How to Protect Your Mental Health During ‘Social Distancing’

Amy Cirbus Ph.D, LMHC, LPC

Dr. Amy Cirbus is the Director of Clinical Content at Talkspace. She is a New York Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a New Jersey Licensed Professional Counselor. In her twenty two years of clinical practice she has provided direct patient care in outpatient and inpatient settings and has served in several leadership positions, including clinical supervisor and program & clinical director, while facilitating and fostering leadership programming for fellow therapists. Her areas of interest include women’s health and wellness, young adulthood, and relationships. Dr. Cirbus is a frequent public speaker on mental health. She is a contributor to national podcasts and publications, most notably the New York Times, Forbes, Glamour and Business Insider. Dr. Cirbus is devoted to the innovation of creating accessible mental health services to everyone by integrating technology with superior mental healthcare.

 

MENTAL HEALTH DURING SELF ISOLATION

Social isolation is a common — and valid — concern as we head into what could be several weeks of limited access to our normal routine and in-person interaction with other people. Some may take social distancing in stride, but for most, it’s causing high degree of anxiety and anticipated loneliness. To help you relieve some of this apprehension, here are some ways to prepare and manage in order to reduce the negative emotional impact for yourself and for others.

 

 

Mentally Prepare

How you think about a quarantine or WFH is vital. The terms we use to describe the situation sets the emotional tone for how we feel about it. If we think in terms of what we’re being forced to do and what we won’t have access to, it creates a sense of lack and powerlessness. Anxiety and panic can start to creep in, not to mention boredom and apathy. Combine that with a lot of uncertainty and endlessly dire newsfeed, and you have a recipe for mental health disaster.

However, if we can stay focused on the things that we still can do and what we still do have — while creating a basic structure for our days that resembles our old routine — we can mitigate feelings of anxiety and depression and get through these next weeks successfully — maybe even happily.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Accentuate the positives
    Focus on what you are able to do during this time. You’re finally home — organize, read, rest, cook, and play. Take advantage of the time this provides.
  • Don’t overload on news
    Identify where you get your news and check in once or twice a day. Staying constantly connected to the unfolding news won’t be helpful — remember that it doesn’t change anything — and make sure your news sources are reliable. We recommend the CDC and WHO.
  • It won’t last forever
    Remember, this contagion will end. New stories, open-ended developments, and the unknown are anxiety provoking for sure, but be mindful that this outbreak won’t last forever.

Organise Yourself and Your Tribe

Get prepared. Taking action is a great tool for anxiety, and is essential if you’re working from home with family and children around. This time is fraught with unknowns and tension, but identifying actionable tasks can help empower you tremendously. It gives intention and focus to an open ended situation and sets you up to deal with the tumult of the outbreak.

Here are a few ways that you can take action and gain a sense of agency.

  • Set a schedule
    Keeping a daily rhythm helps manage the day productively. Even small items such as eating around the same time as usual, and dedicating time to play, work, and rest, can work wonders.
  • Be social, virtually
    Create a virtual schedule with friends and colleagues. Real time office banter, coffee and dinner dates aren’t advised, but virtual ones can work just as well. Don’t leave yourself out of the loop — be intentional with your connections now. Scheduling a virtual meet-up at least once a day can make all the difference as you negotiate the long hours alone.
  • Stay busy
    Kids home from school? Gather up the activities! Identify games and activities that they can choose from ahead of time and let them know how each day will work. Too much downtime is tough for children as well.

Social Isolation Doesn’t Have To Mean Emotional Isolation

Think about the ways you stay connected now. We’ve gotten so used to being “on” all the time that we’ve taken it for granted. Reaching out to friends and family from afar is essential. Now is the time to bump up live video and facetime calls so we can be as present with our loved ones as possible while still staying safe.

Talk about your experience with others. Don’t shy away from sharing. This is something we’re all experiencing and we can benefit from the camaraderie in that.

Connect internally. Dig into your self care go-to’s. Meditate, read, relax, and cook.

We would like to thank Amy Cirbus and Talkspace for this highly informative article