By: Heather Lynch, MA, LPC, ACS
This is a wild time in so many ways. The normalcy that people have experienced in their lives has all but disappeared. Many stores are shuttered. In the stores that are still open, the wait to check out weaves through the aisles. Parents are suddenly teachers, many balancing their own work along with that of their kids. Grandparents, who may typically care for their grandchildren, are no longer able to see them for fear of getting sick. People are walking around with masks and gloves. Leaders across the country are scrambling to figure out how to manage a pandemic. A pan what?! This is all life changing, simply life changing.
I have practiced as a licensed professional counselor for over 20 years and have been a clinical manager for the past 3 years. You know what I am doing for the first time? Remotely managing a team of therapists who, for the first time in their careers, are working from home. I am perched on the end of our dining room table, which has now become my office, with my laptop, notebooks, and cell phone. I spend my day on conference calls while simultaneously being a teacher to my 3rd grader and 7th grader. I will tell you what, I have always needed to read the “notes to parents” before helping with homework. This feels way beyond my abilities!
As it did for many, this work from home thing happened in a microsecond. Tuesday, I was in the office and by that afternoon, we were all packing up preparing to work from home on Wednesday. The anticipation and anxiety of that was overwhelming. As I headed to bed that night, my husband talked about the importance of routine (while I was, quite honestly, thinking about working in my favorite pair of leggings and a sweatshirt). Maybe he had a point.
Working from home sounds glorious at first, right? Work from home, stay in your jammies all day, maybe shower every few days, and never really have a reason to leave the house. I will tell you that even for those who have never experienced depression or anxiety, this could have disastrous consequences. Now, more than ever, routine is essential. Getting up, showering, and getting dressed are all things that need to continue.
After deciding to heed my husband’s rather sound advice, there I was at 5:30 on Wednesday morning, getting dressed to work out as I typically do during the work week. Then, I showered, got dressed (I will admit, I decided to wear jeans), and I positioned myself at the dining room table preparing for my first meeting of the day. And that first day was a rough one. Let’s just say I was never so conscious of needing to make sure the microphone on my computer was muted.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, for a few reasons. First, as a mental health practitioner, I have years of experience helping people find ways to manage their depression and anxiety. This has included things like spending time with family and friends, going to support groups, attending religious services, and going to the gym. You know what you can’t do right now? ANY OF THAT.
Secondly, even the most mentally stable people are going to struggle now. Maybe not this week, but really soon. People are going to start feeling isolated, sad, and really, really antsy. This will lend itself to people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety that they might not even recognize. People might start to lose their appetite, lose interest in things they typically enjoy, sleep more, and maybe even feel more agitated. If you notice your mood is shifting and if you find you are really struggling, reach out. Call a friend, video chat with a loved one, maybe write a letter and mail it! Remember when pen pals were a thing?!
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a creature of habit. My routine anchors me in so many ways and to not have that is REALLY a struggle. You may think “Ah, that isn’t that big of a deal!”. I am here to tell you IT IS A BIG DEAL. Over the past week, we have logged in via Zoom to take Tae Kwon Do classes at ATA. At first, admittedly, it was a bit awkward. After a few days in, we now realize this is part of what is going to tether us. Not only do we get to keep up with our curriculum and practice our techniques, we also get to see our instructors and our friends. Granted, we don’t get the same experience as we do at the school (including the absence of our beloved wisecracks!), but it is still so amazing. This kind of stuff is absolutely essential.
The takeaway is this. Keep structure and routine as much as possible. Get up, shower, eat breakfast, exercise….be as consistent as you can. If you have kids, this is even more important. The more kids can anticipate what is coming next, the better it is for them AND for you. The more unpredictable kids feel things are, the more unwieldy everything will feel. (Trust me on this one)
It might seem counter-intuitive, but now is a time to practice gratitude. Be in tune with the goodness in your life, even if things are totally different now than they were just a few weeks ago. Also, be careful about how much of the news you read or watch. The daily count of how many people have corona virus and how many people have died will really take a toll (if it hasn’t already). Remember, there are still so many ways we can connect and enjoy being together.
Above all, know that we will get through this, all of this, together. It takes a village, even when that village is separated into its own little parts. You’ve got this!