Written by Michael Maloney, LCPC
COVID-19 (coronavirus) has been sweeping the news and we are seeing and feeling the impacts of a pandemic. Many places are starting to either close, have limited hours, or add new safety precautions. Many work places are encouraging and/or requiring their employees to work from home. Schools have been shutting down or similarly changing to an online format. Public shared spaces like theaters and community environments are starting to shut down as well.
Some are worried about the coronavirus, but many are just worried about the impact of all these changes. How will these changes impact one’s learning or paycheck? How do we stay sane during this whole process? Many of the clients and friends I have talked to feel that they will be fine but state that it still feels like the end of the world. These people are currently not afraid of the virus; they are afraid of isolation, anxiety and depression.
When I do couples therapy I usually talk about the window of Structure and Flexibility. When we have too much Structure it feels restrictive and we call feel trapped. If there is too much Flexibility then it feels like chaos and like things are not in control. While all the closures and changes to our work, school and social life are important responses to the pandemic and stopping the spread of disease (particularly for those at high risk), it still takes away a lot of the Structure in our day to day life.
I encourage people to follow the CDC’s (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/election-polling-locations.html) and WHO’s recommendations. If you have concerns about your physical health and safety please consult with your physician to figure out best options for yourself and your family.
However with the loss of Structure we lose our typical routine of self-care. What is our self-care during a pandemic or if we need to self-quarantine ourselves during this time?
It is important for many people to get updates on the news. I would recommend you set a limited amount of time for yourself. For many people who watch the news, they stop retaining new information after watching non-stop for a while.
If the news is the only thing we are witnessing and/or thinking about, it creates a mindset of fear, powerlessness, and being in crisis. Some news helps us be informed but we need to set an actual limit on how much we watch so that we focus on other activities and allow our body to rest.
I often talk to clients about moving anxious or angry energy towards something you can move. What does this mean? If you are watching the news, there is only so much you can do. You are a passive audience member and cannot interact directly with the news. So watching the news activates your fight/flight response but you are sitting still letting all that stress build up. That energy needs to be directed towards something you can get your hands on. Which leads to the next suggestion!
I mentioned above having pent up energy that needs somewhere to go. If you are not engaging in your regular activities you might be focusing a lot of your attention on the things you can’t do. Focus on some of the things you can do. I talked to friends who have decided that they will spend some of their time writing, reading, doing home projects they have been neglecting, calling more friends they haven’t seen in a while, and engaging in various other activities.
If you are noticing what you are missing out on, see if you can find a way to feed that part of you. I know someone who is avoiding the gym right now but is doing more workouts at home. One of my clients wants to try making bread dough when they are too stressed from the news. They want to take the stress energy and use it to pound out the bread dough. If you are missing out on community or creative spaces, then how might you engage in connecting with others or feeding that creative space if you need to self-quarantine?
I had a spiritual friend missing out on her religious practice due to being exposed and avoiding her congregation (and everyone) for the next 2 weeks. She knew she would miss her connection to her faith so she downloaded some books and is having a book club with some people in her congregation.
We humans need connection. There are many studies that found the lack of touch in orphanages led to higher mortality rates in infants. Touch in this case just means connection to another living being. The CDC still encourages less physical contact now, but many people fear losing their connections with others if they work from home or need to self-quarantine.
Honor this concern and think about how you will connect with others. Maybe you need to FaceTime or use Hangouts to connect with friends and family. Maybe you can find a way to write a story with a friend. You can try to watch a movie with someone. I know a couple that watched the Great British Bake Off together while in a long distance relationship. It was a wonderful time to connect for them.
If you are not quarantined, then maybe reach out to someone who is, and support them. Maybe you can pick up supplies for someone afraid to leave the house. In general, sharing some of the concerns about the current state of things can help you and others process everything. How do you want to connect with others during this time?
Seek Professional Help
If you are noticing high levels of depression and/or anxiety or rumination (circular thinking you can’t turn off) about current events, consider asking for help. Psychotherapy is a way to connect with someone and build on skills to take care of yourself and build a plan to manage symptoms, thoughts, and experiences you are dealing with.
Even with the need to self-quarantine, there may be options for teletherapy. Teletherapy is a way to remotely do psychotherapy. This is accomplished with a HIPPA-complaint and secure video or audio “call” with a therapist. Teletherapy may not be appropriate for all cases and sometimes insurance may not cover it. However during the pandemic many insurances will likely cover it. Check with your therapist to see what options are available.
During this time of uncertainty, it’s important to take care of ourselves and each other!