By Adam Strunk
People are social creatures. And while social distancing for weeks or months might be necessary for our physical health, it isn’t always the best for our mental health. Newton Now reached out to two therapists to discuss what people can due to stay mentally healthy and the impact virus precautions has on mental health.
“It’s kind of interesting because a different set of people have a different set of issues,” Elizabeth Friesen, Clinical Social Worker and owner of Friesen Counseling in Newton said. “A person living by themselves and home alone those issues are different from someone with three kids at home. Each one you need to address differently. “
She noted the difficult situation can create anxiety for people of the unknown, a feeling of impending doom and of isolation.
“We can really get lost in some of the negatives and get focused in on the terrifying news,” she said. “The danger is feeling isolated and alone and that can become a very dark place if our emotions start to cloud our judgment of reality.”
Friesen she hasn’t seen a large influx of new clients during the lockdown but has been regularly checking in with her existing clients. She noted that under changes put in place by the state during the Covid-19 outbreak, therapists can more easily provide telehealth care for clients, meaning people have access to therapy without being in the same room.
“I want to make sure people know that you can still see a counselor whether it’s a new one or one you’ve seen,” she said.
Friesen recommended people take a number of actions everyone could take to help with the anxiety, fear or isolation they face.
The first important action is having a set routine, she said.
“In times like this when there is so much out of our control and unknowns in the world, it’s really helpful to control what you can,” she said. “That balances out the unknown.”
Basically, it’s about regular tasks you accomplish each day and sticking to the plan. Shower, get dressed and try to go about the day normally, for instance.
“If you’re sitting in a bathrobe all day long, you might find you don’t feel good about yourself or less productive. We, as humans need a purpose. You need to have a certain amount of control there.”
She noted by exerting control over your own situation that people should also have empathy and compassion understanding of the other situations of people they live with or are around.
“What we find is we feel better about ourselves and how we handle situations when we have compassion,” she said. “Lowering our expectations can be really helpful. We’re all trying to do our best. We can’t control other people and we can get in a nasty situation if we control others. What we can control is ourselves and our behaviors.”
She said it was important if people are in a space with others to make sure they can have somewhere that they can go away from people if they feel stressed.
“Finding a retreat space is helpful for you or if you have kids,” she said.
Friesen noted that regular exercise or activity also should help with some of the feelings of anxiety as well as allowing a different space for our brains to process events.
“In Kansas, we’re lucky we have a lot of outdoor space,” she said. “If you can be outdoors and not have close proximity to others, getting out once a day for at least 30 minutes can be helpful. Even in an apartment and we can’t get out, we can open a window. It’s spring. We can do gardening. There’s a feeling of spring that can be rejuvenating.”
Other tips she gave included focusing on who you want to be during the time period and setting out to create that person as well as what she calls “Radical Acceptance.
“ Everyone’s doing the best they can. Accept yourself, your current situation in your life without blame or push back. Notice the good in the world,” she said. “Now, it can feel really scary, but look at the helpers.”
Friesen said for those that feel isolated, they should reach out and check in on friends, family members or people they know.
“Find a therapist if that’s something you’re ready to do; reach out to family and friends. If you are in a domestic abuse situation, there are resources out there,” she said.
Adults aren’t the only ones dealing with the stay-at-home orders, but also children, who had their school years and regular routines abruptly canceled.
“Some parents and kids are going through the grieving process,” Bobbie Cooprider, a licensed master social worker with Connections Therapy in Newton said. “It was an abrupt change for a lot of people.”
She said the order closing schools came during spring break. Some kids didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends for the school year; others missed important milestones like graduation.
Cooprider noted that there might come times where parents are faced with difficult questions from children.
“Be honest when someone gets sick,” she said. “Talk to them at their level.” She recommended the website, kidshealth.org, as a resource for parents to look at to understand what an age-appropriate conversation would be.
She encouraged parents to have open communication with their children about the current situation.
“Take time to answer those and make sure they’re giving the right information,” she said.
Cooprider said for parents with children at home that it was also important to keep the kids in a routine and maintain regular actions.
She said keeping them away from social media would help them, as well as being anxious around them.
She also said that parents should encourage their kids to be active and play and not just sit on the phone, computer or with video games.
“They become irritable and the mood swings increase,” she said of inactive children.
She recommended looking at “old time” activities for children that didn’t involve electronics.
“I had to laugh because it’s things I used to do like play hot potato,” she said. “It’s saying, ‘hey it’s ok. Let’s go outside; let’s play together as a family.’”