What Do You Need? Getting Through (Another) Day in Social Isolation
How did you feel when you clicked on this article? Hopeful? Anxious? Overwhelmed?
My email inbox and social media feeds have been full of tips on getting through quarantine and countless examples of folks making the most of their time at home. As I scroll through sourdough bread recipes and exercise routines, I find myself feeling both overwhelmed and angry. Then I remind myself that there is no rulebook for how to get through a day (or days and probably months) in social isolation, because what we are experiencing, we are all experiencing for the first time.
As I approach my fourth week of staying at home and social distancing, I reflect on how my feelings and attempts to cope have changed day by day, and sometimes hour by hour. There have been baking respites from the news and from my thoughts, and I am grateful for them. They have been prompted by both random inspiration and by my desire to have some baked goods that would be soothing for me. I have two children at home, and there have been attempts to engage them in novel ways and work on their learning. But more often, there are days when I wake up and experience anxiety and dread, and I just wanted to eat cereal and watch another movie with them. Reflecting on the articles offering suggestions on how I “should” use my time, photos of parents successfully homeschooling their children, and examples of folks being “productive” makes me feel like a failure. And then I feel guilty for feeling bad, since our family is relatively privileged and our basic needs are being met and we are healthy. And so the spiral goes.
All of us have different coping mechanisms. After break-ups, I was always the dessert, sweatpants, and movies for a week type. But I had friends who, in the same situation, felt best throwing themselves into a new project, changing their hair, or exercising more. In those times, trying to make myself do something productive would just make me feel worse. As someone with depression, I also knew when my favorite coping mechanism (which sometimes was just sleeping) was crossing the line into worrisome territory and I needed additional support.
Right now, we are going through a massive traumatic event, and our trauma responses likely all look different. What feels good to someone else right now might not feel good for you. Folks who cope by staying busy might feel like they’re crawling up the walls; folks who cope by checking out might feel guilty that they’re cocooning.
My wish for you is that you would try to tune into what you need in each moment and try to suspend judgment. This is true for everyone regardless of your preferred way to cope (meaning: if you want to dust every surface in your home rather than get on FaceTime, or if you want to watch some mindless TV instead of re-organizing your kitchen cabinets, just go for it). Give yourself space to engage in trial and error, have a lot of compassion for yourself and others right now, and try to look forward to something each day (even if it might seem silly to someone else).
A traumatic event of this scope is basically unprecedented. As a mental health expert who cares about you, and as someone who struggles with depression and anxiety herself, I want you to stay as safe and healthy as you can while refusing to pressure yourself to be productive. Just as much as I want you to suspend judgment of yourself right now, I also want to make sure you are taking care of yourself, even on the days it feels most difficult. Regardless of all of our different comfort zones and usual coping mechanisms, my hope is that it would help to:
- Keep in touch with our loved ones to an extent that feels good
Maybe Zoom happy hours and Instagram Live concerts are saving your life right now (especially if you’re more extraverted!), and that’s awesome. But if you’d rather check in with family members or friends by text every other day or so, give yourself permission to do so.
- Differentiate between our days and nights in a way that is doable.
Some possible suggestions: showering and changing clothes for daytime even if we’re not going anywhere, going for a walk if you feel safe doing so, or making a point to notice sunset (or sunrise).
- Maintain basic hygiene.
We can do this by showering (even if it’s the bare minimum), and moving our bodies somewhat (a few minutes of stretching could be enough, or dancing to a favorite song). Caring for our bodies is powerful for our mental health. Give your body some positive attention.
- Find something to focus on other than the pandemic.
Animal Crossing has been a gift for many people at this moment, because it has given them something fun and light to focus on! You don’t have to learn a new instrument or improve your home—you could give yourself permission to play video games or watch movies that you enjoyed as a child too. Whatever it is, try to pick something that honors what feels good to you.
- We can feel proud of ourselves for staying home and helping flatten the curve.
A lot is out of our control right now, but every day we choose to stay in self- isolation is another day we are hastening the end of this pandemic, and that is something to be proud of.
Someone else is not the expert of what’s going to be best for you today—you are. So please check in with yourself each day and see what you’re needing. Do your best to honor that need, which may mean being creative, given the current limitations we are facing.
If you’re having trouble and know that you would benefit from some additional support, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call, or text at (323) 388-5578.
If you are in crisis and you need immediate support, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
And if you need some additional assistance in managing your mental health right now, including low fee options, here’s a guide for resources and ideas for staying connected: Crisis Response Guide for Mental Health Care.