By Melissa Kiritsis, JT Connect
Right now, millions of people are experiencing something never before seen in our culture. It’s a time of vast uncertainty as millions of people are being affected by the sudden and unexpected changes related to the COVID-19 global outbreak.
People are encountering loss on many different levels. Some are having financial hardships due to the loss of a job, some have been displaced from their work environments and have had to set up home offices and others, such as first responders and health care workers, are facing the crisis head on. Children have been removed from their schools and thrust into unfamiliar distance learning programs overnight, while parents are struggling to find a balance between their new work situations and a hybrid type of homeschooling. Businesses have been shuttered, sporting events and celebrations like weddings, proms, and graduations have all been cancelled. It is a time of fear and uneasiness for everyone as we all face uncertainty about the future together.
While isolation and social distancing are needed to stop the spread of the virus, it doesn’t negate the fact that we are social beings and need connection to survive as much as we need food, water, and warmth. This new set of social restrictions can not only be difficult to navigate, but it can also have a significant impact on your mental health. Increased loneliness, heightened anxiety, and worsening of depression and other mental health conditions are concerning challenges that people may face.
While it may feel like you are not in control of your situation, or the future, there are some things you can do if you find yourself struggling.
- Limit Information Intake: There is a lot of information being circulated on the internet, news and social media right now. If it feels overwhelming, limit how much information you are taking in and refer to reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Connect: Even though quarantine and social distancing prohibits close physical distance, it does not mean you need to completely isolate socially. Over the years, there has been an increasing concern that technology and social media is causing people to lose personal connections with each other. Now, more than ever, we need to rely on that technology to be able to reach out and stay in contact with others.
According to Albert Mehrabian’s communication model, seven percent of communication is verbal (words), 38 percent is non-verbal (tone of voice) and 55 percent is visual (body language). Before you send that text or email, consider picking up the phone, or even better, connect using Facetime or other video apps or programs available to you. Chances are, the person you are contacting will be happy to see a smile on the other end.
- Find an Outlet or Activity:
Just because you need to keep a physical distance with people, doesn’t mean you need to shut yourself in. Thankfully, the weather is getting warmer and we can get outside to enjoy the sunshine. Go for a walk, do that landscaping job you didn’t have time for before, or spend a few minutes in a hammock reading a book. On rainy days watch a funny movie or check out the virtual tours some of the zoos and museums are offering. Maybe even have an impromptu dance party in the kitchen. Social distancing doesn’t have to be boring.
- Keep to a Routine – Sudden and unexpected changes can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, change is unavoidable for all of us right now and while it may seem difficult to transition, it’s not impossible. As tempting as it may be to stay in your pajamas and sit on the couch all day, incorporating some new routines could help bring a sense of calm and order in a seemly chaotic time.
When establishing a new routine, keep in mind that it may look completely different than what you were used to, and it may take some trial and error, so allow yourself time to adjust. There is no right place to start or one routine that works for everyone, but here are some things to try:
- Set an alarm and try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
- Get dressed, brush your hair, shave or do whatever you need to do to get yourself ready for the day.
- Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at set times to avoid snacking and stress eating throughout the day.
- Close your computer and put the homework away when the workday or school day is over.
- Pick a day of the week for movie night or family game night.
- Connect with at least one family member or friend at a certain time each day.
Structure and routine are important for maintaining good mental health. For some, too many changes at once can be overwhelming, so if you need to, make a to-do list and break things down into smaller tasks. Take things one day at a time and focus on what you can control in the moment.
5. Practice Self Care – Take some time to define what your own version of self-care is. Maybe you are picturing a candle lit bubble bath, but sometimes self-care is much smaller things to help you maintain control over your life and stress level. For some, this could mean very simple things like making the bed each morning and others may find meditating, journaling, or exercising helpful. It is also important to keep on top of any medical conditions you may have and reach out to your doctor if you need to. Be mindful about what you are eating, drinking, and how much you are sleeping. Avoiding drugs and alcohol are also important because they can worsen anxiety and depression and contribute to an overall decline in mental health.
- Access Your Support System: You may already have a person or group of people who you can trust to listen and validate what you are feeling. Lean on those people during this time and reach out to them when you need someone to talk to. If you have a professional mental health support system, keep in close contact with them. They may have had to make changes to their practice, but don’t assume they aren’t seeing patients. Many therapists and doctors are offering phone or video appointments. If you do not already have a doctor or therapist and are struggling emotionally, please do not let the current situation stop you from reaching out. In addition to local mental health professionals, there are online therapy resources and organized support networks available.
Maybe the current state of affairs hasn’t affected your life too much, or maybe it has completely turned it upside down. Whatever your situation is, it is important to remember that none of us are going through this alone. Even though the future is unforeseeable, one thing is certain: we will all come out of this looking at life a little differently, hopefully, with a little more empathy, compassion, patience, and gratitude.
If you are struggling or need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.