Strategies To Manage Isolation During COVID-19

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What you know about the coronavirus pandemic – and what you don’t know (how long will it last?) – probably has you feeling anxious. And cooped up.

So, how do you cope in this time of isolation? Premier Health Now reached out for advice from Jaime Saunders of Samaritan Behavioral Health. As a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPPC), she assesses and counsels people needing help with mental health.

She cautions, “A lot of times depression can sneak up on you before you know it – you’re not even getting out of bed or showering, and you don’t know how you got there. So, by being proactive, you can prevent depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.”

Here’s what she recommends.

Maintain a Schedule

You may be feeling like life, as you knew it, has gone adrift. Saunders recommends setting a schedule, to moor you and your family to a comforting routine.

“Get up, get a shower, wash your hair, get dressed, do all that stuff that you would normally do to maintain some consistency,” she says. “And get outside to take a walk, because we can still do that. That’s important to do that and not stay locked up in your house, not doing anything and not moving.”

Maintain Your Social Connections

Think “physical distancing,” not “social distancing.” That is, says Saunders, observe physical distancing, staying at home or keeping at least six feet from others, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But while you maintain physical distance, use technology, such as FaceTime, Skype, or a simple phone call, to maintain important social connections with friends and family. Be sure to check in regularly with older family members or friends, especially those who live alone.

“Social interaction is key to our lives,” Saunders says. “And it’s a main coping skill for many people, especially people with mental health or substance abuse issues. It can help you maintain good mental health or sobriety.”

During the stay-at-home order, Saunders and many other mental health therapists meet with their clients virtually via teletherapy video technology, “so we can see our clients, and they can still see us. It helps us maintain social interaction.” (Saunders gives her clients the option of video or voice-only sessions.)

She also uses teletherapy technology to conduct initial assessments with newly referred clients.

“Many churches are also doing a lot of things online,” she adds, including livestreamed worship services and web conferencing for face-to-face interactions.

Take Care Of Yourself

Self-care – taking care of yourself – can help you and your family get through the doldrums of isolation.

Saunders advises, “Parents have got to keep themselves healthy if they want to take care of their kiddos. The kiddos can feel the pressure in the air, as far as all the stuff we see on the news, and by staying at home they know their schedules have been changed.

“So, parents need to keep themselves healthy mentally and physically as much as they can. See if you can carve that into your day, even if it’s 10 minutes where you’re doing something just for yourself.”

Examples, she says: “Taking a shower without being interrupted, going for a quick little walk by yourself, listening to music, yoga or other exercise, or talking on the phone with a friend. Just something you can do that makes you feel good.”

YouTube, she says, is an excellent source for videos on mindfulness activities, workouts, and yoga.

Eat Well

An important part of self-care is eating nutritious food. “Good nutrition has a big impact on how you feel, which will help your mental health, because everything is directly related,” Saunders says.

When Home Isn’t a Safe Place

For many of us, home is a safe haven from COVID-19.

“But for victims of domestic violence, their house is their most dangerous place,” Saunders says. “When they’re isolated from their only outside connections, such as work or school, that makes it more difficult to reach out for help when they need it.”

Domestic violence agencies, such as the Artemis Center of Dayton (hotline 937-461-HELP [4357]) and the YWCA of Dayton (hotline 937-222-SAFE [7233]), are still taking calls and referrals, she adds.

“One of the things abusers like to do is isolate their victims. And sometimes the isolation means restricting their ability to use the phone or the internet. That could be a potential problem, and when they’re reaching out on the phone, is the abuser in the room, are they hearing what’s going on?”

And with kids out of school, their teachers, who are state-mandated reporters of child abuse, can’t pick up on signs of abuse.

If you see potential signs of abuse in your neighborhood, Saunders recommends calling the police. “Even when you’re not sure,” she adds. “A lot of people second guess themselves about calling law enforcement. But when you have a gut feeling, go with that gut feeling. I’d rather be wrong than be right and not call.”

People with a history of substance abuse addiction also are at greater risk during the pandemic, Saunders says.

When isolated at home, unable to socialize with people, she explains, “It makes it harder for people to implement coping skills to maintain sobriety. A lot of times people use substances as a way to cope. People with substance abuse issues may be more at risk of going into relapse. Their other outlets that they’ve established are no longer available right now, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings or going to the gym or church.”

“If you have connections with NA or AA, connect with your sponsor,” she recommends. Or call substance abuse programs, like Samaritan Behavioral Health Substance Abuse Services in Dayton.

She adds that coping skills that help with mental health can also help with addiction, including maintaining a regular schedule, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, and self-care.

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Jaime Saunders, LPCC

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor