Let’s be honest here: social distancing is incredibly challenging and both physically and emotionally draining. The more time that passes, the more we're itching to be out and about, wanting to spend time with our loved ones and craving a trip out of the house for some good food. While being forced to social distance has been extremely difficult for a lot of us, it is also the most beneficial and effective thing we can do for ourselves and our community at this time.
During this Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to turn your attention to the idea that adapting to abnormal circumstances can help you maintain your mental wellness and make an uncomfortable situation more manageable. Essentially, it first takes a willing choice.
We have the choice to stay miserable in a miserable situation, or we have the choice to make the most of a tough situation without making it worse.
Here are a few suggestions to maintain your mental wellness while social distancing:
Maintain a routine and be productive
Being in the comfort of our own homes 24/7 can easily lessen productiveness and motivation, especially when distracted by family members, food, TV and social media. To help with this, continue with your regular schedule as best as you can. Stick to your regular waking, eating and sleeping hours; create a separate work space (if you work) and get dressed as if you’re going out! Maintain as much sameness as possible to lessen the disruption of your emotional and cognitive adjustment to the change. For parents with young children, involve them in or teach them about what you’re doing as a learning opportunity.
Try something new AND do something old
This is your chance to get creative with your time. Do something new: work on a puzzle, create art, try a new exercise, play games, cook a new recipe, bake some goodies, read a book, play an instrument or try that DIY home project you saw on your favorite design show. If there are hobbies you used to enjoy doing that you haven’t had the time for, now is your chance to get back into it. For parents with young children, engage them in some of these activities and other DIY projects for their learning benefit.
Change your perspective
Find a way to look at the silver lining or the blessing in disguise. How might this quarantine and social distancing be helpful to you? What lesson might it be teaching you? What meaning does it make in your life or others? What good might be happening in the world because of it? If our perspective is negative, we will live our life in that manner. Rather, if we look at social distancing as an opportunity for personal growth and learning, it can improve our emotional and mental well-being.
Improve your relationships
This is a prime opportunity for us to connect and enhance our relationships. Reach out to loved ones via any virtual platform such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime, as many times as it brings you joy. Put these meetings in your schedule as something to look forward to as if it is a planned outing. Do what it is that you would do in person over video, such as eating, drinking and playing together. For those living together, this is also an opportunity to get creative on how to strengthen your relationship, rather than drive each other crazy. Try something new together, have a conversation about life, look through old pictures and videos or make up a game or activity.
Develop a self-care routine
Of course your job and your family are priorities. Your self-care is just as important. It is really difficult to be effective with work and family when you haven’t taken care of yourself well. Schedule time with yourself as though it’s an important doctor’s appointment. Create a self-care toolkit that you can easily access that includes items such as a journal, art work, crossword puzzles, memorable pictures, a stress object, soothing lotion, essential oils and a candle.
Stay active even when it’s tempting to remain sedentary for hours on end. Get up at least once every hour to stretch, move around or do something else. The more you move your body, the greater your endorphins and dopamine levels can improve your mood. If you truly can’t help it, take a drive or take a walk during off peak hours (i.e. early morning, late evenings and on less trafficked streets). Make sure you’re still taking precaution by wearing your masks and maintaining a six foot distance.
Validate yourself and others
Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt during this tough time. Many of us are struggling emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of what use to be “normal,” while doing the best you can day-by-day with what is within your control. This time may feel discouraging, overwhelming and ever-lasting, but remind yourself that it is only temporary. Lower your expectations and be kind to yourself and others.
Theresa Cao, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the Mission Hospital adolescent mental health program, ASPIRE and specializes in working with the adolescent and young adult populations and their families.
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