Stress during this pandemic may include fear about our own health and the health of our loved ones. We might have financial concerns for ourselves or our family and friends as we watch the economy take a harsh beating as a consequence of shelter in place orders.
It’s likely that everyone will feel distress during this unprecedented time. For those of us who have a history of trauma, anxiety, depression or other mental health vulnerabilities, this time under stay at home order can be particularly challenging. Enforced isolation and physical distancing are painful and cause us to feel despairingly lonely. Humans are social creatures. While Zoom and FaceTime and other virtual ways to connect are better than nothing, there is nothing as good for our mental health as person-to-person connection with others who express happiness at being with us. When we feel unwell or afraid our instinct and need is to reach out and be close to others. In this situation we must do the opposite—we must keep our distance.
Compounding feelings of loss are the postponement and cancellation of memorial services for the deceased, and many enjoyable life activities and happily anticipated celebrations with no idea if and when and how we’ll ever again be able to share these life-affirming gatherings. We’re all dealing with feelings of fear, sadness, grief and disappointment.
How do we comply with physical distancing for our physical health and at the same time, satisfy our needs for social connection crucial for our mental health?
1. Practice Gratitude. See the good in your life. I don’t mean to sound like a foolish PollyAnna but focusing on all your resources: relational, material, physical, financial and spiritual will help get you through this tough time. Think of at least 3 things each day that help you feel fortunate, safe, and blessed.
2. Practice Patience. Don’t be afraid of anxiety. It’s likely you’ll feel anxious during this time when fear and sadness are the prevailing emotions. Try to shift your anxiety by taking positive action. What are some things that will help you feel better?
3. Accept the MUD (Mystery, Uncertainty and Doubt) of this time. We don’t have many answers to the what, where, when or why of all this. Breathe deeply and get in touch with your 5 senses. Keep yourself in the present. Adopt a one day (or one moment) at a time mentality. Don’t make up negative stories about what bad things might happen in the future. All we know now is that physical distancing and hand washing can help keep us and others safe. Soap and water will wash away the virus but the MUD will remain.
4. Connect with Friends. When you’re feeling down or alone, reach out, ask for help or offer to help others if you’re able.
5. Create and Maintain Comforting Routines. Stay connected to your life. Establish regular habits—waking, sleeping, preparing meals, self care, exercise.
6. Practice Radical Acceptance. Treat yourself to what’s possible. Give yourself some time and compassion to grieve what you’re missing and think about what’s possible and like Nike says, Just Do It.
7. Practice Self Empathy. Some days will be easier than others. Be gentle with yourself and with the others who are sharing your sheltering in place space as you get through the hard moments. Have a ready list of things that help you feel better, music, exercise, movies. There are endless internet entertainment and exercise options available. Try some new activity you’ve been curious about but never had the courage to try. You don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes you might just want to cry or be alone. Give yourself some time to do that and then try to soothe yourself as you would if you were soothing a scared child. Gently take yourself by the hand and find something that will ease the sorrow.
8. Set a LIMIT on What You Take In. Know when enough is enough—enough food, enough drink, enough news, enough online shopping. When so much of what we enjoy isn’t available we might overuse some things that are available and which aren’t so good for us in excess. Pay attention and set limits. Find things to do that don’t include paying an extra price you don’t want to pay—feeling unwell or stressed.
9. Use the time at home to do things you never have time for-–organize a closet, clear out old files. Purge unused stuff from your storage locker. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you get that dreaded thing done.
10. Don’t Go It Alone. If you’re feeling really depressed or anxious and your symptoms are at a level that you can’t manage alone there are resources. The State of Illinois has established a Call4Calm program to provide mental health care. It can be accessed by texting TALK to 552020. If residents text the hotline, they will receive a follow-up text asking for their first name and their zip code. The information will be used to connect the caller with a health care professional in their area. Those who call the hotline will remain anonymous. I’m offering health insurance/Medicare approved teletherapy sessions for those who are looking to schedule a first session.