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Self-care in a pandemic

Addressing the cost of social distancing


“On the Beach”, “Outbreak”…”The Last Ship”…these were all suspenseful, entertaining fictional escapes that many of us enjoyed watching. However, the current pandemic is manufacturing a surreal reality that is anything but entertaining. We all know the purpose of social distancing, but what about the cost? As the social distancing continues to govern most communities, we are seeing a rise in negative, but not unexpected, psychological/emotional reactions. What can we as individuals, as families, and as a community do to help?

First recognize and acknowledge that negative emotions are a natural response to unnatural situations. We are social creatures that take comfort in our freedoms. Social distancing robs us of our ability to connect in the usual ways and undermines our sense of autonomy – we don’t like being told what to do. In reaction, many people may feel an increase in anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom and irritation. Although these are normal reactions, we can do things to mitigate their impact on ourselves and those we love.

Maintain routines

Create a routine for yourself and your family. Routines and structure help us feel safe. Children and elderly are especially impacted by a breakdown in routines. Contemplate what your normal routine is and try to keep as much of it in place as possible. If you shower first thing in the morning, continue to shower first thing in the morning. If you usually put on make-up or shave at a certain time, continue to do so. If you work out after dinner, continue to work out after dinner with a brisk walk/run or complete an online workout. If you are used to your daily hit of caffeine and friendly conversation at Ten Ton, get your caffeine and then meet up with friends through a group text or a Facebook group. If you aren’t technically savvy, reach out to someone who is. If you are working at home, keep the same business hours. It may be tempting to throw yourself into work by extending your work hours, but this can often lead to burn out.

If children are home, try to keep their routine as predictable as you can: a time for meals, snacks, homework, playtime, and quiet time are beneficial to all.

Our routines can help normalize the disruption to our lives and help us maintain a sense of control over our lives.

Connect with others

Make maintaining your connections with those close to you a priority. Be creative. Try new venues on the internet, FaceTime or Skype, or even grab a pen and paper and write an old fashion letter to a friend or family member that you haven’t talked with in a while.

Have fun with the people that you are living with. Brainstorm to think of new ways to connect during the extra time with your loved ones. Work on a family album, break out the board games, or have a family video game day where everyone plays the same game and competes for points and bragging rights.

Social connections are critical to your mental health, so don’t be afraid to reach out and let people know when you are struggling. Chances are they are struggling also.

Assess coping skills

Take an honest look at your current coping skills for dealing with stress. Often we have coping/problem solving skills that we may use at school or work, but don’t always think to apply them to the home setting. Problem solve with those around you on how to best prepare for being quarantined or isolated. Being prepared can ease our sense of anxiety.

If physical exercise is one of your coping mechanisms, find some way to keep it up. Make sure your sleep schedule is regular and adequate. Too much sleep and napping or two little sleep impacts our physical and emotional resources. Eat healthy. Challenge yourself to find new, creative recipes. If you drink or use cannabis, do so in moderation. Although substances may temporarily improve mood, they are both depressants and lead to more significant mood problems if abused. Resolve interpersonal conflicts sooner rather than later. Have regular conversations with spouse and children to identify any sources of stress and /or conflict and deal with them before they become major family “blow-ups.”

After you have identified current positive coping tools, consider this an opportunity to add to your emotional “tool box,” by trying some new ones. Practice “mindfulness,” or being in the moment. This sounds complicated, but it’s just practicing existing in the “now.’” By staying in the present we can avoid the anxiety associated with the future, and avoid ruminating about negative past events. Take a 20 minute walk and stop to notice all the colors, fragrances and sounds. Sit in your favorite room at home, breathe deeply, while you take 15 minutes to slowly look around the room and notice the different patterns, textures, and colorful objects. Practice deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxations. Distract yourself from negative feelings by keeping busy with positive tasks .

There are many phone and computer Apps or online resources to guide you if you want some extra help. “Virtual Hope Box” is a free app that can guide you through breathing exercises, meditations, and positive, distracting activities.

Nurture Hope

Work towards optimism and hope. Remind yourself that this is a temporary situation and life will return to normal. This starts with limiting exposure to negativity. Keep your exposure to TV, social media, and radio short when it relates to the COVID-19 , and make sure you are using reliable resources. You will find more factual helpful information on the CDC website than you will on Facebook. You may also want to limit contact with people and social media who are negative and pessimistic. Focus on things you can control, and avoid ruminating about things you can’t. Try to cultivate optimism.

Redefine this extra time at home as an opportunity to do some of those things on your bucket list, or to-do list that you can’t find time for when your schedule is hectic. Find positive music, books, movies, that make you smile. If you have spiritual beliefs that bring you peace and comfort, find time each day to practice your faith. Keep a gratitude journal for yourself, or as a family. Use it to focus on the small everyday things that often get overlooked.

Think of ways of helping others. It may require creativity to do such with social distancing boundaries, but research show when we focus on helping others, our mood and spirits naturally improve.

Reach out if you are struggling

If you or your loved ones continue to struggle with anxiety or depression through this challenging time, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals. Many health professions are utilizing telehealth or phone calls to care for people struggling with the current isolation and stress. There are also national /crisis lines available (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Helpline: 1-800-985-5990; and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline :1-800-273-TALK .) Depression and Anxiety Disorders are as real as COVID-19 and can be devastating if not treated. Treatment is available. Social Distancing does not mean suffering alone.

Antoinette McPherson-Charles, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience. She received her doctorate from Notre Dame University and specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety and family issues. She may be contacted at (305) 923-9650 or via email at;


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