Sequestered Sanity: A How-To

by Jennifer Clark, LMSW, and Mickey Desai

So, here we are, social distancing.  We are working from home. We are ordering take out.  We are staying away from our favorite exhibits, restaurants, and events.  If you’re like us, you miss people. And even if you’re just a massive introvert, social contact is still a part of healthy living. 

Social Isolation and Loneliness are Serious Health Issues

A Brigham Young University study suggests that the conditions of isolation or loneliness can be as bad as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.  But the public health world adamantly maintains isolating is the right way to flatten the curve of contagion.  And they’re right.  Isolating is the right thing to do, even if it makes us a little loopy.  But you are not alone. The whole world is isolating with you. Maddening paradox, right?  Look, even if we’re not physically together, we will pull through this pandemic together. Here’s our recipe for doing this the right way.  This is a long recipe, but you’re worth it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Stay Informed, But…

If you have to watch the news, partake mindfully.  Consider seeking out news online or via newspaper rather than by listening to the radio or watching TV.  When you use a live medium, the news–good or bad–pours over you without any control, and it’s sometimes difficult to filter out the unnecessary sensationalism.  If something triggering is announced on your television, it’s all over you before you can stop it. If you choose to read your news instead of watching or listening, you can pick and choose your sources and the articles you follow up on.

And if you do get your news online, remember almost all news agencies make a profit off of your clicks.  The headlines are as sensational as possible to get that click. Often the article itself is less interesting, or the headline might even be misleading.  Screen your sources. We encourage you to be very critical of the news, in general. If you are reading about COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to stick with information from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, or the National Institutes of Health.  Sometimes your local department of public health (usually a county-level entity) will have relevant, local updates, too.

Take Your Meds

If you have been prescribed medications, keep taking them on schedule.  I know we tell you this over and over, but it’s true. You can’t keep healthy if you don’t practice your baseline health measures.  

Stay on Schedule

Try to stay on a steady schedule.  Circadian disruption seems almost unavoidable, but it’s important to keep a healthy schedule.  If you don’t have a good schedule, adopt one for yourself today. Right now. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety and you stay awake in the dark, gaming all night and sleeping-in all day, this is assuredly going to make things worse for you as we get deeper into quarantine.  Don’t catch up on the news just before you go to bed. By the way, sleep is critical to keeping your immune system happy.  

Daylight

Also, while we are talking about daylight, get out in it.  Sitting in your backyard or on your front step still practices safe social distancing and gets you out in the light.  Do you do the meditation thing? It’s a great time to do some mindfulness exercises. Maybe even some yoga. Listen to the birds–they’re happy Spring is here.  Can you see the newly growing tree buds? Feel the grass under your feet?

Uplifting Entertainment

Consume books, movies, and music that lift you up and inspire you.  Be aware of your choices and avoid selections that might feed anger, despair, or loneliness.  We’re not going to judge you for watching Contagion back-to-back five times in five days if it was already your favorite movie.  If your jam is Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and that gets you motivated, go you! But if it makes you stabby, another choice might be better.

Got a Pet?

Of course, pets are great company. Talking to and/or petting your pet creates endorphins for both of you. Teach your dog a new trick. (Or your cat, for that matter.)  Don’t forget to keep them stocked up on food and meds, too. Currently, the WHO says dogs cannot get coronavirus. Still, it is important that you do the twenty-second hand-washing thing after contact with your pets.  

Exercise

Yes, you need to hear this.  There’s a joke going around that says “This is the first time in history that we can save the world just by sitting in front of the TV and doing nothing.”  Ha Ha. Yes. Very funny. But can you imagine coming out on the other side of pandemic having dropped a few pounds? Never-mind that, can you do without the cognitive and emotional benefits you get from exercise?  It’s a good way to burn off some stress, to say the least.

Plan and Connect From a Distance

Make a plan to regularly check-in with family and friends throughout this period.  Your plan should not only specify time for connecting, it should also specify the method for connecting (phone call vs facetime vs skype, or whatever).  Your plan should inform and confirm who you can reach out to if you need help getting food, meds, or other essentials.

You know this already, but we have to put it in writing: regularly scheduled phone calls and video calls along with texting and emails are great ways to stay in touch with people.  Simple conversations where you talk about nothing in particular can be a lifeline of support if your loved-ones develop symptoms. It’s important to talk and share your feelings with people you trust.

And then there’s good, simple, social connection.  Try to find ways to connect with others from a distance.  Social Media can be very despair-inducing, but it also can match you with the most amazing and helpful people.  We recently had the privilege of watching an entire group of people sort out toilet paper resources via an online meeting.  Need help buying groceries? There’s an app for that. Suddenly need a webcam so you can work from home or do the aforementioned video calls?  Maybe someone on facebook has an extra they don’t use any more. We can be alone at home, but still participate in the greater humanity. Did you know there’s an online Cards Against Humanity game?  Maybe you’re into Battleship

Make A List

We know.  This one isn’t so much about socializing.  But there’s nothing wrong with staying prepared.  Keep a list of helpful community organizations handy.  Keep those numbers accessible–if not for you then for someone else.  Community and faith-based organizations can play an important role if you should ever lack access to information, resources, healthcare services, and just general support.  Does your neighborhood do the Next Door thing? Could be useful. What about organizations that provide mental health services or counseling? Put local numbers on your list, too. Some organizations also provide emergency food and other supplies.  Keep those numbers readily accessible.  

A Better Perspective

There is a term that therapists use called “Cognitive Reframing.”  Big words to suggest that you simply look at things from a different perspective.  It’s like the optical illusion where if you look at a picture one way, you see an old crone.  If you look at the same picture another way, you see a young woman. When you look at our current situation you might think, “Look how empty the stores and roads are.  This is so awful! I’m so afraid!” We would encourage you to instead say: “Look at how empty the stores and roads are. It’s so great that everyone cares so much to stay home and keep others safe.”

Until we can meet again, please Stay Calm, Stay Safe, Stay Home.