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Quarantining, Social Isolation, and Depression: How to Cope During this Sudden Lifestyle Shift

Quarantining, Social Isolation, and Depression: How to Cope During this Sudden Lifestyle Shift

Many of us have remained in our homes for nearly a month now, secluded from others and from the outings and activities we enjoy. To say that what we are experiencing a radical, unexpected, and sudden shift in lifestyle is an understatement. At first it might have seemed like we are living the movie plot of a fictional action/thriller, but as the weeks go by, the reality of the effects of the coronavirus on everyone’s life has set in, leaving us with so many feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

We all cope and adapt differently to change; to being told that for the sake of our health and safety, and that of vulnerable others, we must practice strict social distancing. To make things more challenging, we really don’t know how long this will last. In times when there are more questions and uncertainty than there are answers, it is critical to acknowledge feelings, voice concerns, express emotions, and apply coping skills that will get you through these moments of transition.

Whether you have struggled with depression before or not, it is completely normal for these lifestyle and societal changes to impact your mental health. Some common signs and symptoms of depression that you may experience at some point during social isolation and stay-at-home orders include:

Below we will discuss a few simple, realistic, and achievable ways that you can manage these feelings and build your resilience during these difficult times.

Daily gratitude

Research has found that practicing gratitude is an excellent way to combat symptoms of depression. Daily gratitude will be especially important in coping with depression during stay-at-home orders. Being grateful is particularly helpful in combatting guilt feelings from learning of so much illness and death around you. If you and/or your loved ones are directly impacted by the coronavirus, it may be challenging to practice gratitude, but it is also even more critical.

Think of at least one thing you are grateful for daily, write it down, and say it aloud or share it with someone if you can. Make sure you truly embody whatever you are grateful for and say it with meaning and intention. Gratitude not only helps you maintain hope during difficult times, but research has found that gratitude functions to build resilience.

Create a positive atmosphere around you

The quality of your home environment is especially important right now since most of your time will be spent at home. Spend some time getting rid of clutter and disorganization in your home or in the area(s) where you spend the most time. This coping skill serves a dual purpose: Firstly, engaging in a structured activity and staying busy and active is very important in combatting depression and secondly, it is believed that the level of clutter/disorganization around you is a direct reflection of your own mental clutter/disorganization. This means that keeping your surroundings neat and orderly will automatically improve your mental/emotional state.

Acceptance and embracing silence and isolation

Sometimes fighting against a reality we don’t like takes so much more energy and effort than simply trying to practice acceptance and letting go of what we can’t control. Right now is a moment where you will likely find that acceptance and letting go will do so much for your mental health and wellbeing.

Yes, you might be bored out of your mind; you might feel lonely and isolated; you might be missing friends and family; you might be worried about your job and your finances…the list goes on and on. These thoughts, feelings, and emotions take a lot of energy from you, which can get quite exhausting and increase your stress. Consider postponing these thoughts until later on, when this period of social isolation has passed. Try accepting and embracing the fact that you must stay home (like most people in the country and many people in the world) and you will have much less activity in your day than you’re accustomed to.

Consider the benefits of the current slow-down, and solitude that this situation has required. Many meditation practices require silence and isolation. Embrace how this can be mentally healing versus mentally draining. If meditation is not your thing, read a book, text or email out some encouraging words to others, or send silly gifs to your friends to pass the time. Just don’t get stuck on too much news or Netflix! And consider how this time of distancing might benefit you and even provide you some much-needed rest and healing.

Dr. Michael Messina

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