Quarantine is really starting to drag on. Initially clients and friends were excited about having some time off from work to recharge. They leaned into it and did all those long-delayed tasks around their home. Some started to cook again. Others finally read that book they were meaning to read. People were scared but felt relatively content to enjoy the freedom of being in their house.
That enjoyment of making the best of a bad situation ended about six weeks ago. Every day clients and friends share with me how they are starting to lose their minds. The effect of sustained social distancing has really started to take a toll on their emotional and mental health.
Social distancing helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. People who adhere to social distancing reduce the likelihood they will get sick. However, safety comes at a cost; connection to others. We clearly see the effect social distancing is having on mental health. Alcohol sales, domestic violence, and suicide rates have all increased.
Greek Mythology Present Day
Recently I was talking with a colleague about this strange trade-off between physical and mental health. She was expressing frustration at the trade-off. She described it as feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.
This is a common phrase we use today. Its roots trace back to Greek mythology. Homer penned it in The Odyssey. He used it to describe a situation where Odysseus (the main character) had to choose between two bad choices. The concept was that no matter which choice Odysseus made it was a bad choice.
With the current pandemic a lot of people feel like they are modern day versions of Odysseus:
“I can stay home and be safe but lose my job or I can keep my job but then possibly get sick.”
“I can be responsible and being lonely or be irresponsible and not lonely.”
It seems like no matter what decision people make they are losing. Many clients, friends, and colleagues have shared thoughts like these with me. It gave me pause and I reflected on some of my own thoughts:
“Either I help my parents and potential expose them to the virus or I don’t help them and one of my parents hurts themselves trying to move furniture by themselves.”
“Either I can avoid connecting my friends and staying safe or I spend time with them but potentially get sick.”
Turns out that even lowly therapists like myself can struggle in these times. In response to client needs, and apparently my own, I decided to write about some steps people can take to maintain their mental health during this pandemic.
Recognize and let go of “All or Nothing Thinking”
It’s slightly fatalistic to think there are only two choices in a situation. In reality there are way more options. I found my mind saying I could either isolate and stay safe or see my friends but possibly get exposed.
Those options are at either end of the spectrum. There are many options in between. For instance, yesterday I decided to see two close friends. We sat outside in chairs that were located way more than six feet apart. We talked, laughed, and connected. We avoided all physical contact but had a great time. Then everyone went home.
Anytime that you catch yourself thinking in an all or nothing way take a step back. Speak to yourself in a kind manner. Say to yourself “Hey you have some all or nothing thoughts going on. It happens. Shake it off and remember that there are so many other options.” I have done this with many clients. Without fail they tell me they feel really silly saying it. Then a week later when they come back they tell me how much its helped.
Spend Time Outdoors
I am a huge proponent of spending time outside. As a researcher I have read numerous studies which talk about the positive effect that sunshine can have on depression. In my work as a therapist I strongly encourage clients to go for walks. Walking triggers the release of endorphins which make us feel good.
I can very easily allow work and the quarantine to keep me indoors for days on end. Early in quarantine I stayed inside for over 48 hours a time. I realized though that this was starting to take an effect on my mind. Every day now I make it a point to go outside. Some days I go for long walks. Other days I just sit outside. The activity you select isn’t important. What is important is that you get outside.
There are countless studies that demonstrate how the positive effect of meditation. From a physical level meditation has proven to be effective in reducing the heart rate and blood pressure. From a mental health perspective meditation is a great tool in dealing with anxiety.
Recently I have talked to a lot of people struggling with anxiety. With everything going on right now it’s not surprising. Meditation can be really helpful in slowing down the mind. Maybe you are imagining the worst case scenario.
“Was that a cough due to allergies or is it the start of the virus?”
“I am going to lose everything.”
Meditation creates a space for you to become an observer of what is going on in your mind. By observing you can start to engage in thought challenging. You can see which of your thoughts are legitimate and which are not really likely.
Seek Professional Help
I have noticed a significant increase in people reaching out for professional help. As an advocate for mental health I am thrilled by this. Everything going on right now can be really scary. Professional help can help you feel supported so that you aren’t completely overwhelmed. If you have any questions reach out.