Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Come on, 2020- first Australia burning, now a terrifying virus that causes a near-global quarantine. Wasn’t 2019 enough?! When I first started reading about COVID-19 it was called the Corona Virus, and to be honest I wasn’t that worried. We didn’t know much about it other than it wasn’t like the flu. As the weeks went on and it started to spread, coming to New York City, Seattle, then to my own state of Pennsylvania, we all started getting concerned. When the first cases started appearing in Pittsburgh, I followed CDC protocol, washing my hands, using hand sanitizer, and trying to limit being in crowds. Within a week the recommendations had increased and I started to feel unsafe and uncomfortable around other people, unsure if I had already been exposed to it or if the people around me were carriers. Social distancing became en vogue, I left my job to provide video therapy, and haven’t left my house for non-essentials in a month. A few years ago this would have been a great opener to a futuristic dystopian novel. Today, this is our reality. The anxiety started the day before I self-quarantined. Walking down the ghost-town-empty streets of downtown, every person I came across became a potential victim, or carrier. The stress of getting to work was overwhelming, the multitudes of door handles I had to touch to get to my office became unmanageable. I didn’t feel ok. I made the decision to move my work to video therapy, to stay home to protect others and myself. I thought I’d feel better in a few days, but the fear only mounted. Going to the store felt like a monumental task that left me feeling drained and terrified. I became hyper productive. I made lists, I cleaned, I organized. Then, as the days wore on I started sleeping, taking long naps, and falling into melancholy. I became surly, pessimistic, and argumentative. After a few days of struggling along like that, I started to settle into this new way of living. I made a decision to focus on being grateful for the things I have. I picked up the phone and started checking on other people. I focused on being of use to my partner, and taking good care of my pets. Just like that, my outlook started to change. I became a little less afraid, a little more functional, and right now, functional is enough. I don’t have to be the best, the most put together, the most capable. I just need to put one foot in front of the other, to adapt as much as I can, and keep living. Anxiety, fear, panic, depression, isolation. These are feelings we experience at the best of times, and being totally isolated during a time of a global pandemic is sure to evoke these experiences. And that’s ok. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s hard. And yes, everything is uncertain. But things will be ok; you will be ok. By focusing on the things you have control over, by taking things a little at a time, you can right the ship and regain a sense of stability in your life. How? Start by taking an inventory of the things you feel you are lacking during the quarantine. No, not toilet paper. Do you need more social interaction? More exercise? What about a routine that allows you to have a schedule of work and breaks? Write all of these down, going through your typical day before the quarantine to see what you might be missing. Next, take a critical look at what you can do at home to provide a sense of normalcy. Maybe you can’t stop at Starbucks to get a grande espresso, but you can get up a little earlier to make yourself a cup of coffee to drink before or during work. Don't have the ability to work from home? No problem. Find a routine that works for you and provides you with meaning and purpose. Clean out your basement! Scan in the pictures from your old photo albums! Read a book you haven't read! The possibilities are endless. So you can’t go to the gym, but you can go to a different area of your house, put on your workout clothes and some music, and do some cardio or body weight exercises. Let’s get creative folks! This is self care 301, it’s time to take off the training wheels and support yourself. Make sure not to forget the little things like having your lunch outside, taking a walk, or playing with your animals. As you start implementing your new schedule, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Check to see if you are noticing any positive changes, or if there are still improvements to be made. It helps to keep a journal to track your progress and to see what triggers are coming up regularly. When you start to feel overwhelmed, sad, stressed, or frustrated, take a few minutes to focus on your breathing, inhaling for 5 seconds, holding your breath for 5, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Place your feet on the floor, your hands in your laps, and focus on your body in the present moment. Do this exercise throughout the day, or whenever you need it. The more work you put into taking care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, the more stable and well adjusted you should be feeling. Scheduling regular phone calls or video sessions with your therapist can help you stay accountable, and benefit your mental health during this period of extreme change and isolation. Therapy is a great way to connect with another person, to address struggles you’ve been unable to resolve, and to find joy in your life. For more information or to schedule a session, please reach out through my website.