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Social Distancing and Supporting Your Mental Health

By Rochelle Honey-Arcement, Director of Mobile Crisis Outreach

As we are all taking steps to responsibly reduce the likelihood of spread of COVID-19 by social distancing, we need to be mindful of our mental health during this time.  Social distancing is very close to social isolation and we know that isolation can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Uncertainty about possible consequences for ourselves, our loved ones, and the economy can add to our distress.  It is easy to become overwhelmed and allow our thoughts to drift to worst case scenarios, especially if we have more down time than usual, are watching the news constantly, or have already faced significant effects of our current crisis in our work or home life.  

As we move forward, and if this situation expands or lingers, the effects of the isolation may multiply.  At this time, some people may be relishing the opportunity to be home, but we need to be proactive and prepared to deal with the effects this crisis may have on us.  In previous times of crisis, such as acts of terror or natural disasters, our community has come together, often literally, to support one another. There has been a sense of unity and togetherness.  This time, we are being asked, and sometimes told, not to come together. There are very good reasons for this, but these actions clash with our basic human nature. Human beings are social creatures.  We do best when we come together and work as a team. We are now having to learn and practice new ways of doing that in order to protect our most vulnerable people.  

Many of us may begin to feel depressed or anxious.  Some of us may become obsessive about personal hygiene practices related to COVID-19 that may go beyond what is healthy.  Some of us may lean on coping mechanisms that may not be the most healthy, such as smoking or drinking more, or binging on unhealthy foods.  These are natural reactions to the stressful situation we are experiencing, and we must be gentle and patient with ourselves and our loved ones who may experience this.

That does not mean that there is nothing we can do to prevent or lessen these effects.  There are actually many things we can do to ease our suffering. One of the most effect ways to do this is by staying connected.  That can be by phone, video chat, or email; there are many new ways for us to stay connected and even see our loved ones and friends that were not available in the past.  Make sure you stay in contact with the people who are your supports and support one another. Research has shown that helping others can boost our own mental health. There are numerous ways that we can help others without leaving our homes or having direct contact with those at risk.

Stay informed, because knowledge is powerful in decreasing the effects of uncertainty, but limit your news consumption.  Choose one or two news sources that are trustworthy and only look at them a couple times a day, to make sure you have any important updates.  Accept that even these trusted sources may not have all the answers, because those answers may not exist at this time. This is a quickly changing situation and while we may crave answers, we will need to accept some uncertainty at this time. 

It is easy to start focusing on what the long term consequences of this situation are going to be on a global and local level.  It will be helpful for all of us to focus on what we can control. Most of us are not in a position to have a large impact on a global level, but we have the power to continue to wash our hands, stay 6 feet from one another, stay home if we are able, and contribute in what small ways we may be able to contribute.  We can only control what we do and how we interact with others. It is helpful to remember to stay in the present and not to get caught up in what the future is going to look like. You can find online apps where you can learn mindfulness techniques that can help you stay in the present moment.

Simple things like maintaining a schedule as much as possible, exercising, eating well, and drinking water, are ways that can help us stay healthy, energized and focused.  When boredom kicks in, there are lots of free ways to distract yourself, such as listening to music or podcasts, playing games, or reading. Some low cost options are watching movies or doing arts and crafts.  Keeping our minds occupied and active is important. There are also some free or low cost learning sites that we can access to learn about something we have always wanted to know about.

So, remember to have patience with yourself and others, keep breathing, and remember that you are not alone.  We are in this together. If you find that you, or someone you care about is struggling, there are resources to help.  It is a strength to reach out for help, and there are many of us out here ready to help you cope, throughout the crisis and always.

Our community is filled with people who want to help.  Many of the local agencies have moved their services to telemedicine.  The staff and volunteers at CommUnity Crisis Services are in touch with many of the local agencies and are willing and eager to help refer people to the resources in our area.  

Mobile Crisis is one of the programs that we have at CommUnity Crisis Services.  This is a 24 hour a day mental health crisis response team. When in our normal operations, our counselors can meet with clients in crisis anywhere in the community, including in their homes and in public spaces, but due to the current situation, we are now responding by phone or confidential, HIPAA-approved video chat.  This way we can still see each other, but we are not contributing to possible spread. Our counselors are trained to deal with a variety of mental health crises and are available to help ease the stress of isolation. An important piece of our program is our follow up program, which allows our counselors to stay connected with our clients after we meet with them.  We can become part of the support system and refer people to the appropriate community resources. We have developed strong relationships with our partner agencies in the community and can help facilitate connecting people to the appropriate resources.

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