ANN ARBOR – With so many aspects of life interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak -- and a new stay-at-home order issued by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer -- life as we know it has changed.
The changes are temporary, but weeks of social isolation can take its toll on anyone’s mental health.
Psychiatrist, clinical professor and associate director at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Depression Center, Michelle Riba, weighed in on the topic and offered some ways to cope with prolonged isolation.
“In general, it’s very frightening to be alone and to worry about the unknown and the scary nature of this pandemic," said Riba. “As much as we want to not panic people and calm people down, nobody is immune to this.”
Riba explained that getting sick isn’t the only concern. With a shortage of equipment and hospital beds, getting proper care in the case that a person does contract COVID-19 has become a legitimate fear.
“People are worried about being infected and what will happen to them,” said Riba.
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As developments on a state and federal level seem to change daily, Riba said it is normal to feel overwhelmed.
“It’s very hard to wrap your head around these changes and plan,” she said.
However, not all hope is lost. Riba offered five ways to cope with social isolation as more Michiganders hunker down at home.
Never underestimate the power of communication, said Riba. Just because we can’t meet others physically doesn’t mean we can’t regularly check in.
“Reaching out and letting family and friends know how you’re doing and setting up a regular check in with people is a good thing to do,” said Riba. “You can do it with neighbors (and family), you can do it with phone calls, emails -- whatever you decide to do. But it’s good to check in and ask: ‘How are you doing?’”
Exercise your body and mind
Whether you head outside for a walk or look up some yoga videos online, it’s important to stay physically active. Same goes for keeping your mind stimulated while spending so much time indoors, said Riba.
“Trying to maintain exercise is important,” said Riba. “Try to learn something every day. Keep your mind active and busy and not just waiting. Maybe there’s projects you haven’t been able to get to in the house.”
Set up a routine
As tempting as it can be to skip the shower and change out of your favorite pair of sweatpants you’ve been wearing for three days straight, preparing for the day helps create a different frame of mind, said Riba.
“It’s important to get up every morning and shower, get dressed and have breakfast,” she said.
Keeping your head up can help you get through this, said Riba. Focus on things that you can be grateful for, and share that positivity with others.
“Try to stay positive," she said. “I think (we should be) appreciative for everyday that we can stay healthy.”
That saying “one day at a time” really does hold weight to it. Take it slowly, realize you are not alone in this and show gratitude for others’ work in this unprecedented time, whether it be health care professionals, pharmacists or grocery store employees.
A simple “thank you" can go a long way.
Limit your time on social media
It’s tempting to turn to social media during these times for information and to see how our friends and family are doing. However, not all information out there is credible and endless consumption can begin to take a toll on our mental health, said Riba.
“If you’re used to having a certain amount each day, you really have to be careful how much you’re listening to it and what it’s doing to you in terms of anxiety and making you scared,” said Riba. “One has to really make sure you dose it so that it’s not ever-present.”
For those with children at home, Riba has some extra advice.
“You have to be very careful about all the telephone calls and all the news that’s on and the impact on your kids," she said. “It’s not healthy for them to be scared and worried about it. You have to let them know what‘s going on but it has to be explained in an age-appropriate manner.”
Children absorb information more than we realize, she said, and it’s important to be mindful of how parents and family speak about the pandemic in front of them.