In the days and weeks that followed the first diagnosis of the Coronavirus in the United States, we all began to hear the term "social distancing." Social distancing at its simplest is putting physical space between you and everyone else. The most logical way to create space between people is to remove opportunities for the COVID-19 virus to spread from person-to-person. All gathering opportunities began to be canceled - concerts, sports events, bar mitzvahs, plays, weddings, birthday parties, any party, even funerals.
For some, people that regard themselves as introverts, the initial required isolation has been comforting - maybe even fun. But as the isolation has continued, we're realizing that prolonged social isolation is not good for anyone and particularly damaging to those who suffer from mental health issues.
If you're having a difficult time with "social distancing," you are not alone and you are not abnormal. As with any issue that tends to magnify mental health issues, there are some steps you can take to increase your ability to manage this situation which has an unknown end. Here are just a few you may find helpful.
Focus on what you can control rather than what you can't control. The advantage of complying with social distancing is that you have taken control of your exposure to COVID-19. While you can't control what happens to your friends and family, the current situation didn't create that. You have no less control of what happens to others than you did before the pandemic. In fact, staying in reduces the likelihood you might infect others.
Engage all self-care protocols. It may be tempting to stress eat and have an erratic sleep schedule since you have no requirement to have structure to your daily schedule, but this is something you can control. Continue to eat well and maintain a regular sleep schedule. And don't forget to take any medication as prescribed.
Move! Social distancing does not mean you can't leave the house. Maintain or even increase your level of physical activity. The gyms may be closed, but you are not constrained to the gym as your only means of dealing with stress. Run, walk, or even do jumping jacks outside your house or apartment building. Movement is the key to behavioral activation, which has long since been found to improve the mood symptoms of depression.
Limit the use of alcohol. While this may be obvious, it's also tempting to believe there are no consequences for staying at home and drinking a lot when you don't have to be anywhere. It's also tempting to drink too much when you want the time to pass quickly. After all, if you're drunk for a month, then you'll hardly notice that there's a global pandemic. There are always consequences to drinking too much. Besides the hangover, it's just bad for your body. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can contribute to depression. Drinking also keeps you from using other coping skills that actually may be more effective in stabilizing your mood.
Avoid excessive exposure to news. There are no less than a dozen websites tracking the progression of the coronavirus and every news station on the TV has COVID-19 as the headline of every hour and in the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Staying informed of the facts is good for knowing what you need to do to stay healthy and safe (which means not heeding the advice on social media). But obsessing over every news report can lead you to believe there is nothing else going on that matters. Check-in with news a couple of times a day, then stay in touch with your friends and family.
Meditate. If you are experienced with meditation, this is the perfect time to resume and maintain the practice. Yoga studios are probably closed, but if you know yoga, set aside some time for it every day in your home. If meditation is new for you, there could not be a better time to learn and practice relaxing meditation. There are many meditation apps available to download to your smart phone. This video on Youtube can also be soothing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKsGkSL4X9w&feature=youtu.be
Create virtual community. You are definitely not alone even if you feel lonely. We live in an amazing time when the ability to contact others through technology is well within reach of most of us. Corporations have been conducting virtual meetings for decades. That same ability is available to you through your computer or your smartphone. Send an Evite to your friends for a virtual party using one of the apps that allows multiple participants. Hold a Google Netflix party that syncs your viewing so you can view your digital entertainment at exactly the same time. Now is a great time to be creative with how you stay in contact. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation.
Take inventory of your coping skills. No one knows exactly how many coping skills you need, but a good number is 10. If you only have a few coping skills and strategies available to you, then you will burn through them pretty quickly. For example, if going to the gym has been your only coping strategy, then you're going to have to develop some new ones fairly quickly to get through the current pandemic. Having a robust repertoire of coping skills increases your likelihood of navigating your isolation with minimal negative impact.
Live, don't just survive. When your physical as well as economic well-being are uncertain, it's easy to feel like you're in survival mode. It isn't comforting but after you have done everything in your control, acceptance of your situation is all that is left. Relief will likely come in a variety of ways: rent deferment, unemployment compensation, etc. But you still deserve to live. This is not an apocalypse - it is just the current situation we must accept. You deserve to enjoy yourself and engage in the things that bring you joy and pleasure and comfort.
See a counselor or psychotherapist. Since good mental health is the objective, please see your counselor regularly during these times. Many counselors have moved to telemedicine sessions and have plenty of openings. Work with your counselor to develop any coping skills you may need to develop during these trying times.
Complete Wellness remains open and fully operational during the current pandemic. If you need any of our services, please email us at Office@CompleteW.com