How’s the self-isolation working? “Fine,” you might answer, “if, indeed, I was isolated.”
It’s been one week since Gov. Newsom announced California’s stay-at-home order, and Carpinteria is looking more and more like a ghost town, with the exceptions of the Casitas Plaza and Smart & Final parking lots. Schools are shuttered and sidewalks rolled up. For the most part, residents are burrowing at home with a recess once or twice a day for some outside activity.
“This order isn’t to punish us; it’s to help lower the spread of COVID-19,” said Linda Menesez, a Santa Barbara-based licensed psychotherapist. “The more we all adhere to this new order, the better chance our medical system can have to successfully treat those who become ill, and the fewer new cases there will be.”
Though it may take time, a vaccine is on its way. In that we have faith. What’s in question is the ability to survive long hours at a time with the same people in close quarters.
As one local woman, who asked for anonymity, reported on last week’s first day of the shelter in place order, “Oh if you really want a laugh. . . I took a break and made the them (6-year-old, 11-year-old, and a 19-year-old) try yoga, that lasted about 5 minutes and was total chaos. Then had lunch and sanitized doorknobs. Walked into my bedroom to find water on the floor and my ceiling leaking (#$%^ &*%!) then went into the garage to get something to help with the leak and found that one of the dogs did her business on the floor (#$%^ &*%!). And it’s only day ONE!”
Menesez noted, “As challenging as this all might be, we can all use it to learn and grow as human beings. We can begin to have a deeper exploration of our priorities and values and see if they really reflect who we want to be.”
How do we know how we are doing with this new imposed lifestyle if we are sequestered? Are we acting normal? Is our behavior appropriate? Did I blow my top or was I just letting off steam?
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all checklist for mental health. Menesez offers the following to help in assessing and/or guiding the situation.
It’s normal and natural to be at least somewhat anxious about the spread of the coronavirus. What we want to watch out for are overwhelming feelings of fear, sadness and anger. It’s the extent of our emotional reactions and resultant behaviors that we need to be aware of.
A red flag is the signs of a deepening depression: sleeping problems, lack of appetite, loss of ability to experience pleasure, trouble getting out of bed, etc.
Limit exposure to the constant bombardment of news on COVID-19, most of which is frightening and unsettling information. Check it out once or twice a day to keep up with what you need to know. It’s traumatizing to continually be watching coverage, reading articles and talking in negative terms about it. We benefit from having our spirits lifted through our focus on something funny, inspiring or touching.
Notice your anxiety level. Constant, repetitive or racing thoughts, an inability to focus, prolonged crying spells, frequent pacing, changes in appetite and eating behaviors, trouble sleeping and other signs of intense anxiety, may signal the need for help from a professional.
Difficulty in controlling anger? Angry outbursts come in varying degrees, but they are a signal that our ability to cope is being exceeded. We need to take them seriously, particularly if they are directed toward another.
If nothing else, COVID-19 presents the opportunity to draw emotionally closer to each other. Phone calls and emails are some ways we can support each other. There is great strength in coming together even while social distancing.
To help people deal better emotionally with COVID-19: MHS (Mental Health America) mhanational.org/covid19
Local emotional help, 24 hours a day: Call 2-1-1 to get connected to a specialist for personalized assistance.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
To find a local therapist: “Psychology Today,” psychologytoday.com/us. Click on “Find a Therapist,” then put in your zip code.
Normal responses to a global pandemic that do not need to be pathologized or treated as abnormal
• Food and eating challenges and difficulties
• Resurgence of compulsive or addictive behaviors
• Obsessive or intrusive thoughts, memories or fears
• Generalized fear, anxiety, panic
• Depression, disassociation, shutdown, freeze, hopelessness
• Feelings of abandonment or loneliness or isolation
• Sense of loss of control or powerlessness. Feeling confused
• Anxiety around money, shelter, food and other survival needs
• Past traumas being triggered, activated or re-experienced
• Health anxiety heightened (about COVID-19 and otherwise)
• Feeling unheard or unseen amidst the flood of stories
• Thoughts and feelings about death and dying
• New and old grief resurfacing
• Feelings of anger, irritation and frustration
• Caring for everyone to own detriment. Compassion fatigue
• Feeling exhausted, fatigued, unmotivated, lethargic
• Hyper-focus, surges of energy, keeping “doing” to distract
• Immune system depleted, other illnesses starting, chronic flareups
And if you do need support with any of it, that’s OK too.
—Trauma & Co.