seen information about the plane crash, murder, latest political blunder, or car wreck. All of this impacts you mentally and physically whether you realize it or not. Put a time limit on how much news you watch. The same applies to social media.

5. Eliminate as much stress as possible.

Think through all you have on your plate. Is there anything you can let go of for a while to reduce the stress in your life? If you can’t let go of certain activities, can you ask others to help you? 

In addition to doing all of these things, be bold and ask for professional help. Plenty of counselors are providing telecounseling and Zoom sessions right now. If you don’t know where to look for help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357. 

If you’re worried about someone you care about, don’t be afraid to step up and say, “I see you. How can I help?” Guiding them through all the above is a great place to start if they’re open to your support. 

Photo by Inzmam Khan from Pexels

B.C. (Before COVID) plenty of us lived life at a frenetic pace and had resigned ourselves that it would always be that way. Fast forward to COVID lockdown and a forced stop. We actually had room to breathe in our lives whether we liked it or not. Being forced to taste the simple life for a few months reminded a lot of us how much we actually longed for a less frenzied existence. With things opening back up, some folks are trying to figure out how to keep a little bit of that margin in their life.

Maybe right now you’re already missing your quarantine life. Perhaps you’re finding that, once again, you don’t have time to do the things you want to do. If this is true for you, you don’t have to settle. 

Here are five simple things that can help you reclaim or keep margin in your life moving forward.

1. Decide what you don’t want to pick back up.

Make a list of all the things you and your family were participating in B.C. Decide now what you’re not willing to add back into your schedule. Making the decision ahead of time will make it easier to say no as opportunities arise. Think of it as being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them even under pressure. This will require you to keep your guard up so you can recognize when something is encroaching on the boundaries you’ve set.

2. Schedule quiet time just like you would schedule any other appointment.

It’s that important. Living life in a whirlwind leaves you feeling empty and exhausted, not to mention a hot mess when it comes to relating with the ones you love. Whether it’s early in the morning, the middle of your day or right before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to reflect can make a world of difference in how you go through your day. It can also impact how you rest at night. 

3. Intentionally insert 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day to breathe and be mindful.

Avoid the temptation to schedule yourself back to back in order to make the most of every waking minute. Take a walk, do some deep breathing or light a candle. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, listen to calming music, read, or do something else that will allow you to take a break from the chaos. Inserting buffer zones into your day will actually give you energy and help you be more creative. Plus, it’ll make you more effective and present with the ones you love. 

You might find it helpful to literally block out times on your schedule for this. Blocking the time off can lessen the temptation to put something in that time period because it isn’t available. If you are a high energy person who likes to be productive, this may feel like time wasted. Here’s a challenge for you, though. Try this for a whole month. Then assess your energy level, what you have been able to accomplish and the state of your relationships. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results. Just sayin’.

4. Limit your social media intake.

This is a time vacuum and we all know it. It robs us of time with our kids, spouse and friends. If you don’t believe it, the next time you jump on social media “for just a minute,” time yourself. See how long you end up scrolling to see what everybody else is doing. Limiting your time on social media will give you some margin to live your own life and pay attention to the ones you love and your own needs. (And if others have your full attention, you won’t be distracted and miss something important!)

5. Create transitions and hard stops.

There is something to be said for the impact of routines and rituals when it comes to incorporating margin into our lives. Intentional transitions help your brain know the difference between work, play and rest. If possible, have set start and stop times for work, time with family and friends, and time to take care of yourself. 

It can be helpful to prepare for the next day before you go to bed each night, too. Go over your to-do list, decide what you will wear for work (even if you are working from home) and other activities, take a look at the schedule, plan meals, etc. For example, the act of preparing to be in work mode helps your brain know you are making a transition. At the end of your work day, changing into “play” clothes is another transition that tells your brain it is doing something different. It’s a physical exercise that mentally prepares you for being fully present.

As one who has struggled with margin in life, I can tell you it’s very easy to fall back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. The best way forward is to remind yourself of your goal, identify where the breach happened and keep moving ahead.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

I wish I could just give you hope. I can tell you where I’ve found mine, but you have to find your own. Now, I know you realize that and I’m sure you’ve looked for it and the pain multiplies when you look for it and come up empty. Nobody wants to feel hopeless. But when everything feels hopeless, hope is closer than you may think. Way closer. I know because I have gone from hopeless to hopeful and I understand that it’s an ongoing battle. But the battle is between my ears.

It’s a battle to control how I think.

I always pay attention to what disappoints or frustrates people and what makes them angry or sad. It reveals where they were placing their hope. You get disappointed, sad, or mad if your best friend doesn’t return any of your texts because you were hoping you meant more to them. You hoped you were best friends. And you invested some hope in that relationship. Now, you have a little less hope. You’ve become a little more hope-less

Maybe you never framed it like that before.

There’s plenty going on in the world at the moment that can be disappointing, infuriating, or saddening. Makes it easy to feel hopeless. I was gonna list a bunch of things, but you live on the same planet. I’ll just share this, my adult son the other night looked straight at me and said, “Dad, it feels like the end of the world.” He was totally serious.

There could be plenty going on in your personal world that is keeping you from being hopeful. Your marriage or love life, parenting, your friends, and job situation. And let’s not leave out your worries about your physical health or finances.

1. Recognize where you are placing your hopes.

It’s been helpful for me to recognize where I’m placing my hopes and be careful about it. I don’t place my hope in things I can’t control. 

I don’t place my hope in my wife, my kids, my friends, or my family. That might sound strange. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife, my kids, and my friends and family. They bring joy and meaning to my life. But I can’t put all my hope in them. Beyond it not being fair to put all my hope on them, something could happen tomorrow that changes everything. I can’t control them, but I can control myself. I can influence those relationships with my choices—I can use my best relationship skills so there will be a better chance of those areas of my life being healthy and bringing me fulfillment and true meaningful joy. But relationships involve two people, and I can only control one of them—me.  

Now think pandemics, the Stock Market, tornados, some rando that drinks and drives, social unrest across the country, global politics—I don’t have any real influence with this stuff. Totally out of my control. Not getting any of my hopes up. So, they can’t take away any of my hope and make me hope-less. 

2. Ask before you hope: Is this something I can control, influence, or is it totally out of my control?

Psychologists have some useful terms here: External Locus of Control (ELC) vs. an Internal Locus of Control (ILC). People with a strong internal locus of control believe their choices matter and affect their quality of life. People with a strong external locus of control believe that other people, their environment, or their situation are what accounts for their success or failure and ultimately—their happiness. You didn’t get that promotion you wanted. ILC people think about if they were qualified for it or that maybe they should have worked harder; ELC people blame management and their co-workers who kept them from getting that promotion. ILC people focus on what they can control—themselves. ELC focus on what’s out of their control—everything BUT themselves. 

You want to place your hopes in what you can control. That really just leaves YOU.

3. Expectations are everything. 

Weird question: have you ever picked up a drink that you thought was water, but it turned out to be Sprite or something? You know that little jolt you felt with the first sip? You know what that’s about? Expectations. Expectations are everything in life. Sometimes feeling hopeless is a sign that our expectations were way off in the first place.

We may have gotten our hopes up or put them in the wrong place.

I’m a huge movie lover. My town used to have a regular movie theater and a $1 theater. If I took my wife on a date to the regular movie theater, that’s $30 just for tickets. Add in drinks, snacks, and paying the babysitter and you have an expensive night out. One day, I recognized I expected more from those movies than the movies I saw at the $1 theater. I was more critical when I was more invested and had high expectations. I was way more likely to be disappointed by a movie at the regular theater than a movie at the $1 theater. It seemed that no matter what, a movie at the $1 theater was at least “okay” and I had a good time. 

I had less invested at the $1 theater, so my expectations were lower and I was rarely disappointed. When I was spending close to $100 to see a movie with my wife at the regular theater, I had higher expectations, because I was literally more invested in the experience, and was “let down” by a lot of the movies I saw there. ✭There were even times I saw a movie at the regular theater and didn’t think it was all that great BUT I saw the same movie again a month later at the $1 theater (why not?) and enjoyed it so much more. I was less invested in it so I adjusted my expectations. I didn’t feel let down and I had a good time. But, it was the same movie. What changed? I did.

Hope works in a similar way. Keep those expectations in check. Watch where you invest.

4. Train Your Brain.

Just like athletes rely on training, practice, and muscle memory to be successful in their sport, you have to train your brain and put in the practice and develop “thinking memory” or good thinking habits. This will help you be successful in the game of life. We have to be careful with what we look for in life because our brains will find it and give us the feelings that go with it. If you’ve trained your brain to look for what’s wrong or negative about everything—your brain will find it and give you the feelings that go with it. If you train your brain to look for what’s right, what’s positive about everything—your brain will find that, too, and deliver all the feelings that go with it.

✦ Some people complain that roses have thorns. 

✦ Some people are thankful that thorns have roses.

So, how do you train your brain to see what’s going right with you and your life?

How do you cultivate healthy thinking habits? Start in one place, looking for one thing and then check out the feelings that come with it. Start with you and your life. Take a couple of deep breaths. Let yourself be calm and quiet and undistracted. Now think of five things you have that you should be grateful for and why.

I’ll get you started—you’re alive! Not everybody can say that. That should feel good. Now you keep going. What should you be thankful for? What are big and little tiny things you should be grateful for? They are there! Train your thoughts to look for them every day

Keep a Gratitude Journal and spend more time there than on social media or watching the news. 

I told you hope was nearby. Hope is closer than you think. Hope is how you think.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Image from Unsplash.com

Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing and controlling you, but you don’t have to let it. 

I stood at the edge. Staring down at the face of the water 30 feet below. Heart-pounding. My brain thinking a hundred different things at once as a couple of dozen other adventurers who decided to veer off the beaten path in Kauai’s forest looked on. 

What if I drown? What if I hit the water the wrong way and it knocks me out somehow? Or what if I belly-flop and everyone laughs? What if this could be the most exhilarating experience of my life? But what if this changes everything I understand about my fears? 

Only six inches from my heels to the lip of the cliff divided total uncertainty and what surely would happen if I took the next step.  

And I had a choice. I could turn around and avoid the situation altogether. I could stand there, staring, paralyzed. Or, I could take a step and move forward, perhaps in more ways than one. 

We all experience uncertainty in life. And this has never been truer than in the last three months:

COVID-19: Are things getting better or worse? 

What’s to come with this new election year? 

Will there ever be a solution to racism? 

Will we ever experience life as we knew it, once (or if) the pandemic ends? 

Are protests leading to peace or more violence? 

How do we protect our kids? 

Why are we getting hit with disasters like the Australian wildfires and murder hornets and tornadoes that kill and destroy? 

Will any of these things put me or my family in real danger?

We continue to be inundated with a life that grows more and more uncertain by the day. And that festering uncertainty is like pouring gasoline on an already-burning woodpile of anxiety. 

What exactly is the relation of uncertainty to our feelings of anxiety? 

Dr. Michael Stein, founder and owner of the private therapy practice Anxiety Solutions, says that facing uncertainty isn’t like confronting tangible fears such as snakes, dogs, or heights. These are the kinds of anxiety-inducers that you can avoid by walking (or running!) away. 

Uncertainty is much more elusive. You can’t literally run away from uncertainty. So, your brain pulls a fast one on you by telling you the way to deal with uncertainty is to overanalyze it. It makes sense; if you can logic out the uncertainty until it’s no longer uncertain, then problem solved! 

This is why it’s so easy to run stressful scenarios over and over in your head—what we call “ruminating.” You repetitively work scenarios through your head to come up with the most likely outcome. Because, if the sky falls, at least you’ll know it’s coming.

The only problem with this is, it doesn’t work. Uncertainty is, well, uncertain. No matter how much we try to rationalize or reason, we just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And so you just go through this process of uncertainty, overanalyzing, uncertainty, overanalyzing… which opens the door wide for anxiety to come barging through. 

But if uncertainty is so uncertain, what’s there to do other than worry? 

When you have no crystal ball to see into an uncertain future, it’s easy to overvalue worry, fear, and anxiety. You feel like that’s the only thing you can do to survive. But this does us much more harm than good. 

Not only does the anxiety fueled by uncertainty have a negative impact on our sense of well-being and emotional adjustment, but it also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Once we get caught up in overstressing about something uncertain, it’s easy to slip into becoming anxious about anything uncertain. And this drives a wedge between the connection and intimacy we feel with our family members and those close to us. 

So what is there to do other than have anxiety? 

Dr. Stein says one thing you must do is change your thinking about uncertainty altogether—

If you tolerate uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it, your brain eventually learns all of the following:

  • Uncertainty is not dangerous. It’s tolerable. 
  • There is no point to worry; it doesn’t stop bad things from happening. 
  • What worry does is cause you suffering right now, but it does not save you from suffering later on. 
  • Uncertainty does not require your attention. 

Training your brain to hold on to these truths is akin to, as Stein says, operating a spotlight. You change the focus of the spotlight from the uncertainty and worry to whatever you are doing in the present moment. 

All this boils down to a healthy understanding of what you can control and what you cannot control, and resolutely accepting that.

A helpful exercise I have found with uncertain situations is to make two columns on a sheet of paper titled Things I Cannot Control and Things I Can Control. Then write as many thoughts under each column as you can. 

For example, if you are facing the uncertainty of a possible job loss due to cutbacks from COVID-19, you may write under Things I Cannot Control:

  • I cannot control if the company downsizes. 
  • I cannot control when final decisions are made. 
  • I cannot control how the company determines who they’ll let go.

And then, under Things I Can Control:

  • I can control how I prepare to seek employment somewhere else, like updating my resumé or reaching out to business contacts. 
  • I can control the level of job performance I continue to display, in case that is a determining factor for the company. 
  • I can control where I focus the spotlight (whether on the worry or on the present moment), especially when I am around my family. 
  • I can control how I take care of myself, physically and emotionally, so that I have the healthiest approach to uncertainty. 

Uncertainty happens, all the time. We are all at the brink of the ledge, looking down into an unclear pool of water. Remember: this water isn’t something to worry and stress over and fear; it’s tolerable. You might not be in control of how cold it is or how high the ledge is. But you don’t have to let the uncertainty of what you can’t control paralyze you, and anxiety doesn’t have to be something that controls you. You are in control of the first step.

For other great reads on how to handle anxiety, take a look at these:

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety About Loved Ones Getting COVID-19

How I Overcome My Anxiety About COVID-19

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

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Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  2. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  3. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  4. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries.

I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

Image from Pexels.com

We were about a month into our COVID-19 quarantine when it finally happened. There had been some ups and downs, of course, but I was feeling pretty good and able to stay positive as an individual, husband, and father. My family was handling it all surprisingly well. I was getting tons of work done. I felt like I was leading the family well. Then I finally snapped.

During the month or so of quarantine, I had been straining, working from home, fearful about my wife working in the medical field, stressed about a son doing middle school online, anxious about a son doing college online, sad for two adult children out of work, worried about one adult child still working in “essential services,” and totally uneasy about my at-risk mother-in-law. ALL of this under ONE roof. (You catch all the emotions in there? I didn’t.) But we were actually navigating it fairly well and trying to stay positive—movie nights, game nights, lots of good conversations. We got this! 

Then it all started to unravel. Then I unraveled. Big time.

In the span of a few days:

  • My wife was filing for unemployment. 
  • We had a brush with a tornado that left us with a yard full of fallen trees.
  • We had no power to our house for days. 
  • My car broke down while I was getting ice to keep food from spoiling. (It all spoiled anyway.)
  • We had friends who completely lost their homes and we were heartbroken. 
  • We had all-new financial pressures.

Things were starting to pile up. Stress and worry were at all new levels. 

I ignored it—too much to get done!

After about four days of trying to adjust to Generator Life and a bunch of new problems and expenses, I was soon trying to stay positive and hold my world together with threads and patches.

Then, in a single moment, life came undone. (Of course, it did.) The reality is, I came undone. Ironically, it was actually a relatively small thing that did it. Something so small that it would have been no big deal in any other context. Straw. Camel. Back. You know the saying.

I’ll admit it—I was lying in bed crying with the door locked, feeling fragile and helpless. 

How did it get to this? I’m stronger than this! What if anyone in my family sees me like this?

If we can allow ourselves to be honest, vulnerable, transparent humans for just a second, you might be feeling it, too. You might be close to snapping. Maybe you are on the edge of being overwhelmed. You may have already broken down. Your story and circumstances might have some major things going on in them that make my little pity party look pitiful. 

What do you do to stay positive when it all seems to fall apart?

Here’s what I learned after I snapped back from my snap: 

  1. Acknowledge your emotions and share them with people that you trust. For a while, I had been suppressing or burying emotions and needs deep down, trying to play it cool, but making myself a ticking timebomb. 
  2. Be real with your kids, your spouse, and your friends, because they have their “moments” too. Kids don’t need their parents to be perfect; they need them to be real. It’s good for them to see you work through imperfection and real-world problems. 
  3. Guard your mindset! Be careful what you look for in life, because you’ll find it. If you look for everything that is wrong, you’ll find it and focus on it. If you look for what is going right, that’s there, too. Find it and focus on it. You can acknowledge what’s wrong and still practice gratitude for what’s right. Remember what is really important—people
  4. Practice self-care. I was afraid to be honest with myself and the people around me—people that I know would help me, let me blow off steam, and help me process my emotions. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay to take care of yourself! Practice self-care. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can take care of yourself—physically and emotionally.
  5. Breathe. Think. Act. Take a moment to take some deep breaths, think about what you can and can’t control, and then respond appropriately—don’t react. Don’t make important decisions when you aren’t your best self or you’ve gone to pieces.
  6. Focus on helping others. This may sound counter-intuitive, but nothing feels better than helping someone with their problems. It actually makes our brain release happy chemicals and it may take your mind off your problems or even put them in perspective.

It’s okay to have a “moment”; it’s not okay to stay there. We’ve all been at a place where we felt like it was just one bad thing after the other and we’ve felt overcome by stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to be real, but also develop a plan to stay positive the next time you feel overwhelmed and about to break down.

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It’s week three (or more) for most of us in quarantine, and life is starting to get (dare I say) a little boring. Even if you’re still up to your eyeballs in things to do and little ones to care for, after three weeks of staying inside, it’s easy to just go through the motions day after day. But one great way to get out of that rut is to make it a priority for yourself and your family to learn something new!

There are so many companies and organizations that are teaming up right now to provide some great, free classes and tutorials for anyone and everyone to try! And what better time to learn something new than when you can’t go anywhere?

If you’re a parent, challenge your whole family to pick one thing to learn in the next couple of weeks! Have older kids with their own interests? Have every person pick one new thing to dive into. There are many great ways to stimulate your mind, push yourself to grow, and challenge yourself and your loved ones right now. Here are just a few ideas to get you started!

Free Online Classes

Other Ideas

  • Dust off that old guitar (or another musical instrument) and teach yourself via YouTube videos!
  • Ask your spouse, your child, or a friend (over FaceTime of course) to show you all about their favorite hobby, then give it a try yourself!
  • Make a plan for learning a new skill or hobby. Even if you don’t quite have all the tools or equipment necessary to start a hobby, you can still learn about it! Spend time creating a list of all the things you’ll need to start your hobby and then dive into some research, books, and/or tutorials about that hobby.

Learning something new is not a necessity, but it could give you that boost of energy you’ve been craving. When life becomes mundane and you’re getting antsy about staying inside, you can try one of these ideas to connect with yourself, your family, and the world around you. Don’t let this quarantine keep you from living and learning! Try something new today.

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Can journaling during COVID-19 really help? Right now, the whole world is in a state of slight (or, more than slight) panic. There is a lot of stress, anxiety, and fear going around, and chances are, you’ve experienced it yourself. Whether you’re a parent trying to figure out a new routine with and for your kids, a professional working through the difficulties of staying at home, a student running into the obstacles of online learning, or all of the above, every person is facing their own challenges in their own way.

So many suggestions have been thrown out there to try and help combat all of the overwhelming emotions: getting enough sleep, setting up a schedule for yourself and your family, eating healthy meals, staying active, video calling friends… The list goes on. But did you know that journaling is another great way to reduce stress and anxiety? And the research is here to back it up!

How Journaling Affects Our Minds

  • According to The University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, cope with depression, and improve your mood by helping you prioritize problems and track your symptoms so you can learn your triggers and control them.
  • Journaling can also enhance your sense of well-being, improve your working memory, and boost your mood.
  • Keeping a journal can help you keep an organized mind and can be helpful when processing information or making sense of trauma.

Okay, so now what? Sure, journaling is great, but it can be hard to get started. The key to making journaling a part of your routine is getting started! So grab an old notebook you’ve got lying around, and choose one, two, or more of the questions below to answer each day. If every day feels like too big of a commitment, start with just three times a week!

Writing Prompts

  1. What are 5 good things that happened today?
  2. What’s one thing you can do differently tomorrow to help it be a better day than today?
  3. What’s one adjustment you can make to your routine to help set up the day for success?
  4. What’s the main source of your stress or anxiety? Can you do anything about it?
  5. What are 10 things that make you happy right now?
  6. What are 3 things you can do daily to be a positive influence for others?
  7. How did/will you exercise your mind, body, and spirit today?
  8. What’s one thing that happened today that you’re still trying to process/understand?
  9. Did you feel anxious or worried today? When did it start? What caused the feeling?
  10. Who are two people in your life that mean a lot to you and why?
  11. What’s one thing that would have to change for you to feel completely satisfied?
  12. Is there anything that is consistently disturbing your inner peace?
  13. What do you not like to talk about? Why not?
  14. What is one thing you learned today?
  15. If you were completely free of fear, what would you be doing differently today?
  16. What’s one thing that you’re proud of yourself for?
  17. What decisions could you make today/tomorrow that could improve your mental, emotional, and/or physical health?
  18. What’s one habit that you would like to correct? What are some steps you can take toward correcting that habit?
  19. What are you most ashamed of right now? Why?
  20. What are 3 things that you did really well today?

Journaling is a great way to understand your thoughts, gain self-awareness, and process the world around you. And now is a great time to start!

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Can we take a moment and just let out a big sigh? This COVID-19 pandemic has been and still is a time of palpable stress and uncertainty. Despite not knowing what is to come, we can rest and lean into what we know to be helpful in overwhelming times like this. Take it one day at a time

And who says one day can’t be a spa day?

Here is an invitation to slow down, dirty some more dishes and have some sweet, intentional time with your daughter. 

Since many places are closed, I want to help you set up a spa in your home and make it feel like a special mother-daughter date!

Here’s what you’ll need to do for your spa date:

  • Invite your daughter by writing her an invitation!
  • Put on some cute PJs or let her wear your robe if you have one.
  • Grab some ponytails or headbands to hold your hair back.
  • Play some of your daughter’s favorite tunes to relax or dance to!
  • Gather ingredients for face mask/scrub. (options listed below)
  • Slice a cucumber for your eyes while wearing the masks if you’re feeling fancy!
  • Make a list of questions to ask your girly while you’re making the scrub or mask! (found below).

Some Conversation Starters for Your Spa Date:

  • What’s your favorite thing to do?
  • Why do you like doing that?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Do you know how much I love you? (Give her some reasons why!)
  • What makes someone a good mom?
  • Is there someone you look up to?
  • What do you like to talk about?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Is there anything you’re afraid of? (Figure out why and ways to face it together!)
  • What does it mean to be beautiful?
  • What do you want to do for our next mother-daughter time?

Don’t be afraid to make a little mess—I’m sure you’re used to it by now, but encourage your girly to help with the process and mix the ingredients. I would even suggest putting the face masks on each other if you choose to make a mask.

If you want to make a scrub, here are two options:

Coffee Body Scrub

  • 1 cup ground coffee (organic or regular will work)
  • 1 cup sugar or salt
  • ½  cup coconut oil
  • ½  tablespoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)

Instructions: 

  1. Melt coconut oil and allow it to cool but not solidify.
  2. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container or mason jar.
  3. Use 1-2 times a week (or every day if you like).

Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub

  • ½ cup of granulated sugar (just plain white sugar, the kind you have in your pantry). If you have cane or brown sugar, it will also do the trick!
  • ¼ cup pure unrefined coconut oil
  • Optional: add in the essential oil of your choice

Instructions:

  • In a bowl, mix the two together completely.
  • Put into a container for use; you will feel so soft!

Here are two options if you want to make a face mask:

Oatmeal Mask with Coconut Oil

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1  tablespoon coconut oil 
  • 3 tablespoons of oatmeal.

Instructions: 

  1. Measure ¼ cup warm water into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and stir until completely melted.
  3. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons of oatmeal.
  4. Stir until the ingredients have formed a paste.
  5. Apply to face and let it set for 15 minutes and then massage it into your face in circular motions and let it sit for another 5 minutes.
  6. Rinse with lukewarm water.

Oatmeal and Yogurt Mask

  • Cooked (not dry) oatmeal (½ cup boiling water, ⅓ cup oatmeal)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 egg white

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine water and oatmeal and stir it together
  2. Let the mixture sit for two minutes.
  3. Mix the remaining ingredients until the yogurt, honey, and egg white are completely dissolved.
  4. Let the mixture cool if it’s still hot to the touch.
  5. Apply to face and let it set for 15 minutes. Then rinse with lukewarm water and end with a splash of cold water to close the pores.

*The oatmeal may clog the drain, so putting down a strainer could be helpful with cleanup!

I know this time at home balancing being a parent, employee, teacher, and gatekeeper is exhausting. However, I think we’d all be sad if we didn’t take some of this extra time we have been gifted and spend it intentionally with our loved ones.

We have the opportunity to make the mundane memorable. So let’s do it! We’d love to see pictures of you and your girly hanging out. Please tag us @firstthingsfamily if you post! <3

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I fish. It’s what I do. Some have asked me what in the world draws me to stand by a pond and throw a little feathered hook in the water time and time again, often with very few results. I fish so I can de-stress. 

It’s mindless (somewhat) and I can leave all the emotion, anxiety, and uncertainties behind me for just a little while. If you fish, you understand this. I can clear my head before re-entering the real world. Fishing is my self-care

Self-Care… It’s become a popular term that’s popped up in conversations around health, mindfulness, and stress. You do self-care when you do any kind of action deliberately in order to care for your mental, physical, or emotional health. And it’s widely thought to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. 

How apropos in our current state. At perhaps no other time in recent memory has it been so important to stay healthy. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. People are stuck at home. Routines are turned upside down. Family members are spending way more time with each other than they are used to. 

I’d say self-care is a precious commodity right about now. 

I don’t know about you, but in my house, it’s easy to give our kids a schedule that includes some healthy activities. However, it’s extremely difficult for me personally to get into a routine of self-care activities. My game is so thrown off by the stress of our circumstances. And it’s sometimes a fight just to get me away from the computer screen. 

But it has to happen. As parents, we’ve got to be a good example and practice self-care right now. And here’s why: 

You can’t give what you don’t have. 

Meaning, if you want your kids to practice self-care, you need to self-care. You’ve got to fill your tank so you have it in you to help them fill their tanks. When you self-care, you’re better able to handle feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and stress. This is so important so that these emotions don’t get the best of you. 

Pay attention to yourself. Keep an eye on the radar of your emotional state. Take the time to do some things each day that help you deal with all the chaos that is going on

  • Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Let the sun shine on your face for a little while. 
  • Meditate or pray. Sing (out loud). 
  • Get plenty of sleep. 
  • Do push-ups. Or go for a run. Or practice yoga. Anything to stretch, strengthen, and move the body. 
  • Eat clean. Healthier food keeps your energy up. Drink plenty of water. 
  • But, every few days, sneak in that Oreo. Because stress
  • Read a book. Watch a documentary. Keep your mental game strong. 
  • Communicate your needs to the people that love you. Let them know when you need to be alone. And let them know when you need to be with them. Get plenty of both. 

These are just a small number of suggestions for self-care. Search online for other ideas and find out what feeds your health—body, and soul. And then do it. Regularly. 

Of course, we don’t self-care simply for our own needs. Our families are depending on us. That’s why it’s so important that we set a good example of self-care as parents.

Your moments of self-care are the teachable moments for your kids.

As parents, every little thing we do is seen. Young eyes are watching how we handle ourselves—especially in the midst of anxiety and stress. They take their emotional cues from what they see in us. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a terrible parenting style—particularly when it comes to self-care. They need to see you handling your health in a positive way

It’s okay for your kids to know you are anxious or fearful. But it’s so much more important that they see how you handle your anxiety and fear. When they see you taking care of yourself, you are modeling that for your children. 

And think about this: when this whole pandemic, self-quarantine, social-distancing era is behind us, your kids are going to use what they’ve learned from you for the rest of their lives. I hope this is the last time we ever have to go through this, but it won’t be the last time your kids will experience stressful times. It may sound funny, but your example of self-care leaves a legacy. 

Parents, take care of yourself. For your sake, and for your kids. They’re counting on you.

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