As more cities, counties, and states begin sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic (including my county), life in the great indoors is becoming our new normal.
A lot of us are working from home, trying to learn how to create routines for ourselves and our children. But today we learned that close to 3.3 million people applied for unemployment insurance in a single week.
On top of the work and employment concerns, we’re encountering empty shelves in grocery stores, enduring increasing amounts of cabin fever, and probably, most of all — we’re worried.
There’s so much uncertainty — of how we’ll pay our bills, if we’ll get sick, if we or our sick loved ones will get better, or if that cough is due to seasonal allergies or something else.
So I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be worried. This outbreak is a serious matter.
In the U.S., our infrastructure has been laid bare and low. Hospitals are scrambling to find masks, gowns, ventilators, and more medical professionals to keep up with the growing amount of people who need to be hospitalized. The economy has essentially shut down because need to keep physically distant from each other to help contain this virus (and not like everyone is adhering to those recommendations).
It’s a scary time.
Worry and anxiety about the present and the future aren’t feelings you should shove to the side. You shouldn’t try to just focus on the positive and hope this virus just “goes away.”
But what you should do is make sure that you’re taking good care of yourself, both physically and mentally.
As social creatures, “social distancing” feels unnatural. Many people are not handling being stuck at home (or away from home) very well. People who are already socially isolated may be feeling the pain of loneliness even more.
It’s OK to be worried and anxious — there’s so much to be concerned about right now. But it’s not OK to stay stuck in those feelings.
So how can you keep mentally well while keeping a safe physical distance from people?
There’s a ton of information out there, but I thought the following would be especially helpful for you to read or use as you’re sheltering in place.
One thing to keep in mind is that even if we’re all physically healthy, this outbreak has the potential to cause secondary traumatic stress, meaning that reading about people’s stories involving the coronavirus, or watching the news about the latest cases and casualties — it can start to take a psychic toll on all of us, including our children. With that in mind, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a guide for parents and caregivers on how to help families cope with the coronavirus.
The New York Times also has some helpful articles on how to talk to your kids about the outbreak.
It may seem counterintuitive to focus on having some fun while you’re sheltering in place for the next few days and weeks. Although it’s important to stay informed on how local and federal governments and institutions are handling this crisis, you do not want to stay too plugged in. That can increase your anxiety and let hopelessness set in. You can still take this outbreak seriously without being constantly updated on what’s going on.
So how can you have some actual fun and feel connected to others while sheltering in place? Here are three ideas.
BONUS: Here’s a crowdsourced Google Doc of a plethora of ideas of fun things you can do with your kids as you shelter in place.
On social media, there’s been a lot of talk about how extroverts have been struggling with the lack of physical contact from others. And introverts have been joking about how they’ve been well prepared for social distancing.
I used to think I was an introvert (INTJ in particular). But I learned recently that most of us are technically not introverts or extroverts, but ambiverts — a balance of introversion and extroversion characteristics. Introverts and extroverts are actually extremes.
So what you’re probably feeling, dear ambivert, is an imbalance. Your everyday life of going out and being with people has been disrupted. Now you’re dealing with a lot more time by yourself — especially if you live alone.
I probably lean towards introversion, especially as someone who works from home. So I too have been prepared for this outbreak in many ways.
But ironically, I was just starting to become more social outside of the house when this outbreak started. So I too feel your pain and anxiety of not being able to see people.
Still, as an ambivert and as a Gen Xer who has learned to enjoy her own company, I have some final (and admittedly obvious) tips about how to feel connected and to stay mentally well while sheltering in place.
You may have been feeling this compulsion to do things. I definitely have been feeling it.
I had wanted to write this post for the last week. But to be completely honest, it’s been emotionally tough. I’m in the mental health niche with my writing, but I knew what it would emotionally take for me to write this.
I had to examine the ways that this time indoors could be exacerbating ongoing mental health issues or creating new ones.
I feel tapped into the collective angst and anger of how things have been handled in the U.S.
And like you, I have read the heartbreaking stories of people who have been on the frontlines as healthcare workers, and of those who have died or gotten very ill.
So, it probably goes without saying that I have not been as productive as I would have liked.
And that’s OK.
This is a stressful, uncertain time. To think that you can just dive into writing the next Great American Novel or the next best pop song or do the work you normal do while sheltering in place…yeah, don’t think that! There’s no need to put that sort of pressure on yourself.
It’s OK to do nothing. To rest. To just breathe. And to be grateful that there are moments of nothing to do.
When was the last time you stared at the sky and watched the clouds roll by? The wind rustling in the trees? Or watched the animals outside your window? To just sit in complete silence by yourself, or with your pet? To lay on your bed and just look up at the ceiling as you hear the air conditioner turn on?
When have you allowed yourself to be just utterly bored?
Don’t worry, though — nature doesn’t like a vacuum. Your boredom, your nothingness, will be filled with something else. Maybe you’ll reach out and text an old friend. Maybe you’ll get the idea to try a new recipe. Or you could finally try to meditate (you’re practically doing it if you’re just staring at clouds anyway).
Or maybe you’ll just do nothing for a little while longer.
Our bodies and minds need a break from the news and the litany of worries that come with it.
While sheltering in place, it’s OK to do nothing. It’s OK to rest. It’s OK to be.
If all these ideas still bring you no relief, you should strongly consider reaching out for professional therapeutic help.
These days, because of physical distancing, therapists are turning to other ways to connect with their clients: texting, phone calls and video chats. Psychology Today has a database of therapists who use teletherapy as a part of their practice. If you have a therapist already and they haven’t offered this yet, ask them if they would consider another way of connecting so that you both can keep physically safe.
In my next post, I’ll talk more about online counseling and how you can benefit from it.
If things feel particularly hard, please don’t wait for a therapist appointment. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 right now or you can chat with someone.
The novel coronavirus will someday be a thing of the past. But until then, we have to rely on each other to get through this tough time while sheltering in place. Don’t shove your feelings into the attic of your mind, and don’t forget those who may be struggling, too.
Reach out for help. Reach out to help. 💘
If you’re in the mental health field and are wanting to help more people, let’s talk soon. I’d love to help you get your unique genius out into the world.
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