As we head into mental health awareness month, it’s time to do a check-in. How are things in self-isolation? If you are looking for more immediate help in a time where leaving the house isn’t really an option, here are four things you can do now, even if you’re feeling low. We here at Avant8 aren’t medical professionals, but as a team, we’ve been able to work with one another and compile a list of advice we hope will be of some help.
Step 1: Assess where you ARE
Not where you want to be, not where you want your boss to think you are. Being stuck at home can be particularly scary for those who effectively use professional distraction as a coping mechanism for uncomfortable feelings. At the office, you had expectations, coworkers, social niceties to cater to. At home, your “office” might be 30 feet away from where you sleep. Thanks to social distancing, you’re stuck there almost all day.
- Talk it out (friend, coworker, pet, doctor, telehealth doctor, imaginary friend)
- Write it down
- Admit your fears
For those who aren’t sure where to start because they’re in immediate crisis: my go-to is filling a bucket with ice water and dunking my head in it. Extreme? Yes. Sometimes I need an extreme resource. For those who want something a little gentler, say words of affirmation out loud to yourself of positive things. There have been studies that by speaking out loud positive phrases or emotions, your subconscious tunes into that. Helping to open the door a little bit wider for those in depression. Here’s an article in the HuffPost that expands on this idea.
Step 2: Sit with it
For those who thrive on distraction, this is really difficult. Pick the least-destructive, most-achievable way you can acknowledge what you’re dealing with. Maybe this means telling your manager that you’re really struggling with the current setup. Maybe it means deciding that your diet is officially off until things go back to normal. Maybe it’s taking a picture of your boss’s face to a boxing gym and wailing on it. It’s better to backslide a little than try to white-knuckle through the situation and end up in an out-of-control spiral.
- Breathing Exercises: Breathe into a paper bag or try Alternate Nostril Breathing. There’s presently a free app called “Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds” that comes with some free-breathing sessions to try!
- Grounding techniques: These are practices where you notice all the yellow things in the room. Or you can name six things around you that start with “s”.
- Body scan: This is developing a mental picture of yourself from your toes all the way up to your head and slowly concentrating on each section of your body.
- Scream into a pillow: No explanation needed, just let out a cathartic scream.
- Fresh Air: If possible, try going outside each day at least for a minute or two.
Distress is usually manifested physically, so try to meet it there if you can. Where do you feel the discomfort in your body? Can you write it a letter? Can you ask it what it needs in order to leave? When did it begin?
Step 3: Goals and Routine
What are your goals for this work from home experience (survival is an acceptable answer but try to be specific)? What are your bare minimum requirements? This is what we do in marketing. We set goal posts to measure our efforts. It’s easy to focus on what you aren’t doing when isolated at home, that by setting new things to look forward too or new skills to try and develop, you are finding new ways to express yourself that hadn’t been a part of your world till now. Evidently, sourdough starters are a skillset that everyone on Instagram suddenly became interested in. And why shouldn’t they!? Whether it’s learning guitar, getting better at baking, or finally writing that novel you keep telling your friends you’d like to do.
If the office is where you usually experience self-confidence, being at home can damage self-esteem as well as feel isolated. Finding new avenues for self-confidence is extraordinarily difficult. But taking on a promise to yourself to try something new and begin to set new small goals for yourself and build a new day to look forward to tomorrow.
Step 4: Make Adjustments and reward yourself for it
We have all the tools we need to get through this experience. The only trick is giving yourself enough distance from your problems to remember how you’ve defeated them in the past. Try to approach this experience like a researcher.
How can you reward yourself for sustainable behaviors in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty? What rewards were you getting at work that you aren’t getting at home? How can you make your (temporary!) cage more enjoyable?
Don’t be ashamed if working from home is throwing off your game. This experience is new for everyone. The world has never before been in a situation like this one before. Be patient and kind, to yourself as well as others. Listen to the research about COVID-19, about isolation, about working from home. Try to connect with your fellow rats (social media, emails, video chats, cuddling a pet, maybe a massage). Evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Couple your least favorite tasks with your favorite ones. Ask a loved one to help you write a game plan. Check-in on others. Try to take care of the most vulnerable. And remember that while the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented, every crisis that has ever happened has one thing in common: it ends.
This blog does speak to general audiences, it also does speak to those who may already have been experiencing mental health issues before isolation became a recognized part of everyday life here in America. If you or someone you know is struggling with severe depression or other mental health issues that could lead to suicide please encourage them to reach out with the available National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.
It’s important we are there for each other, and reach out to one another in a time when we are so often apart.