I’m a Therapist. Here’s How I’m Staying Sane During Coronavirus Quarantine
We're experiencing a mental health crisis around the world right now.
The new normal (for now)
We're experiencing a mental health crisis in the world, and you can add that to the long list of crises that have resulted because of the novel coronavirus. The focus is so much on physical health right now (and rightly so), a lot of us are having to figure out how to deal mentally in this whole new world. And when I say "we," I am definitely including myself!
I'm a relationship therapist located about 30 minutes outside of New York City, which is currently experiencing one of the biggest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world. We are under direction to stay at home. Me, my husband, and our two dogs only leave home to exercise outdoors or go to the grocery store (while still staying six feet away from any other human, of course). Living this way has left me feeling incredibly stressed, anxious, and depressed. I've had depression and anxiety since I was 10-years-old and I've learned to manage them well as an adult. However, this pandemic, in particular the social distancing aspect, is unlike anything I've had to deal with before and it's throwing me for a serious loop.
My first reaction was anger
I was totally pissed off at all the people freaking out and hoarding, at the news for adding to the hysteria, and I realized I was angry at myself too. So much of my identity revolves around being a therapist and the thought that I needed to temporarily close my practice and stay home was very upsetting. I knew it would be irresponsible to stay open but I desperately wanted to hang on to my normal life—my link to my sanity. Clearly, I don't like change!
Keep working as much as I can
My work is my life and I love it so I'm doing whatever I can to keep as much normalcy there is possible, both for me and my clients. I can't work like I normally do (and trust me, doing therapy when you can't see peoples' facial expressions or body language is so much harder!) but I can still be there for my clients in so many important ways online and over the phone.
My cry for help
As I transitioned my business to teletherapy—counselling clients mainly via phone and Skype—my feelings started to slide more towards depression. I didn't have physical appointments to look forward to and within just a few days I began to recognize the signs of depression in myself: I was irritable, constantly fighting with my husband, experiencing racing thoughts, lost my appetite, couldn't sleep, and stopped showering. In the past, I've been suicidal and I could see myself getting dangerously close to that dark place again if I didn't do something right away to take care of my mental health.
Surprised to hear that a therapist is struggling to stay sane? Don't be! People expect us to always have our lives together but we are human! So here is what I—a therapist but also a person who struggles with depression and anxiety—am doing to stay sane during this COVID-19 outbreak.
Make a schedule (but I don't beat myself up if I don't follow it)
Having a daily routine in my life is very comforting and this quarantine has completely upended it. I've been working on recreating a schedule to bring back that structure that I crave. However, I make it a point not to be strict about it and leave myself some room to change it as needed.
Talk to my therapist
Shocked to hear that a therapist has a therapist? Having a professional to talk to is one of the best things you can do for your mental health and, right now, I'm calling mine regularly. Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether that's talking to a friend, a therapist, or calling a crisis line if you feel yourself sliding into a dark place.
Take my meds
I'm on medication for my anxiety and depression and I'm using it, as prescribed, to stay sane, which is it's intended purpose. Now is not the time to try and wean off your medication. It's also important to take these types of medication consistently and to be proactive in making sure to have at least a week's worth of medication in case of shortages.
Learn whether drugs for high blood pressure increase the risk of COVID-19.
Exercise every single day
Every day I take a run outside through the park. Out of everything, this has been the one thing that is helping me stay sane the most. It gives me time alone, helps quiet my brain, gets me outdoors, and causes a cascade of feel-good endorphins—just a few of the health benefits of exercise. I've found that exercising has naturally helped me to regulate my eating and sleeping patterns, again.
Here are the household items that are fitness equipment in disguise.
Have lots of sex
Sex is great for you mentally and physically and I've got all this time with my husband. So, why not take advantage of it? Not only have we had fun trying new things in the bedroom but it helps us feel emotionally closer to each other. Plus, it's an amazing stress reliever!
Find out the worst time of the day to have sex.
Play with my pets
While having to take care of my dogs in our limited space can be stressful, they also provide lots of entertainment and comfort. They are getting plenty of walks these days, which is good exercise for all of us! Simply petting a cat or dog immediately helps you feel calmer.
Read up on these inspiring acts of kindness during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Call my loved ones (no texting!)
Keeping in touch with my friends and family has become more important than ever, both for my good and their own! I've found that calling, rather than texting, has led to much more fulfilling conversation and it's so comforting just to hear their voices. Plus, you know they're not doing much either so you don't have to worry about interrupting. Besides, friends and family are one of the many things that will never be cancelled.
Write it out
Just like talking it out can be therapeutic, so can writing. You don't even have to make it an official journal, simply jotting down your thoughts on paper can help you feel happier and calmer.
More funny memes, less news
There is a lot of scary stuff out there about COVID-19 and if I allow myself to get caught up in all of it I'll lose my mind. I've mainly stopped watching the news and instead I love to look at funny memes online. It makes me laugh and reminds me that even though we're all isolated, we're still all in this together.
These cartoons about working from home are guaranteed to give you a laugh.
Get on social media
I post and comment on Instagram several times a day. This helps me feel connected with the outside world and stay up on how my friends and family are doing. Social media is often demonized—and it can be bad for your mental health if you're constantly comparing yourself to some imaginary ideal you see online—but during times like this, it can be a huge help in keeping you connected with your people.
Do whatever you need to do to get through this
People react differently in times of crisis so what works for me may not work for you—and that's perfectly fine! The important thing is to find what daily things you can do to lift your spirits and stay sane. For some people that could be playing video games, while for others that's baking cakes, reading books, or planning the vacation (they'll take next year). As long as you're not hurting yourself or engaging in addictive behaviors, like alcoholism, there is no wrong way to get through this!
Consider any of these activities for when your daily life has been cancelled.
Reach out to others
Everyone, but especially people with mental illnesses, is especially vulnerable during this time of social distancing because of feelings of isolation, neglect, and ostracization—which can lead to disastrous and even tragic outcomes. I fear that we will see an increase in suicidality during this pandemic, likely another side effect of this time. Just as we care for ourselves, it's just as important to look for others who may be struggling. Be aware of people who are lonely and check in with them often.
Worried about yourself or someone harming themselves? Here are the ways to help someone with depression.
For more mental health tips, you can follow Elisabeth Goldberg on Instagram @therapist.elisabeth.