Mental Health and Isolation
There’s no denying that COVID-19 has put certain aspects of life on hold for most of us. As the infection rates continue to surge, it also looks as though some states are starting to head into a second lockdown, with stay-at-home orders in parts of California expected to be extended beyond December 21.
It’s worth remembering that avoiding unnecessary contact with our loved ones is also the responsible thing to do. Particularly as Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey recently noted that further surges over the holiday period could severely impact hospitals’ ability to cope. Much like during Thanksgiving, the public should be carefully considering their potential to both contract and transmit the virus, especially among vulnerable people. We’re not just talking about the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions, here. As always, a crisis amplifies the effects of inequality, and the LGBTQIA+ community already faces discrimination in work and healthcare spaces that could be exacerbated by contracting COVID-19. Either way, this virus is likely to put a dampener on the holiday season.
In making the difficult decision to limit close contact, we must also safeguard ourselves against the impact isolation could have on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Let’s take a look at some strategies we can put into action to cope better during this particularly difficult period during and after the holidays.
Embrace the Outdoors
Lockdown isn’t quite so straightforward as it may seem. You’re not under house arrest, you’re simply limiting your exposure to others. This is important to note because seasonal depression is a reality for many, with those from minority backgrounds often feeling additional stress at this time of year. One of the key ways to combat depression and anxiety is to get outside. This year, you just have to make plans to go about things safely.
Scout out parks and trails that you can easily travel to within any mandated limits. Plan in advance how long you are going to stay there, and factor in journey time so that you don’t inadvertently violate any curfews. Particularly look for parkland that features wide-open spaces so that you can maintain distance from others who may be visiting.
However, embracing a little of the outdoors regularly doesn’t have to be a solo effort, even now. Fending off loneliness is one of the core elements to safeguard your mental health in these times of isolation. Your strategy here should include maintaining human interaction and making plans with your friends even if you don’t particularly feel up to it. Get out together for a socially-distanced hike, morning run, or yoga a couple of times a week so that you can release some endorphins through exercise, and gain some vital socialization. That said, don’t meet up with all your friends all at once; limit to one or two at a time, and perhaps set up a rota system in your social circle to make sure everybody has an opportunity to get together.
If there can ever be a good time to live through a pandemic that requires us all to isolate, it is now. We are fortunate that our digital age provides us with tools that can help to support our mental health and to keep us connected. Part of your strategy for surviving the holidays during lockdown is to find ways to use the technology at your disposal.
Traditional gatherings may well be canceled, but who put such a high premium on the traditional anyway? Each of us knows who and what are most important to us, and we can make arrangements to hang out — either individually or as a group — over Skype, Zoom, or Facetime. You can get creative with this, too. Make decorations together, play some Dungeons & Dragons or Settlers of Catan, stream a cheesy feel-good holiday movie. Reach out to one another and take a break.
Even beyond our social needs, technology can be a tool to bolster our mental wellness. Explore apps that can empower you to take control of your emotional and psychological health. Some of these, such as Mood Kit and What’s Up utilize cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) methods to help you better monitor your mindset, and provide activities to help you cope.
One of the worst parts about this pandemic is the sense that we are each carrying our little piece of the world on our own shoulders. While there has certainly been a distinct lack of governmental support, that’s not to say that we are completely alone. It is all too common for many of us, through pride or stubbornness, to try and keep up a strong front. But this just adds additional pressure. You must seek out resources that can help you cope with the burden. Historically, the LGBTQIA+ community has been underserved when it comes to mental health support. As such, services such as TN Voices can help to bridge the disparity.
Keep a list of mental health providers that are available in your area — both in person and through virtual appointments. This goes not just to cope with your own feelings of fear and depression, but also those experienced by your loved ones. Children in particular can have a hard time during isolation. Alongside keeping track of contacts and services, familiarize yourself with the signs of childhood depression and anxiety, which often differ from those of adults. If your child experiences prolonged periods of disturbed sleep, severe mood swings, or more intense irritability, connect with local services for guidance.
It’s also important to note that if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, self harm, or suicidal ideation, these periods of isolation can put a strain on your continued recovery. Make regular contact with your support system — sponsors, friends, counselors — even if you don’t think you need them right now. Embracing the resources available doesn’t mean simply having them in case of emergency, but having a support framework in place to stop it from getting that far.
For many of us, the holidays are already a difficult time of year, and COVID-19 has served to exacerbate this. That’s not to say we’re powerless in the face of lockdown. With a smart, safe approach to exercise, utilization of technology, and preparing sources of assistance, we can cope better with the strain and find a way to make this holiday meaningful on our own terms.
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