Quarantined at home: How to cope with mental health challenges

Life these days is hardly normal. You’re spending all of your time at home, missing friends and family, and learning how to do work and school remotely. News of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic dominates your television and social feed, causing fear and anxiety about what lies ahead.

With all of this piling on, it’s no surprise that many people are starting to feel a strain on their mental health.

“Everyone is feeling some kind of stress and anxiety regardless of their situation,” says Robin Henderson, PsyD, Chief Executive, Behavioral Health for Providence Oregon. “It’s hard to adjust to a ‘new normal’ when there’s nothing normal about this.”

Is there a ‘right’ way to feel or react?

Whether you’re experiencing anxiety for the first time or have been coping with it for a while, the COVID-19 outbreak is a new experience for everyone, and there is no “right” way to feel during these times.

“There’s no normal way to react to this because we’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetime,” Dr. Henderson says. “Unlike natural disasters or tragedies we’ve experienced in the past, we’re not able to come together in the same way we’re used to.”

“Everyone is feeling some kind of stress and anxiety regardless of their situation. It’s hard to adjust to a ‘new normal’ when there’s nothing normal about this.”

What are ways I can cope with anxiety around COVID-19?

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed during these unprecedented times, know that you’re not alone. There are also healthy ways you can cope and feel better, and mental health resources are available when you need them. Dr. Henderson shares some tips and advice below for maintaining your mental health during the outbreak.

Keep a routine

Make sure you’re sticking to a relatively normal schedule while staying at home. Get up and go to bed at the same time, get dressed and eat regular meals. If you’re used to walking your dog, exercising or playing with the kids at certain times of the day, try to maintain that schedule. This will help give you and your family a sense of normalcy during a time that feels anything but normal.

A routine will help give you and your family a sense of normalcy during a time that feels anything but normal.

Get some exercise

Exercising regularly can help your body feel refreshed and boost your mental wellbeing. If you can’t safely exercise outside, there are plenty of easy and creative workouts you can do at home alone or with the family.

Try four-square breathing

Meditation and breathing exercises can help keep you grounded and allow you to reset when you’re feeling overwhelmed. One type of breathing exercise is four-square breathing, or box breathing. To do this technique:

  • Inhale for a count of four.
  • Hold air in your lungs for a count of four.
  • Exhale for a count of four.
  • Leave your lungs empty for a count of four.

Control what you can

The “randomness” of COVID-19 is a major cause of anxiety, Dr. Henderson explains. And “we must make the hard choices now.” So, try to focus on what you can control, such as:

  • Taking physical distancing (aka social distancing) seriously.
  • Washing our hands regularly with soap and water, especially when you leave or come into your home.
  • Keeping surfaces in your house clean.
  • Your mental and physical wellbeing. Whether it’s a bath, a run or baking a cake — take time for yourself and truly focus on what you need to feel better.

Put things into context

While news around the outbreak can be frightening at times, it’s important to put it into context, Dr. Henderson says.

“It’s scary to read about the number of people getting sick or dying, but we need to remember that most people who catch this won’t need to go to the hospital,” she explains.

It’s a good practice to take everything one day at a time and to avoid planning too far ahead. 

It’s also a good practice to take everything one day at a time and to avoid planning too far ahead. Instead of thinking about what life will be like this summer or later this year, just try to focus on the next week or two and what you need to manage in that two-week timeframe.

Limit your news intake

COVID-19 news can easily foster anxiety, so try to avoid overloading on the negative headlines. If you have to, limit yourself to a set amount of time every day — say, 10 or 20 minutes. After that, change up your activity and focus on something positive.

Stay connected with friends

Not being able to see friends and family members is one of the biggest strains on mental health during this quarantine. Whether it’s scheduling a Skype call with your family or joining a virtual book club, it’s crucial to stay in touch with people in your life — even if it’s just a quick check-in.

“Set intentional times to virtually meet with a group of people, such as a virtual happy hour or tea time — whatever it is, just connect.”

“We’re social beings, so we’ve got to do things to connect,” Dr. Henderson says. “Set intentional times to virtually meet with a group of people, such as a virtual happy hour or tea time — whatever it is, just connect.”

What about my kids’ mental health?

Quarantine will affect everyone’s mental health — and that includes kids. Every child will respond differently, but keep an eye out for sleeping problems and bad habits surfacing.

Whether you have toddlers or teens, it’s crucial to talk to your kids about what’s going on. Adjust your explanations based on their ages, but make sure to drive home the idea that staying home is the most important thing they can do right now. For older kids, consider using the many charts and graphs available that show how flattening the curve can save lives.

In a recent #Talk2BeWell video chat, Dr. Henderson talks with teens about the challenges of not seeing their friends.

Because younger kids may not understand why they can’t hang out with friends, make sure to keep new technology like video chats fun and exciting. Set up virtual playdates. Try virtual games like charades or Pictionary. Keep your kids connected and show them that they’re not the only ones staying at home.

When should I reach out to a healthcare provider?

If you’ve tried different coping tools and are still finding yourself overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor.

“If you’re having trouble getting out of bed and handling your daily tasks, including work, it’s time to talk to someone,” Dr. Henderson says.

Talking through your fears and feelings with a professional can help you find ways to adjust to this new experience. Many healthcare providers are offering telemedicine counseling right now, including Providence.

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

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Find a doctor

If you feel unwell and would like to consult your doctor, consider using telemedicine options. Providence Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. Providence Behavioral Health Concierge offers virtual counseling. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.

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Is the #COVID19 quarantine taking a toll on your #mentalhealth? A Providence expert shares tips for easing anxiety during these unprecedented times.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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