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Isolation can be difficult for anyone—but especially for people prone to depression and anxiety. It is natural for us to want to connect with people—in fact, solitary confinement in prison is almost lethal for some people.
In a previous post, Staying Home During the Pandemic, I described 10 ideas that can help you cope. Many people find staying at home can increase their depression and add to their rumination and worry. But staying at home does not mean we have to isolate ourselves from social contact with other people and it does not mean that we have to become passive and ruminate and worry. There are a lot of things that we can do from our homes while we minimize the risk of infection. And being at home will not be a life sentence since this pandemic will subside at some point. Of course, right now we do not know when that will be, so we need to have a plan—a daily plan and a longer-term plan—to cope with being at home.
My team at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy has been generating a lot of great ideas for coping with the isolation so many of us are going through. We have shared a number of creative and very helpful ideas with our clients and ourselves on how to manage the difficulties of isolation.
I wanted to share with you the ideas that our senior clinicians—Heather Glubo, Aspasia Hotzoglou, Laura Oliff, Susan Paula, and Graham Reynolds—have offered. Interestingly, we have found that many of our clients who have been learning CBT and DBT skills are coping better than they thought they would. Skills actually work. Planning resilience leads to resilience.
Here are some of the ideas that our team has come up with. (I am sure that you have lots of great ideas, too. Let us know about them.)
1. Use Group Hangouts With Family/Friends/Support Groups
- Use Zoom or another platform for having a “party” with friends. One woman celebrated her birthday on Zoom with friends across the United States. Everyone cheered as she blew out the candles on her cake and cut her first piece. Two friends playing guitars in different states sang Happy Birthday. This will certainly be the most memorable birthday she will have had.
- Have recipe challenges with friends and family. Think about being creative about innovative cooking. Now is the time to share those recipes you always wanted to try. Link this to friends and skype or zoom your discussions. I know that two is a crowd in the kitchen, but this can be fun.
- Watch movies, shows, cook dinner over video platforms. You can watch a movie with a friend or family member via Facetime or other networking tools. In addition, cooking and eating meals can be done through video as a social activity.
- Have daily check-ins with close friends and family. Make a list of people to call, text, or video chat. Stay connected. Many of us are finding that we are talking with friends more—not less. This is the opposite of isolation.
- Encourage, ask for help, and offer help! Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for support. Friends and family may actually be grateful to you for including them in your life. And there is nothing that will give you more satisfaction than helping someone who may be lonely and having difficulty.
- Use online support groups/meetings. Look into online help. Our team has continued with offering group therapy using Zoom and many clinical practices are also set up for these services. Check out other groups that might be relevant to your needs such as Online AA meetings (onlinegroupaa.org).
2. Focus on Your Health
- Drink water. Start each day with a large glass and keep going. Staying hydrated is staying healthy.
- Eat healthy. This is a chance to cook more with less temptation. Plan ahead and avoid junk food. Eat in a mindful way—paying attention to what you are doing. This will help decrease binge eating and impulsive eating. When shopping or ordering, skip the things that are not nutrient-rich.
- Exercise and do yoga. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is a great platform for keeping up with your yoga practice. There are many more online. Use YouTube, download apps, or find exercise content that you can follow at home. You don’t need a personal trainer if you have a smartphone or tablet. Now there is no excuse—“I don’t have time to go to the gym.” Just get outside and walk/run—aim for 10,000 steps. Keep your distance from others. Go at your own pace.
- Get enough sleep. Put your phone down by 10 p.m.—journal or read a book. Have a wind-down time before bedtime. This is a time to relax, not worry.
- Avoid binge drinking. Although ‘Quarantinis’ are becoming popular and liquor stores have been deemed “essential businesses,” try going alcohol-free or at least reduce alcohol consumption. You will function much better in the long term with less alcohol.
3. Build or Master a Skill
- Download Duolingo for free to learn a new language. Why not learn something new?
- Start researching or practicing new hobbies, languages, or activities that can give you a sense of mastery.
- Start projects that have been on your to-do list for a while—consider doing them together, with your partner or children, rather than alone.
- Foster a dog or cat. There has been an incredible increase in adoptions of cats and dogs. Of course, keep in mind that they easily become “forever” members of your family.
4. Practice Mindfulness
- Many of the popular mindfulness apps have trial periods or are beginning to offer discounted rates for new members because of the coronavirus. You can also download a number of free mindfulness resources on our website. Try taking at least five minutes a day to begin a mindfulness practice. Try using a Loving Kindness Meditation to develop the comforting feelings of compassion.
- Write, or mentally recite, a gratitude list once a day. This will help reduce your anxiety and depression and will help you realize that in the long run, you may be luckier than you feel right now.
5. Limit Screen Time
- Schedule one “coronavirus-free” hour where you do not search or talk about the virus. if thoughts about the virus come up mindfully notice them and detach. Set them aside for later. You may find that these thoughts decrease in frequency and intensity as you set them aside. Get occupied with other things (on this list).
- It is important to stay informed during this time, but it is also important to know your own limits with how much information is too much information. Perhaps it can be effective to have urgent alerts go to your phone, but otherwise limit news consumption to a certain time of day (e.g., once in the morning, once in the evening).
6. Keep a Routine
- Get dressed as if you were having a typical day. If you’re working, wear what you would wear to the office. If it’s a weekend, wear what you would wear for a casual day. Most importantly, wear something that makes you feel good about yourself.
- Make a realistic schedule for the day and stick to it. You can schedule by time or, more flexibly, by activity. Have certain activities or breaks in your day scheduled ahead of time and keep to the schedule as much as possible. Look back at the activities that you completed and those that you did not. If possible, add the incomplete activities to the next day.
7. Give Back
- It always feels good to contribute. Reach out to young adults or seniors you know who live alone. You don’t need a reason to call. Caring about someone is more than enough reason to talk.
- Think of how you can help those around you. How can you support neighbors, friends, family, your community, or work colleagues? Clean out your closet and set aside things for donation.
- Bake something or make a meal for a friend and drop it off at their front door.
- Increase gestures of affection. Make your partner a cup of coffee or tea, take a lunch break together, plan or make meals together (try out some new recipes), consider sharing daily exercise routines or taking a walk together outdoors, if working from home in different rooms stop by and say hello, light some candles one evening during or after dinner and ask “Alexa” to play some soft rock or romantic music, pick a program you only watch together and view an episode nightly, play cards or monopoly or any other game you have in your home or online.
I know we could go on with lots of other great ideas. But let’s start with a plan for each day and each week. Some of us will find that practicing coping skills now will not only help during the isolation for this period of the pandemic, but we may find that we will use many of these ideas after the pandemic passes. Good habits and good connections help us overcome the obstacles that we see before us.
Stay safe, stay calm, stay connected.
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