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Mental health tips during COVID-19

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a fluid environment that has forced us to adapt to countless changes in many areas of our lives – school, work, activities and socialization, to name a few. In this roundup, mental health experts from CHOC offer their go-to mental health tips during COVID for family members of all ages.

Idea: Track your G-R-A-P-E-S

Submitted by: Dr. Francesca Bahn, pediatric psychologist

I like to use G-R-A-P-E-S tracking calendars to help with mood stability and management that doesn’t require intensive therapy. This stands for:

  • G Gentle to self
  • R Relaxation
  • A Accomplishment
  • P Pleasure
  • E Exercise
  • S Socialization

Kids can create a calendar or download one online that tracks days of the week on one axis and each “grape” along the other axis. They should place a sticker in each box when they engage in that activity for the day.

Idea: Look for ways to stay kind, created and connected during COVID-19

Submitted by: Dr. Adrianne Alpern, pediatric psychologist

Kids for Peace is a non-profit organization that works to create peace through service, global friendships and acts of kindness. I recommend their activities to many families who I work with, who have found them to be really helpful.  Some of my favorite activities include:

  • Make peace rocks — paint rocks with kind words and place them around town to delight your neighbors.
  • Harvest seeds from fruits and replant them.
  • Discover something new about a different culture or a different country.
  • Listen to music from different parts of the world.
  • Pick at least one country from each continent and discover their favorite food or dish.
  • Create an acts of kindness checklist and complete as many items as possible from home.
  • Create a family vision board to track your dreams and goals

Idea: Activities to help boost your mood

Submitted by: Paloma Bautista, licensed clinical social worker

  • Arts and crafts — Paint your favorite quote on a canvas and hang it in your bedroom or a common area. Or, gather old magazines and create a collage with short-term goals and positive quotes.
  • Journaling — Practice journaling by writing three to five positive things that happened today, and/or explore your personal strengths and add them in your journal.
  • Exercise — Go on a short 10-15 minute “mind-full’ walk with a loved one from your household. Incorporate your five senses. Identify five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste
  • Movie — Watch your favorite or perhaps a new holiday movie with a loved one. Take turns after the movie talking about your favorite part.
  • Baking — Bake your favorite holiday treat or learn to bake a popular family dish.

Idea: A new way to ask and answer, “Are you OK?”

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

One simple check-in I heard that really resonated with me was from managers at Dell beginning team meeting asking team members, “Are you above the line or below the line?” It gives you the opportunity not to delve too personally if you don’t want to with your co-workers but at the same time that shorthand gives people a snapshot that things may not be great today. I think this could also apply with teens and with others in your life that don’t always want to go into detail but for whom you want to know how they are really doing.

Idea: Window swap

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

WindowSwap is a beautiful website that allows you to escape mentally to someone else’s view outside their window — all around the word — even if for just a few moments. When our travel is limited, this is a great way to escape our current reality and gaze upon someone else’s for a while.

Idea: Draw it out

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

Drawing mundane household objects using prompts – like the ones in Believer magazine – forces us to look at these everyday objects in a different way. These activities are great for kids and adults alike.

Idea: Self-care comics

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

Creating your own comic can be a way to track emotions, and visualize yourself in soothing situations. These prompts from Believer magazine are my favorite:

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What is out of my control today?
  • What is in my control today?
  • What can I do for my body today?
  • How will I (safely) connect to other humans today?
  • Think of your safe, no-stress zone/place and draw it.

Idea: Make your own self-care kit

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

Similar to the idea of a coping box, self-care kits might include physical items such as a white noise machine, puzzle or your favorite lotion, or intangible options like reminders to relax your muscles, get outdoors or reminders to take to-do lists one step at a time.

This is a good reminder that it’s OK for self-care to be “boring.” Social media can lead us to believe that self-care equates to luxurious bubble baths or nice meals, but to can really be as simple as setting aside time to read a book or magazine, taking a shower or changing your sheets.

Idea: Repeat mantras

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

I repeat these sayings to myself often. These might help you, too – or maybe you’ll find your own phrases that resonate most with you:

  • Relate. Reason.
  • You’ve made it through 100% of your bad days.
  • Wake up intentionally. Work intentionally. Eat intentionally. And rest intentionally.

Idea: Coping cards

Submitted by: Liz Hawkins, CHOC volunteer and mental health advocate

Coping Skills for Kids has an online store that offers customizable workbooks and coping skills cue cards. Children can get cards to focus on distraction, calming, processing or physical activities.

Idea: Write it down; tear it up

Submitted by: Joni Rogers, mental health assistant, Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center

If kids are struggling with a parent, friend or situation and they haven’t found the words or strength to talk to them, I have them write it down on a piece of paper and then tear it up when they are done. It’s double gratifying to be able to put your thoughts, feelings and emotions down but also be able to tear it up and help put the past behind you.

Idea: Plan fun moments

Submitted by: Michael Ketterer, interim nurse manager, Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center

The biggest tip I can give coming from a father of six kids in the middle of this crazy pandemic is to plan fun moments into your week. Having something planned to look forward to that your children really enjoy can help them push through the times they don’t enjoy. My wife is so good at doing this; she basically plans fun moments into every day. It doesn’t have to be big – it can be a favorite desert, board game, movie, or going for a walk around the reservoir in our neighborhood. In warmer seasons we would plan a safe beach day or drive up to the mountains to play in the snow. We always have family movie night once a week.

Idea: Question Jenga

Submitted by: Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist

Label Jenga pieces with fun and engaging questions, so when the child pulls on that block piece, they answer that question. Also label some pieces with “feeling” words like brave, sad or happy, and have them provide a time they have felt that way. You can give a prize for the most “labeled” pieces a person has so there can be two ways to win the game — whoever doesn’t knock all the pieces over, and whoever has the most labeled pieces — to reinforce getting a labeled piece.

Idea: Sunday family meetings

Submitted by: Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist

Have family meetings every Sunday night to review the plan for the week ahead, anything coming up in the family agenda, check in with everyone, and end with a fun family board game. This helps get children ready for the week and can be a source of predictability amid a chaotic and unpredictable time.

This article was updated Dec. 10, 2020

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