We are living in unprecedented times. For most of us, our days look very different than they did a few months ago. We have canceled trips and parties and social events and traditional academics. Our day to day lives have adjusted and shrunk to fit into our homes and onto our screens in a way none of us could have anticipated. And we don’t know how long it will last.
The news is full of information on this new virus, but less air time is given to something affecting many of us intimately: social isolation, anxiety, and fear. Brain health has never been more important. Diagnoses such as anxiety and depression already include feelings of isolation, difficulty coping with stressors, and a general struggle with normal day to day activities. Compounded with current circumstances, these issues can easily spiral to a place that feels chaotic, frantic, and out of control.
For many of us, there has never been a time with so much opportunity to sit with yourself and be with your own thoughts. Without our day to day routines to distract us, it is natural that our demons and negative narratives may become a more central feature of the day. And while our days may look different and futures less clear, we still have the capacity and ability to access mental wellness in this time of uncertainty.
First and foremost, consider giving yourself permission to drop whatever preconceived notions you have for this time. That peer pressure to post your workout online? The neighbor who mentioned they’ve deep cleaned their house and re-organized every closet? Good for them. If that kind of action helps you to feel in control, by all means sweat and clean away. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and judging your choice to watch Netflix because you’re exhausted and don’t have the energy to be “productive”, consider giving yourself permission to just sit and watch that show you’re enjoying. There is no test we need to pass or report card that will be stamped with approval for your productivity during a global pandemic. We all find solace in different ways, so listen to yourself and do what you need to do to care for yourself each day.
I often challenge my clients to make a “joy list”, or a list of things that bring them joy in their day to day lives. Then throughout the course of our work, I ask them to integrate these things into their daily life. These joyful items do not need to be that vacation you’ve been planning, although that is welcome on your list. It can live simply in that scent of shampoo that makes you smile, the hug you give your child before they go to bed, or the two minutes at the beginning of your day that you drink your coffee before it starts getting cold. Habits form by changing your normal routine and introducing new behaviors into the rhythm. Why not, during a time where our day to day looks different, challenge yourself to introduce small joys to provide relief among the worry? There is no better time to revisit old habits and introduce something new than a time where our lives look so extraordinarily different.
And of course, if you are struggling with severe sadness or overwhelming anxiety that makes it difficult to function in your daily life, I urge you to use this time to seek professional support. Many mental health providers are offering virtual services to provide care. The work you begin now through your video camera could continue in person when this dust finally begins to settle. We are all in this together. Breathe in, breathe out, and be well.
~Kim Tallon, Clinical Social Worker, Eating Disorder Specialist