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3 Things to Remember When Quarantine Is Getting to You

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“I just feel like we’re going to lose a lot of people to suicide, too … I’m going ‘crazy’ stuck in this house.”

I watched my best friend run her hand over her face on our video chat. She looked tired. I looked tired. Being inside all day was starting to get to her, I could tell. She’s a bubbly extrovert. She loves her job as a trainer and trying new restaurants. She was laid off six weeks ago and now spends her days with her cat, watching TV.

It isn’t just my best friend that is having a hard time. Mental health professionals all over the country are reporting a rise in instances of mental distress. Suicide hotlines have seen a nearly 900% increase in calls. Isolation, worry and financial stress are huge triggers for mental health episodes. While we shelter in place to protect the health of our community, we need to bring light to the very real situation that many people are suffering in the privacy of their homes.

In “normal” times, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety affect approximately 1 in 5 adults. As we have seen though, those numbers are likely on the rise as people feel powerless inside their homes or anxious about the future.

We don’t have a deadline for social isolation. Experts estimate that it could very likely be a year or more before our lives are completely “back to normal.” So, we must learn to cope with our situations.

First, realize that you aren’t alone. The analogy has been floating around recently that while we are all in the same storm, we are not in the same boat. Your experience during this time is unique to you and your life. However, there are people out there in the same boat as you. We may not all be on a cruise ship, but there are others in small dinghies in this storm, and they know what you are going through. Seek community. If you are scared for your children, talk to other parents. If you are a small business owner worried about the future, reach out to others who have a small business. If you’re a high school senior who is devastated at the way your senior year is ending, talk to friends and classmates who know exactly where you’re coming from. It would be silly to paint everyone’s experience during social isolation with a broad brush, but there is a community out there that knows what you’re experiencing and feeling and can validate those experiences for you.

Second, remember you’re not failing at life. It can be so easy to feel down on yourself because you’re not learning German or rediscovering your childhood love of painting. There should be no pressure on you to be productive during a psychologically taxing time such as this. Give yourself a break — this isn’t the quarantine Olympics. No one is going to come around and check up on all the progress you made at the end of this. Take steps to take care of yourself. For some people, this may very well show as acquiring a new skill. For others, it’s enough if all you did today was unload the dishwasher. You aren’t falling behind in life right now, and you don’t need to compare yourself to what everyone else is doing.

Last, quit the dog-pile. You know the dog-pile, right? The dog-pile is when you’re lying in bed and a simple word that is enough to fill you with anxiety flashes into your head. Debt. Death. Ugly. We all have a word or concept that is enough to push us right to the edge. The dog-pile is when you lean in. You start to recall other things that stress you out. What started as a flash of “I have student debt” is now “I’ll never get out from under it,” “I’ll always be poor,” “I ruined my entire life when I was 18,” and on and on and on until soon you’re worrying about how many years your grandma has left and if your childhood dog knew how much you loved her. You know how it goes. I read online once, amidst a panic attack, that when you’re freaking out, it isn’t your life breaking down, it’s just your thoughts. Your life is still the same as it was five hours ago when you were feeling relaxed and confident. The only thing that is breaking down in the dog-pile is your thoughts. And the good news is, you can step out from under your thoughts. You can even choose to tell them “I’m not listening to you.” It can be challenging to tell your mind you’re not listening, but it is so effective at keeping your initial thought from snowballing.

If all of that seems impossible, just try to do one thing a day that brings you joy. Look at a flower. Send a message to an old friend or mentor letting them know what they mean to you. Dance in your kitchen to a song you loved in middle school. It doesn’t have to be wild or big or productive. Just for a minute or two, let yourself remember you’re a part of the world, with a past that brought joy. And remember: This will end, and you most certainly have a future that will bring joy as well.

I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash

Originally published: May 6, 2020
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