Quarantine isn’t easy for the majority of us. We are facing an economic collapse during a pandemic. There are so many unknowns and we are all being terrorized with fear. The whole world has been put on hold, well except for bills. A lot of people are out of work either temporarily, some of us permanently. Businesses are closing and owners are going bankrupt. Our routines have been disrupted, our lively hoods have been jeopardized, our kids are out of school for the rest of the year. A lot of people are working from home, and teaching their kids via distance learning at the same time. To understate it, most of us are extremely inconvenienced. Those of us with mental illness always struggle in the face of the unknown, routine changes, lack of structure, isolation, fear, and stress. When it is of this magnitude, I imagine that many individuals are living in high symptom hell.
The balance that goes behind being high functioning, or well lets be honest, simply functioning with a mental health condition is a very delicate one. Many people depend on their structure and routines made up of different mental health hygiene tasks and self care. When routines and structure have been disrupted, things begin to slip through the cracks. A lot of individuals with mental illness rely heavily on their support network made up of different providers, friends, and family. However, that too has changed. Combatting isolation and surrounding yourself with healthy people plays a pretty big part in maintaining ones mental health. However, now that is impossible, unless done virtually.
The obstacles that have been created due to this pandemic feel endless. That is why we must be gentle with ourselves. After my sons father died my depression and anxiety symptoms were very exasperated, I went from a very high functioning individual to barley getting by. I still held myself to the same standards I did before, and when I failed to meet those standards I was very unkind to myself, even though now I realize those expectations were completely unrealistic. One day a friend told me, if nothing else Kelsey, get up in the morning and take a shower, and call it a productive day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really think this was some life saving advice. So, I set what felt like the smallest goal I had ever set, and began fighting through my depression enough to shower everyday. Honestly, I immediately started to feel better when I met my goal. Any improvement was good in my eyes. I also realized that my negative self talk began decreasing when I reevaluated my expectations for myself.
When you set unrealistic expectations for yourself the result is usually undesirable. A lot of individuals with mental health disorders have a pretty loud inner critic, not meeting our own expectations can make this inner dialogue pretty intense, which can start to unravel things. That is why we must be gentle with ourselves. Setting realistic goals and expectations in order to have something to feel proud of and slowly expanding on them is very helpful. Setting some small goals that will support you mentally may be very crucial during this time, maybe it is a reminder on your phone to take your medications, or maybe it is putting a date on the calendar for you to call a friend and reach out. Keep in mind when adding to the goals and expectations that you are still keeping them reasonable and achievable. Practice self care when you are unable to reach your goals. Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself, give yourself a pass from harsh criticism, but don’t make excuses. Stay honest with yourself. Try to practice awareness of your own thoughts and when you begin to let your inner critic take control and demean yourself for not meeting it attempt to stop the thought and practice being gentle with yourself. This can be done by practicing self care, doing something that makes you feel proud, or simply telling yourself that you are a human with good intentions and you will try to change the behavior tomorrow. It is just that, a behavior within your control that can be adjusted. There are many different ways to practice self compassion, and it looks different for everyone. What works for one person wont always works for the next. So, try different approaches and stick with what work.
This is a very hard time for most people, cut yourself some slack. Your house doesn’t need to be spotless, you don’t need a new at home workout routine, your kids don’t need to prep for Harvard, find the places you can manage your expectations and reduce your stress during this time. Remember that this is temporary, and that sometimes managing our mental health means turning of the news.