How to Survive Social Distancing
These are unprecedented times. It seems that everywhere you turn you see some new development about COVID-19 and its impacts. Maybe you are feeling anxious about your elderly family members or maybe you are stressed about your job. Maybe you are worrying about the state of panic the world seems to be in. Maybe you're a student stressing about online learning and how this will affect your future. Maybe you're just bored of sitting at home.
I'm not an infectious disease expert or a doctor so I won't be talking about the specifics of the pandemic we are facing. What I can say is that our governments have acted on expert advice to implement social distancing protocols and safety recommendations to help flatten the curve of this virus. This means staying home whenever possible, keeping a safe distance from others when you are out, avoiding large gatherings, and practicing good hygiene. Restaurants have closed, weddings have been postponed, and for the first time in many of our lives we are told we should stay home as much as possible.
So how do you feel about all of this?
As a therapist, I have firsthand witnessed the changes in perceptions surrounding our current predicament. Some people welcome the family time, while others worry about what they will do. From a mental health perspective, here are some things that may get you through this difficult time:
1) Limit Your Exposure
This one has a double meaning. Limit your exposure to others as is recommended by health professionals but also limit your exposure to the news. It's okay to keep yourself informed but it is important to set boundaries around this. Get your information from credible sources. Question the sources on social media and don't take everything you see at face value - It's okay to ask questions. Another good practice is to set a limit for how much news you watch or where you watch it (I.e. only in the living room in the morning vs in your bedroom before bed).
2) Make a Self-Care List
I ask all my clients to make a list of 10 Things they can do to take better care of themselves. As I meet with clients now, I am encouraging them to revamp this list given the current circumstances. Make a list of things you can do to take better care of yourself while in self-isolation or while practicing social distancing. This could mean taking some time in your room alone away from the family or going for a walk around the block. This is important because you need practical ways to take care of you during this time.
Silver lining in all of this - we are more connected online than ever before! You can watch a movie with a friend remotely, video chat, play games, or even workout remotely. I want to stress here that when I say connect online I don't mean scrolling through Facebook or Instagram - I'm sure you'll be doing that anyways. What I mean is connect authentically. Have a phone conversation or a video conference with friends or family. Talk about how you are coping with what is going on and assure your friends that you are there for them. We aren't always good at reaching out for help; sometimes it helps to take the first step and offer support.
4) Keep a Routine
Routine and habits are good for us. Being stuck at home can throw a wrench in our routine. If you used to exercise at the gym every morning, shake things up with an at-home workout or a run around the block. Keep regular mealtimes and "school" for the children. You can incorporate some healthy habits in here too like reading for an hour a day or meditating for 10 minutes before bed each night.
5) Keep Productive...but set limits
It is good for your mental health to stay productive while at home. That said, do set boundaries here too. It can be tempting if are working from home to stretch out your workday - don't. If at all possible, do not do it. Set a schedule for your workday and do your best to stick to it. Numerous studies have shown that we actually become less productive after about 35 hours of work per week. If you are a student or are off work completely, now may be a good time to work on that art piece or bedroom makeover - anything to make you feel accomplished and productive.
6) Talk It Out
It's okay to feel overwhelmed, confused, scared, or any combination thereof. Don't be afraid to reach out and look for support if you need it. Here in Simcoe County I'm seeing many of my clients via virtual therapy. This can be done for both individual and couples therapy. Don't feel that help isn't available just because you're social distancing or are in self-isolation. We are still here to help, always.