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  • Liz Millican

Setting Priorities under Isolation

Since a global pandemic was announced and many places have gone into lockdown banning large gatherings, I have noticed two things. One is people experiencing an increased amount of stress. This makes sense. People are working from home while schooling their kids, along with all the other household chores they would normally have. All of this while being physically cut off from our typical support networks.

These adjustments are big adjustments and they are bound to increase stress. If you’re feeling stressed out by all these changes you should not feel guilty for having a normal emotional reaction to it. Even panic attacks and crying are common ways that our body copes with stress. Don’t feel bad for being normal.

The other thing I have noticed is people seeing the positive in all of this. Staying home like we have been asked, even if you do not feel coronavirus is a threat to you, is a display of social solidarity for those who are at risk. I have never seen so many people coming together with such unity. I am not afraid of coronavirus because I am healthy and no one in my house is immunocompromised. If we catch it we will probably have mild symptoms and be fine. I stay home not out of fear, but out of love for people outside of my home who are immunocompromised; my friend down the street whose husband has cancer, my husband’s cousin who has reduced lung capacity due to childhood pneumonia (she’s in her 20’s and newly married), and my friend from school who is also immunocompromised (also in her 20’s). Plus, given the choice I’d rather choose not to be sick rather than get sick.

Other positives include getting to connect more with kids and spouses, corporations and individuals contributing to medical support, and other news that has been shared. While focusing on positives can help with sudden changes I think most people need more in order to manage their current stress and grief.

How do we cope with so much sudden change?

I think first it’s important to acknowledge that this is temporary. Second is to admit our grief over the normal things we enjoy. Grief is a normal response to loss and for those who are experiencing a lot of loss and instability right now those emotions are going to be very strong. Admit your emotions to yourself.

Reach out for support. Keeping in touch with friends and family by phone or video call provides encouragement and allows us to feel supported even when we cannot have face to face contact. If you need additional support many therapists are providing counseling by phone or video. Supports can still be reached, but they may be more difficult to find.

If you have concerns about food or shelter because of a change in your finances then call your government representative to ask about what supports are available to you. I received a robocall today from my provincial (state) representative asking people to call her office if they are in need of support. I was very encouraged that my government is reaching out to people to let them know how to get support during this difficult time. Asking for help may not feel good, but if you ask you’re more likely to get what you need and it could provide a lot of reassurance. Many people are facing the same circumstances and our governments are under pressure to provide support to those who are struggling financially.

Anger hides our more vulnerable emotions. It can be easy to become angry and blame other people for the problem. Blame China, blame border control, blame the countries leadership, or blame people who refuse to stay home. Blaming can cause our anger to increase. It is also focuses on things that are outside of your control and is a way of avoiding our vulnerable feelings. It’s easier to say, “This is all _____fault.” Than it is to admit “I’m scared.” The way we cope with our deeper emotions has a strong impact on how stressed we feel. If you notice yourself or someone else becoming angry ask yourself what their more vulnerable emotion is. Fear? Exhaustion? Insecurity? Responding to vulnerable emotions with empathy can reduce stress and increase understanding.

How are you coping with your emotions? I think it’s important to consider how well you were coping with your emotions before this crisis happened. If you were anxious before then you’re probably even more anxious now. Stress reveals our mental weaknesses. I think fear can prevent us from taking the time to work on our mental health. We say we don’t have time, but if it were important then you could dedicate 5-10 minutes a day to learn something new about how to take care of your mental health. There are plenty of free resources available to help people. I’m happy to make a resource page with links to the most requested resources so that people know where to look for helpful information (Leave a comment or contact me). Get started and don’t put it off.

Medication. During my psychopathology class the psychiatrist professor recommended that people with severe depression and anxiety should utilize therapy and medication. For some people medication allows them to turn off negative thoughts and experience positive emotions again. There is a biological component to some mental health problems that can experience great relief from medication. Newer SSRI’s have fewer symptoms and are less problematic then medications from 10 years ago. The longer the brain goes without treatment for negative thoughts the stronger and harder it is to treat those thoughts. Don’t put off getting help.

Have realistic expectations. I have seen so many posts from moms who are trying to work from home and school their children. It’s not possible to take on a full time job, teaching, and mothering. Those are three jobs, not one. Have realistic expectations and be proud of what you accomplish instead of worrying about what you couldn’t get done. If the school your child goes to is approaching schooling in a way that stresses you out then don’t do it. Find what works for you and your kids and make this as easy on yourself as possible. Remember, everyone is in the same boat so if your kid falls behind there are probably a lot of them who are also falling behind. When school resumes teachers will get kids caught up. If your kid is old enough to learn on their own then they should do it. If they are young and need help and attention then give them the time you are able to and do not feel bad if they aren’t getting 6 hours of schooling in a day. Our grade 2 boy is struggling with reading at school so while he is home we are focusing on helping him with his reading. That’s it. We spend a few minutes a day on it and try to keep it fun and positive so that he enjoys it and wants to do it. Otherwise we focus on creative things like painting and building legos. If a structured day is working for you then keep doing it. If it’s not be more flexible and try something new.

I'm happy to write more posts if there is a need for it, but I wanted to make one post that could be helpful to the broadest group of people possible. Everyone is in such unique circumstances that it is hard to know how to provide encouragement during this lockdown. Please reach out to me if there is a mental health question you have.

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