The last few weeks have been bizarre and worrisome for all of us. As COVID-19 cases increase, shuls have been closed in many communities, most social events have been canceled, and we are being told to isolate in our homes for the time being. Suddenly, we’re waking up to days spent alone without the ability to have even the most basic in-person human contact. Undoubtedly, this can make us feel lonely and isolated, so we need to think of ways to keep our mental health up during this period of time.
While these may be novel struggles for many, I actually do have some previous personal experience with these circumstances. Having had social anxiety disorder for much of my life, I used to spend lots of time away from others, because I was too anxious to engage in even basic socialization. For example, shuls were pretty much off limits to me, since I was worried I’d have a panic attack in front of everyone. Effectively, this meant I needed to create strategies for being alone without losing my mind. Through trial and error, I was able to develop a basic framework for staying mentally healthy and being relatively productive during some of those long days by myself. Honestly, I never thought this would be very relevant to most other people, but now it looks like a lot of us are going to be stuck inside for a long while.
In any case, this is my five-point plan for getting through these long days, and I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me:
First… Create some structure
I think it’s important for everyone to feel like they have some control over what they do every day. Without having some kind of daily “gameplan,” it’s much easier to get anxious or depressed. We all know this, but it’s one of those things that’s easy to say, yet can be extremely difficult to actually do. When you wake up in the morning, it’s easy to go straight to your phone and get caught up in social media or the news before even attempting to create structure. Because of this, I’ve found that it can be a better idea to take some time the previous night to write down some things you want to do the following day. That way, when you wake up, you don’t have to think at all about what you’re going to do, because it’s already all on the list you made last night!
At the same time… Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew
While it’s very important to have structure, it’s equally important to remember that you’re human. You’re not going to have completely productive days of writing novels, exercising for three hours, and learning quantum physics. If you set extremely lofty goals, you might get too overwhelmed to complete any of them, making you feel even worse about yourself for not following through. Instead, try setting smaller, simpler goals, such as calling a loved one, writing in a journal, reading a book for 30 minutes, or going for a short walk. And don’t feel guilty about leaving plenty of free time to watch Netflix and silly YouTube videos. It’s a long day, so there’s plenty of time to indulge while still being productive. It might be cliche to say “it’s the little things that count,” but in this case, it’s a very accurate cliche.
During the day… Try to get a hold of your anxious and depressive thoughts before they overtake you
Being alone with only your thoughts can be difficult for anyone, especially those already prone to anxiety and depression. You can get a thought like “I’m going to be bored all day,” or “I hate that I can’t see any of my friends,” and without your normal routine as a distraction, it seems like you can’t get them out of your head. This can lead you down a rabbit hole of anxiety and depression which will just make you feel even lonelier. If you can catch these thoughts before they get a hold in your brain, it can save you from so much angst. One way I attempt to do this is to recognize that I actually have control over which thoughts I choose to focus on. I take a thought like “I hate that I can’t see anybody,” note that it’s a valid feeling to have, and then consciously choose to think about something else, or just move on to the next activity on my list.
Another way to get better at this is to… Practice Mindfulness
When you’re being overcome by waves of anxiety, depression, or loneliness, mindfulness can really help you relax and disconnect from the constant stream of thoughts that are going through your mind. In a nutshell, a basic mindfulness meditation can consist of sitting down comfortably, relaxing your body, taking deep breaths, and focusing only on the present moment while experiencing other thoughts without judgement. This helps you recognize that you’re not your thoughts; it’s possible to separate yourself from your feelings and emotions. It might sound kind of eccentric to some people, but I can’t recommend it strongly enough. There are plenty of excellent resources for beginning mindfulness practice, and even a five minute meditation can be invigorating. Especially when you’re alone and feel like bouncing off the walls with nervous energy.
At the end of the day… Make a list of what you’ve done
Were you able to check off some of the things on your list? Even if you didn’t end up following it that well, maybe you made a phone call, sent an email, made a healthy meal, or just didn’t lose your mind. No matter what, you can find something at the end of the day to be proud of. Before going to bed, I suggest making a physical list of anything you accomplished that day, even if it seems insignificant. Look at your list and put a bow on your day, knowing that you’re doing the best you can during these weird and trying times.
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- How I Made The Best of My Time in Social Isolation - April 5, 2020
- Firsthand Strategies For When Social Anxiety Hits - December 15, 2019