Social distancing doesn't mean mentally isolating

Friday, March 13, 2020

Life has changed. Jobs have been lost. We don't know when schools and workplaces will reopen. The entire household is home together. All day. For the foreseeable future. We're relying on technology to see our loved ones.

If this is overwhelming to you, you are not alone. We’re all in this together—only from a safe distance apart.

“Take it day by day and give yourself time to settle in and get situated,” said Talkspace therapist Amy Cirbus, Ph.D, LPC, LMHC. “Just be really mindful of what you need to do to be healthy for yourself and the people around you.”

Prioritize physical health

Cirbus suggested taking care of your physical health first. Practice good hygiene, assess your risk and make decisions based on that. Ask yourself what you need to feel safe and comforted.

Don't be afraid to ask for help if leaving the house isn't safe for you. Neighborhood groups on Facebook are offering help. Grocery delivery services can drop food at your door. Use a mail-order pharmacy that can deliver your prescriptions to your mailbox.

If you're feeling well, make sure to incorporate some physical activity into your day. You might enjoy swapping your commute time for a daily walk or trying some YouTube workout videos.

Add self-care

From there, do what you need to do to feel mentally healthy. Cirbus said some of her therapy clients are even seeing the benefits of additional time at home. It’s an opportunity to do those things we want to do, but don’t seem to have time for like trying a new recipe or reading a book.

“Things that you’re always longing for, allow yourself time to do them,” Cirbus said.

She suggested that households discuss what everyone needs, such as time alone or sharing a meal together. Keeping work to work hours can also help make things feel more normal.

Connect

Everyone’s life is disrupted right now. It’s a shared experience, and it’s OK to talk about that and your feelings. This unprecedented time can spark feelings of fear, anxiety, isolation, and also anticipation. Cirbus suggested talking to others about how you’re feeling. Therapists often warn of too much time with technology, but now is a great time to use it.

“We have these amazing resources of live video, chat conversations. Schedule in some of that socialization that you would usually engage in if you were headed to work or to the office,” Cirbus said. 

You might also find value in finding something you can do or can control. Maybe that’s going for a walk every day after work, FaceTiming with a friend or helping a neighbor.

If you’re healthy and able, think about what you can do. Maybe you can run errands for an at-risk friend or give a roll of toilet paper to a neighbor who can’t find some. Some people might need a hand setting up their phone to FaceTime or with childcare, so they can get some work done. Check your town or neighborhood groups for opportunities to help.

“We can socially isolate but not emotionally and mentally isolate,” Cirbus said.

Limit news

Extended news coverage takes a toll on mental health. Cirbus reminds that it’s the news networks’ job to be on all day. That doesn’t mean you have to watch all day. 

“Check in once or twice a day,” she suggested. “If you have it on all day, it’s not necessarily new information.”

Remember to get news from reputable sources, too. Scientists are still learning about this virus and there is a lot of speculation that shows up on news programs and fills social media feeds. That can lead to fear.

Get professional help

A professional can help you navigate this uncharted territory. Talkspace offers virtual access to licensed therapists. Get started at Talkspace.com/Premera. Premera also covers virtual visits from therapists who usually do in-person sessions.

“It might be more of a marathon than a sprint,” Cirbus said. “Reach out if it gets overwhelming.”

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