So you’ve got your food in order and are ready to hunker down with the roomies or solo. Two weeks — what is that, right? But the truth is, this is a pandemic. Two weeks, on repeat, may be your new normal. To survive and thrive through it, you’ll need to feed your mental health too.
As you enter times of self-isolation, taking care of your mental health is more important than ever. Truly preparing for a pandemic means preparing for long-term changes, which might include how you access therapy or if you access it at all. But, in this case, instead of batch-prepping as you would for meals, you have to learn how to take it day by day.
That doesn’t mean resigning to hopelessness, however. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist, once said, “Humankind’s survival depends on our ability to stop rushing.” It means we owe it to ourselves to be patient — with ourselves and each other.
Practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques is useful to help us be present in this way, says Sierra Frederick, LMSW. It doesn’t help to be overly panicked about the future, which we can’t really control.
“This pandemic takes our personal anxieties and makes them universal,” Frederick says. “We are going to start to see the toll on those who are not diagnosed already, have not actively treated symptoms, or are unaware that this is causing them mental stress. There will be trauma diagnoses that occur as a result of COVID-19 as well.”
The truth is that it’s totally appropriate to feel everything you might be feeling right now. Let your most fearful, anxious self’s voice speak, and respond kindly to it. Don’t let it control or determine your next steps.
This is not the time to be hard on yourself for lack of productivity, executive functioning, or simply Being Human™. In fact, it’s not the time to suddenly try to fulfill your dreams and cross every big thing you’ve ever wanted to do off your mental to-do list.
Just because you have more “free time” doesn’t mean you have to accomplish anything at all. Grind culture or positive productivity might actually be toxic right now. Take breaks.
“People will have to let this time radicalize them to get through it,” says Araya Baker, MPhilEd, a Black, queer, feminist psychotherapist and former crisis counselor. “This means not waiting to be impacted personally to realize that our fates are interconnected right now.”
Yes, self-care is more important now than ever, but recognize that the way we choose to live now will directly impact how another may have to live forever. Practice prevention, folks!
“The lesson in this pandemic should be that there’s a price to pay for forgetting and neglecting the vulnerable,” says Baker. “We’re all vulnerable right now, regardless of borders, class, or whatever other divisions and hierarchical identities we like to pretend are cellular-deep in order to ignore inequity and justify privilege.”
There are plenty of ways we can take care of ourselves individually so that we can maintain morale to continue taking care of each other. One way we can help ourselves and our mental health is by setting boundaries, which might look like setting your phone aside so you’re not available for texts 24/7.
It might mean introducing a routine with intentionally scheduled video chats and phone calls with friends and family. It might also mean having the number of the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) to call when you’re experiencing intense thoughts and emotions.
Between staying updated with the world and taking care of ourselves, it’s also important to give space to ourselves, to breathe deeply and exist.
“Doing activities that you haven’t had time for before is great. Catching up on tasks is great. Taking breaks is also great and necessary! With that being said, staying connected in a way that honors your own personal boundaries is important,” says Frederick.
Take the time to pause. Make playlists to help you cope with specific moods and feelings. Make sure to get dressed every day. Create a routine that helps you. Make sure you get enough sleep. Stay hydrated. Keep up with personal hygiene. Open a window to breathe once in a while, if you can’t go out on a walk. Consider online therapy.
This is all very important for surviving these times.
Like Frederick says, constantly worrying about the future won’t actually do us any good. There’s only so much we can control right now. We cannot control the virus or physically stop those we know and love from getting it. Everything may collapse, but that’s not what we are in control of.
What we are in control of is our connection to others, that we are all responsible for each other. That’s what we can control: how we treat each other, if we’re kind to each other through prevention tactics or through the ways we shop.
More than ever, we have to learn how to take life day by day with others in mind. Don’t forget there are other people in isolation too.
“Even amidst social distancing, now is the moment for people to embrace community care and interdependence,” says Baker. “See preventative measures […] both a form of self-preservation and an ethical and moral obligation to be socially responsible.”
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re in this alone.
Instead, slow down and think about the long lasting effects of our actions, which we can control. When all this is over, you may find comfort in how you took a stand to make the world a better place for both yourself and others.
Elly is a New York-based writer, journalist, and poet who also loves to host parties for her friends. Primarily, she’s Brooklyn’s resident pun enthusiast. Read more of her writing here or follow her on Twitter.