Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You can’t help others if you don’t.

Editor’s Note: This is a preview of USA TODAY’s newsletter Staying Apart, Together, a guide to help us all cope with a world changed by coronavirus. If you would like it in your inbox on Tuesdays and Saturdays, subscribe here

2020 is relentless, isn’t it?

I am not writing this newsletter to you from my makeshift home office (read, a desk in our kitchen), but from my couch with my left ankle propped up by multiple pillows and topped with a bag of ice. 

Walking my dog Thursday I fell and sprained my ankle, an injury my weak joints have suffered before. But it’s just slightly more annoying to suffer this pain and inconvenience amid a pandemic, when running out to the store to get some comfort ice cream on a weeknight is no longer a particularly easy or safe choice. I can’t cook, I can’t clean or help pack for our upcoming move. I feel useless and exhausted. 

During such a stressful time, it’s important to practice self-care in all forms.
During such a stressful time, it’s important to practice self-care in all forms.

A trip and fall is a good reminder for me, at least, to metaphorically secure my own oxygen mask before assisting others. And I want to remind you that it’s OK to take a break and practice self care, even as the world gets worse by the case count. It’s necessary upkeep for your mental and physical health. So right now, that means I will ice and elevate my ankle, make my husband bring me snacks and water and indulge in a little self-pity. For you, self care might involve taking a break from the COVID-19 news, spending some socially distant time outdoors, exercising or enjoying some time spent in the quiet, blissfully doing nothing at all. 

We can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves first. 

Fitness coordinator Janet Hollander leads session of Balcony Boogie from outside Willamette Oaks in Eugene, Ore. for residents isolated in apartments during pandemic, April 21, 2020.
Fitness coordinator Janet Hollander leads session of Balcony Boogie from outside Willamette Oaks in Eugene, Ore. for residents isolated in apartments during pandemic, April 21, 2020.

Today’s tips to reach out to your elderly friends and family

Some of my family members live in assisted living homes, and I’ve been concerned about them from the beginning of the pandemic – not just because of the physical health risks for older people in those vulnerable facilities (although there are sadly so many) but also because of the mental-health toll of isolation. My colleague Maria Puente reported on this issue. 

AARP, the leading advocacy organization for people over age 50, has studied this issue of social isolation (it has a website devoted to it) and found that more than 8 million adults age 50 and older are affected by it.

“We know about the dangers and the most striking comparison is that it can be the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of your health,” says Amy Goyer, AARP’S family and care-giving expert. “I’ve worked in this field 35 years, we know it’s bad for older adults, and we’ve learned more about how bad it is: It affects your mental health and your physical health.”

But amid a pandemic, when gathering with seniors is at odds with public health guidelines, what can friends and family do to care for their loved ones’ mental health? There are more options than you might imagine. 

  • Help seniors become more tech savvy. This one is a gimme. Giving a tablet to someone in a care facility is one of the best ways to provide communication, games, ebooks and streaming apps. “We are seeing a big difference (in fighting isolation) in those care homes that bought a bunch of iPads and helped residents to use them to communicate with family and friends,” Goyer told us. Don’t forget to preload the device with apps they might enjoy, such as games, the Kindle book app or a lecture portal. 

  • Keep those cards, letters and packages coming via snail mail. Does your parent or grandparent disdain modern tech? That doesn’t mean that your communication is limited to showing up in person. Care packages, letters (especially from grandkids with adorably bad penmanship) and greeting cards are all wonderful ways to say “I love you.” You can send a book that both of you read, and then discuss it on the phone or a video call to start a mini-book club. 

  • Audio therapy. Music is crucial for brain health, studies have shown, so suggest music options such as public radio’s classical stations, to listen to for relaxation therapy. Show them how to find music and videos on YouTube, NPR Music or local PBS stations. And many musicians offer online concerts via Facebook Live or their websites.A smartphone, laptop or tablet helps, but there’s also an old-fashioned device for this: A radio. 

See more tips in the full story, here

Today’s reads

  • What does a royal wedding look like in quarantine? Allow Princess Beatrice to demonstrate.

  • My colleague Erin Jensen had a frank conversation with comedian and talk show host W. Kamau Bell about recent anti-racism protests and white supremacy, ahead of Sunday’s Season 5 premiere of “United Shades of America” on CNN. He says  that racism has gotten “way worse” since the show premiered in 2016. 

  • Alex Trebek gave us a health update, and says he’s doing well, thank goodness.

  •  The economy is in dire straits amid the pandemic, and while personal finance can’t fix the Dow Jones average, there are steps you can take to help if you are struggling with bills, lose your job or are worried about scammers. Here are some tips. 

  • Um, so why are people traveling right now in the face of the pandemic and legal bans? We investigated. 

  • If you have young kids who are getting in the way of work hours, some toys and activities can help keep them out of your hair, at least for, you know, five minutes. That’s enough to respond to that email, right?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Staying Apart, Together: I’m reminding you to take care of yourself

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