How to Feel Less Alone and Anxious and Overwhelmed While You’re Stuck in Your House
Social distancing means increased doses of your spouse, your children, or simply your own thoughts. Three mental health professionals share tips on how to quarantine those feelings of stress and anxiety.
Usually, homesickness is an affliction that comes from spending time away from home. However, during a pandemic in which we are all collectively hunkered down in our own homes, practicing the social distancing that will hopefully slow the spread of coronavirus, it seems quite clear there could be another definition: homesick, in the sense of — My God, I’ve been stuck at home for so long, I’m sick of it.
There are perfectly good reasons for feeling like this. Workers are being laid off, and families are being thrust into new child-care responsibilities while schools are closed. Loneliness can set in — or whatever the opposite feeling is, when you realize you can’t stand another minute with your spouse.
But there are ways to cope. We spoke to three mental health professionals about the best ways to deal with what’s an anxious and stressful time. Here’s what they had to say.
How to Cope With … Working From Home
The blank canvas of a work-from-home day might seem liberating at first. But it can quickly turn into a prison of choices. Where do I work? When do I work? What do I wear? These are all big questions. (One writer I follow on Twitter recommends wearing shoes. The thinking: Without shoes, you’re always one step away from a nap.)
These decisions, of course, depend on the individual. (I, for one, am writing this shoeless.) But the idea of infusing some sort of structure into your day? That’s universal.
“When you’re working from home, you essentially become your own boss,” says Alanna Gardner, a therapist who specializes in marriage and family therapy. “People tend to lose track of that sense of structure — and structure is really something that grounds human beings and makes us feel safe.”
Some tips, per Gardner: Wake up at the same time every day; eat breakfast; build in time to move around, whether it’s doing yoga or taking a walk around the block; try to have a hard-stop hour of the day when you’re done working.
And especially important if you’re now working from home with a partner and have kids involved: Communicate. You can only share the weight if both sides are expressing when, as Gardner explains, “you need to take breaks and when you’re overloaded.” (Come to think of it, best to keep communicating even after times of pandemic quarantine!)
How to Cope With … Homeschooling Your Kids
In Philadelphia, the school distract closure currently runs through March 27th. If structure is important for adults staying home, it’s even more critical for children.
Try to formulate a schedule — chunks of academic time interspersed with a recess-like break time — that mirrors the one your child previously had. “That way,” says Deana Davis, a licensed social worker who also works in schools, “the child isn’t thrown off while they’re at home. They’ll still have that mind-frame of ‘I’m still at school. Yes, it’s at home, but it’s still school.'”
Now is also the time to come up with clever activities to entertain your child. Play board games and card games; think of arts-and-crafts projects. And education doesn’t have to be a one-way street: This is your chance to learn from your kids what the heck they do on TikTok.
Most importantly, don’t stress about ruining your kid’s education when you’ve been thrust into the role of makeshift educator. “Your child is not going to roll back and unlearn everything they’ve already learned,” Gardner says.
How to Cope With … the Physical Symptoms of Stress
“A lot of what we experience emotionally shows up in our bodies first,” Gardner says. This can take many forms: a tightening of the chest or throat, sweating, an upset stomach.
When that happens, there are strategies you can deploy to return your body to equilibrium. The best one is also the simplest: Take a series of deep, cleansing breaths. “This gives us the opportunity,” Gardner explains, “to trick our body and to calm it down by saying, ‘There’s no threat here.'”
There’s one last important step, too: Think back to what brought on those feelings of anxiety in the first place, and find ways to avoid or mitigate them going forward.
How to Cope With … Newfound Free Time
Sometimes all you need to do to make a situation better is to reframe it in your head. Think of it as a de-stress breathing trick, only for your brain. Quarantine? Not great! But how about “Time to pick up lost hobbies”? Sounding better!
“Don’t take this time as downtime,” says Davis. “Really utilize it to better yourself mentally and socially.”
Keep in mind that the ramifications from the spread of coronavirus have left many people out of jobs. If you’re fortunate to have an income that provides you the freedom to think about picking up lost hobbies and passions, you might also think about how to pitch in to help those less fortunate. In times like these, we could all stand to be a bit more charitable.
How to Cope With … the Never-Ending News Cycle
Ever since, oh, I don’t know, November 8, 2016, it has felt at times like we’re living through a never-ending landslide of bad news. Coronavirus isn’t helping. While it’s good to stay apprised of what’s going on around you, if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and stressed, it’s okay to realize there’s such a thing as being too informed. These days, as Gardner says, your newsfeed can easily turn into a “rabbit hole of anxiety.”
Right now is a good time to return to social media’s original purpose: connecting with people, not consuming “news.” Focus on DM’ing friends, not obsessively refreshing your feed.
How to Cope With … Having No One to Talk to
“Use this time to turn outward digitally,” Gardner says. Lately, she’s been texting all of the friends from high school that she doesn’t normally have time to touch base with. You could do the same, whether with old friends, friends who live alone, or elderly folks in your life.
Meanwhile, the fact that the outside world is increasingly shutting down doesn’t mean you can’t speak with your therapist. There are a number of HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platforms, says Jennifer Yalof-Tufenkjian, a psychologist who practices in Rittenhouse Square. “Now might be a good time, rather than shying away from services, to lean into them,” she says. (It’s worth noting: Yalof-Tufenkjian says not all insurance plans cover so-called “telehealth” visits. You should check with your provider or your therapist.)
And don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help, either. If you know you’re someone who tends to “self-isolate,” and not always for healthy reasons, Yalof-Tufenkjian adds, “I would recommend reaching out to others and alerting them that you want them to check in on you.”
There’s no shortage of apps out there for you to use to communicate with others. You might even consider getting creative: Turn Skype calls into an online book club with your friends, Gardner suggests. The truth is, the distance between you and your loved ones is only as far as the distance between you and your phone.