How to be stuck at home without losing your mind:
Battling depression and anxiety while working from home, during social distancing and self-isolation or under quarantine.
By Kayna Cassard, MA, LMFT, Sex Therapist, Pelvic Pain Relief Expert, Somatic Psychotherapist
This is a suggested guide based on science-supported information and my experience as a mental health provider over the last decade.
Take what works, leave the rest. And whatever you do, definitely take care of your mental health during these stressful and uncertain times. Mental health professionals are trained to help support the community in crises, make sure you utilize the professionals that are available to you — even if that means through phone/video calls if you’re not able to see them in person.
Why is it important to prioritize your mental health and not just “zone out” or binge watch your favorite show?
Illnesses, pathogens, and infections thrive on weakened immune systems. Mental stress is directly linked to your immune system. If your immune system is strong, your body can more likely fight against infection and protect your body.
STRONG MENTAL HEALTH GAME = STRONG IMMUNE SYSTEM
Powerful Self-Care Guide During Times of Uncertainty and Community Crises:
- Upon awakening: Do box breathing to reduce cortisol levels that are typically increased immediately after we wake up.
- Meditate for 5-10 minutes. Insight timer, Calm, Headspace, YouTube have great options.
- Drink a glass of water. Helps with dehydration from not having liquid for the past 7-9 hours.
- Eat. Have breakfast or at least a piece of fruit. Combats a sugar drop. Do this before coffee or caffeine.
- Move. Change into workout clothes and find an at-home work out routine that gets you moving. Youtube has great 30 day challenges, especially yoga (good for body and mind). Class pass, alo yoga, and other subscription services have at home work outs. Dance to your favorite playlist. Walk around the block.
- Shower (or change) and brush your teeth. Helps with setting a transition from rest to usual daily routine. If you don’t shower, at least make a point to change out of your pjs. Even if that means from “nighttime pjs” into “daytime pjs”.
- Plan. Write down 3 things that you’re going to accomplish today that’s specifically for you (i.e., it’s not work related, isn’t a part of your daily routine, isn’t “mind-numbing” like just watching Netflix, and is something that supports your needs). Examples: Laundry, taking a walk outside, tackling a pile of paper that’s accumulated over the month, FaceTime with a friend/family member, cooking a delicious dinner, making a vat of immune boosting tea, organizing your closet/pantry, crafting, art, journaling, etc.
Engage in your day
- Do it mindfully. Continue to be mindful throughout the day if you are working: take breaks in your work, stand up, stretch, move around the house, do a quick 1 minute meditation, play with your dog or cat, grab a hug from your loved one if you can, etc.
- Avoid only “consuming.” If it’s not a work day or you don’t have work to do, it can be tempting to hop on the couch and binge “consume” (streaming services, movies, social media, etc. — hello immediate dopamine boost!) but this can impact your mental wellness and cause even more lethargy and depression when the show’s over, or when you look out the window and it’s dark (where did those 9 hours go!?).
- Turn off. Limit your consumption of news — is it really necessary to read about the outbreak on a cruise you weren’t even on in a different state? If you find yourself scrolling the news, notice it, and gently invite yourself to watch a funny kitten or baby animal video or some stand up comedy (try to Google/YouTube “standup comedy ________ (topic)”). Here’s one of my admittedly-cat-lady favorite channels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNoo5dndz0g
- Set an achievable goal. This is helpful to manage anxiety and avoid depression because it gives you a sense of purpose when that might be hard to find right now, especially if the future looks a little scary. We feel more empowered when we can control what’s available to us and when we have measurable progress. So give yourself a little 14, 21, or 28-day challenge to engage in. Make it social and create a challenge with friends or family. Make it competitive if you want. It’s yours to create, but here are some ideas:
- Work out
- Intimacy questions (use the “36 questions that lead to intimacy”)
- Watch a TedTalk once/day and discuss with other challenge members
- Indulge a little. Let go — allow yourself to watch those 3 episodes of your favorite show, eat that (reasonable) bowl of ice cream, have a glass of wine (or two), or order in from a nice restaurant. Just try do your indulgences after you’ve had a half or full day of productive activity and mindfulness exercises — its helpful to have a nice reward after so much hard work at taking care of your mental physical health.
- Celebrate ANY effort. Sometimes depression and anxiety can floor us completely. Be compassionate with yourself and if all you did in this whole guide was wake up and drink water before you went back to bed to binge watch/consume, then that’s ok too — you’re human and going through a lot right now. So be proud of yourself for your little wins of the day, no matter the size!
Take care of your mental and physical health throughout the day with regular self-care needs:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Herbal tea is especially good because it has properties that can support your immune system and wellness, too — chamomile helps to soothe stress, peppermint helps with stomach pains and uplifting moods, and green tea provides clarity and energy.
- Wash your hands, frequently but make it fun. 20-30 seconds. But try singing a song instead of just counting, and let yourself dance a little bit to it. Goofiness, playfulness, and lightness can go a long way to out a little smile on your lips. Here are some ideas: https://www.today.com/health/songs-sing-while-washing-hands-coronavirus-hand-washing-songs-t175755
- Eat healthfully and regularly. Make it easy to have healthy snacks throughout the day (i.e., keep nuts easily available around the house in an airtight container, fruit in a fruit bowl). Make a snack section in your fridge or pantry so that you aren’t overwhelm with decisions when you look in there or you don’t have to sift through everything to see what you have. This keeps your blood sugar levels balanced so that you avoid those mood swings.
- Release tension. Regularly check in with your body and notice when tension has crept in. Ask that part of your body to release the tension. This helps with blood flow, too. We need that to reduce physical injury and de-activating the fight/flight system.
Don’t fully isolate
- Practice healthy “social distancing”. Keep yourself and others safe, of course, but if you can manage it and don’t have symptoms, see a friend or two, just follow CDC guidelines/recommendations for social distancing. Here’s a helpful guide on what this actually can look like: https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a31481769/social-distancing-coronavirus/
- Take a drive. You can drive to many places nearby that don’t require you to interact with anyone or touch anything. In Los Angeles, here are some ideas: Descanso Gardens, Malibu beaches, Los Angeles National Park, Griffith Park, Vasquez Rocks, Topanga Canyon. You can even meet a friend there to take a walk together. If you’re not in Los Angeles, I’m sure you have plenty of great parks, forests, beaches, or other nature trails/spaces that you can visit.
- All of the Video Calls. Make a group hangout, FaceTime/WhatsApp/Skype family and friends and have a coffee date. Make network meetings virtual and you can still have lunch together in your own homes. You can even play board or card games with friends at night… it might take a little creativity but it can be done!
- Reach out. Make sure to share if you’re having a tough time or about your feelings in all of this. There’s no reason to be isolated with your fears, it’s likely they are having it too. Just don’t let yourself get caught in creating a mutual anxiety spiral. Eventually try to bring yourselves around to empowered and optimistic, or at least present-moment talk.
Build a Resilient Mind/Body
- Use resiliency skills frequently. Engaging in mindfulness helps decrease your sympathetic nervous (fight/flight) system. When feeling overwhelmed, use any of your 5 senses to bring you to the present moment. For examples, pick a color and find all of the objects in the room that are that specific color. And a bonus, if you actually walk over to it, pick it up and sense the weight, texture, design of the object. If this doesn’t work, see the next item.
- Socratic questioning for the spiraling mind. This is a good option if mindfulness doesn’t work (first line of defense is activating the parasympathetic system via mindfulness). This is a helpful article I found on this: https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-manage-anxiety-when-mindfulness-fails-you/
- Take power back. Acknowledge the uncertainty and recognize that you may not have control over what the future holds but that you do have power over how you choose to respond to it (how your body manages stress) and how you take care of yourself. When we take care of ourselves and meet our own needs, we give ourselves the gift of empowerment to make healthier choices and we learn we can rely on ourselves.
- Find the silver lining — no matter how small. There is no doubt that this time is hard. However, a healthy mindset practice is to try to find what are you gaining from this. If we focus on what we can’t control (stock market, losing jobs, infection, death, etc.) we can become overwhelmed — and that is perfect place for anxiety and depression to grow. Building resiliency comes from taking a difficult situation and finding the ability to control what you can (read: how you respond to it, what your body does, what thoughts you let spin in your mind, etc). By expanding this skill and identifying what your possible gain is (such as, the kind of creative love you can give yourselves and others, or the ability to can get through a really difficult time), you will expand your ability to tolerate adversity — something we all very much need.
Partner and intimacy care
- Be cautious but don’t stop touching. Just be reasonable, make sure you wash hands regularly. The anxiety of whether or not they are passing contagion could be worse on your system than germs themselves. The benefit of close, human contact is very important during these times.
- De-stress together. Engage in any or all of these items together — especially taking a shower 😉
- On that note, don’t forget to orgasm! Oh my! Orgasms are a great immune boosting experience. Plus, you get all of those delicious mind/body neurochemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin (especially if you do with a partner).
- Closeness with kids. If you have kids, it’s important for parents to get alone time to decompress, so ask neighbors/friends to switch off childcare shifts or to get babysitting help (but only if the children/household have already been in close contact with each other in the recent days).
- Keep your usual sleep routine. Start your transition from day time to bedtime at a reasonable hour. It’s important to keep a semblance of usual life, so staying up later just because you don’t have to head into work the next day isn’t going to help your mental health.
- Journal or share before sleep. This can help with emptying out all that’s left over from the day. Make sure to at least write (or share with a loved one) 3 things you’re grateful for today, even if it’s just that you brushed your teeth, got out of bed, and drank water. Celebrate even the smallest wins!
- Wash away the day. Wash your face or take a hot bath or shower. Try to imagine that you are letting the water wash away your stress, anxiety, fears. Allow it to be a transition between the day and bedtime.
- Brush your teeth. Basic.
- Relaxation breathing or sleep meditation. It’s best to do a progressive relaxation meditation to help your body switch off and rest.
Middle of the night SOS
- Breathing Exercise. Do a 4-7-8 count exercise: breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold it fo 7 counts, and release through pursed lips making a “woosh” sound for 8 counts. The is counting and concentration is enough to distract your working memory which can stop the rumination spiral, but not so much work that your brain gets activated. The longer out-breath activates the parasympathetic (rest/digest) system.
- Bedtime stories are not just for kids. The apps Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm all have their version of “adult bedtime stories” (“adult” does not mean “naughty” here haha). These stories are enough to distract but soothing enough to help you get to sleep.
- Don’t let yourself ruminate for long. If you’re laying awake stressing for longer than 15 minutes, get up, drink some water, take a little walk around the room, read, etc. then try the above again.
- When nothing else is working. You might need to give up on getting sleep in that moment, and you can try to journal or work out what’s going on in your brain. But put it on paper so that it feels like you get it out of your head and your brain can take a rest. You can even use the Socratic Questioning above to help sort things out a little bit.
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