Hey! It has been almost 6 months since we’ve been told that staying home saves lives…What are you doing to cope with the extended “stay-cation” of Covid-19?
While life is filled with uncertainty and change during these unprecedented times, and many things remain out of out of our direct control, what we can control is our thoughts. Paying attention to what we are reacting to or how we are spending our time is key to handling feelings of being disconnected and separate. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious public psychological crisis our nation and the world has faced in over 100 years.
As Americans continue to remain at home, reports are showing that domestic violence, suicide, arrests for DUI’s, and consumption of alcohol and drugs have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. The inability to tolerate or remain calm during uncertainty has been severely challenged since the ways to avoid, manage, handle, or get out of the house have been removed or shut down: going to restaurants, the movies, concerts, group fitness classes, and visiting friends/family, or traveling.
The cure for uncertainty and anxiety is connection and ritual. As noted, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a serious toll on mental health. According to a new study published from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people are reporting increased anxiety about the economy, employment, relationships, concerns about the inability or safety concerns about travel to see family – all of this stress can engage the flight-fright-freeze response. As human beings, we crave certainty and need to feel safe and have a sense that we can control what feels out of control. When this “felt sense” of security and safety is absent, or has been pushed to the limit unhealthy numbing out behaviors can be activated and become out of control leading to other concerns.
The inability to gain or feel attention from others, or the lack of social support during developmental stages of life, impairs the ability to develop secure and trusting attachments to others. This is the impact of self imposed quarantine. The results of these studies show that isolation, during quarantine can escalate feelings of anxiety and depression. When people lose their day-to-day routines and don’t have structured time, they can move to substances to numb them from the anxiety, depression and trauma they’re feeling. In fact sales of alcohol, including the ordering of alcohol and drugs delivered directly to them at home, have increased during quarantine.
The study, according to the CDC of more than 5,400 U.S. adults 18 and older, conducted between June 24 and June 30, 2020, found that more than 40 percent of respondents reported at least one mental or behavioral health problem. In the study, 31% reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, more than 26 % reported symptoms of a trauma and stressor-related disorder (resulting from exposure to a traumatic or stressful life events) related to the pandemic, and more than 13 % reported starting or increasing substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. In addition, 11 % of respondents reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey. This was significantly higher among those ages 18-30. While the study results are troubling, they are not so surprising considering the amount of time (6 months and counting) quarantines have been put in place.
Studies of the effects on the mental health effects of lockdowns due to the coronavirus, found that those quarantined for more than 10 days showed significantly higher post-traumatic stress symptoms than those quarantined for less time. What we didn’t know or anticipate is that we’ve never seen quarantine for as long as what’s been going on in the USA, and that this uncertainty may continue for some time into 2021.
Not knowing how long the pandemic will last doesn’t help. However uncertainty is a natural part of life. To this end rather than making up stories and focusing on what is out of control, put the spotlight on things you can control and take action. This includes creating daily rituals of how you spend your time.
Worrying, being angry, or numbing out with food, sex, online shopping, or substance abuse gives a sense of control for a while. This false sense of security will eventually just wear you out, and robs you of the creative opportunity you now have in the present.
Consider the following tools that can help you stay in charge of you:
- Prioritize your physical and mental health — wash your hands, wear a mask, practice social distancing — Use the phone to actually talk (texting does not count) to friends and family. Limit the time spent on social media, and watching the news.
- If you or a loved one are feeling suicidal call a mental health professional, call the crisis line (211), call your primary care physician, or go to the emergency room.
- For help with substance abuse call a certified addiction professional, or look up where 12 step meetings are being held live or by Zoom.
- Go for a drive—you can be safe in the car. Explore neighborhoods or go on a road trip…visit parks, beaches, or visit places nearby you have never been to!
- Stay in the present! Practice the FUN ™ Program (www.funtherapist.com). Worrying about the future, not taking responsibility, blaming others, having regrets about the past, all these lead to being upset, unhappy, and can lead to numbing out behaviors. Pay attention and think about what you are grateful for in your life and how to use this time to do something or things different. Choose ways to have FUN NOW!
- Keep a scrapbook about Covid-19. You can share this with others in the future!
- Exercise! Go outside, keeping moving and breathing. Practice yoga (there is much available online or zoom). Go for a bike ride, paddle board, or charter a boat for your family and or friends.
- Get plenty of rest. Go to bed early, rise to watch the sun rise. Practice yoga Nidra with Dr. Kathy on Zoom.
- Eat healthy. Try to avoid processed foods and sugar. Eat foods that are in season.
- Clear out your clutter! That will also help you stay present and help you feel lighter once you make space and get rid of things that you no longer need or wear.
Know this! Nothing can replace the profound way we connect when we are live, in person face-to-face. Our eyes, body language, gestures, physical touch, energy, and tone of voice, and non-verbal cues is how our physical and mental connection is made. In the presence of one another, we attune to each other energetically, read each other’s facial expressions, or connect through a hug or shaking of hands. While there is some relief knowing we are all going through this together, knowing that we can stay connected via Zoom, Facetime, and the telephone does not replace live physical contact, but they are a significant way to remain and stay connected.