A psychologist's advice to maintain your routine during the COVID-19 pandemic
Regular tasks often recharge our 'mental' batteries, says Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley
Normal, everyday tasks like showering, eating proper meals and exercising may no longer be the No. 1 priority — but a clinical psychologist in Halifax is reminding people that maintaining a routine is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our frontal lobe, which is the part that controls behaviour — it's like a battery, you have to keep it charged," Dr. Dayna Lee-Baggley with the Nova Scotia Health Authority told CBC's Information Morning Thursday.
"And so it's especially important in this time to be deliberate and purposeful about charging our batteries."
Lee-Baggley says one way to recharge that battery is to stick to a daily routine.
But even professionals can have bad days.
"On Monday, I was focused on my kid. I was focused on patients. I was focused on getting things done. And it was three o'clock in the afternoon, and I realized I hadn't eaten anything. I was dehydrated," Lee-Baggley said.
She said she was surprised by how much effort it took to focus on ordinary tasks like eating meals, but during the COVID-19 pandemic when routines are thrown out of balance, she said it is understandable.
Routines were disrupted again Thursday, when Premier Stephen McNeil announced Nova Scotia's state of emergency was extended for another two weeks.
Now, Lee-Baggley keeps a list of important daily tasks on her fridge to remind her to recharge her mental battery.
Her conversation with Information Morning host Portia Clark has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: To maintain your routine, you have this personal checklist on your fridge. What do you have on your checklist?
A: Sometimes my frontal lobe is so tired I can't even remember what the things are I'm supposed to do to recharge. I literally made a checklist to put on my fridge to remind me and to be deliberate and conscious about trying to check them off each day. Some of the things that are on my list are exercise, drinking water, eating green things, stretching, sleeping, socializing — having a sense of purpose. Over the last couple of days, I actually had to add showering because I realized I wasn't even doing that regularly and that actually is a recharge for me. It makes me feel like I'm ready to start my day, that I've got a few things together and ready to go.
Q: Do you have fun things on your list?
A: Absolutely. I have a couple. These are kind of luxurious things for me. I have "do face masks" and "paint my nails" because they are things I don't normally do. I get some of those fancy teas from David's Teas and I have a fancy mug. I've also learned how to have Zoom drinking parties. So I've learned how to socialize through Zoom. We all bring a cocktail and we chat together because those are definitely things that will charge your batteries.
Q: What about having pets or having other people in the home? Do they help keep you on routine and remind you to do the things you need?
A: The thing about building a routine is that it's going to take less frontal lobe energy if you start doing things as routine, so if you get up at the same time every day [or] have the same breakfast every day. The more you can turn it into routine, then you just make it easier for the frontal lobe. But then also things get in the way of that. So life's going to get in the way, meetings are going to get away, other people in your household — things will change. At that point, we also just want to be really kind to ourselves about the fact that we're not going to follow the routine, this is not going to be the most productive time in your life and to be kind to ourselves and other people.
Q: How can routine be useful to health-care providers?
A: In particular, I think that health-care providers need to be really conscious about charging their batteries. I spent most of the entirety of my career working with physicians and nurses and on average, health-care providers have pretty good immune systems. They're pretty good at fighting off illness. What I think sometimes is getting in the way now is that they're overworked, they're burnt out dealing with a COVID-19 crisis, and so they don't have the reserves necessary to fight off this illness the way they might normally. There's also a lot of free resources that have come about to support health-care providers. The Canadian Psychological Association, for example, is offering free therapy to health-care providers. There's also lots of businesses that have offered free resources and so healthcare providers need to be really conscious about charging their battery.
WIth files from CBC's Information Morning