UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on September 12, 2020, 6:00 a.m.
I miss walking around without being conscious of what I’m touching. I miss knowing what my plans are a week from now, two weeks from now, and a month from now. I miss eating at a restaurant, commuting into work, traveling. I miss being able to hug. We have all been living in an alternate reality for the last few months, a reality that seems to be considered more normal each day. But even with time passing, it is still difficult for many people to cope and adjust to life now. We’re right there with you. We know it’s hard. Which is why we wanted to be able to give you free therapy resources and ways to improve your mental health to better your overall well being.
DoctorOz.com spoke to online and mobile therapy company Talkspace’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Neil Leibowitz, MD, JD, about the collective grief the world is experiencing right now and how to adjust. He offered tips that can be put into practice right now in order to boost your mood and improve your outlook. Additionally, if you think you need professional help, Dr. Leibowitz shares free solutions for you to try.
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4 Small Steps to Take Today
1. Get Up & Get Dressed
Dr. Leibowitz stresses the importance of routine to maintain a healthy mindset during these times of social isolation. “It’s easy to wake up late and sit in your PJs all day,” he says, but don’t do that every day. Get up and get dressed as if you have somewhere to go. Take a shower. Structure a day like you normally would if you weren’t stuck at home to keep your days filled with activities and things to check off your to-do list.
2. Schedule a Video Call
“We are social creatures. Ensuring that we continue to have social interactions and personal relationships are really critical,” says Dr. Leibowitz. Don’t let the inability to see family and friends in person keep you from seeing them. Try setting up a video call, or even a regular phone call, once a day (or once every other day) with family members or friends. This step can be especially crucial if you live alone in order to make sure you get some daily dose of connection to others.
3. Make a Point to Move
Exercise is not only important for overall well being, but it’s critical at a time like this when we are stuck inside and unable to commute, go to gym, go to park with our kids or our dogs, and do anything that used to get us moving on a regular basis. Don’t let the whole day pass you by without getting in your daily steps in to improve your health. You can go for a walk around the block, or even find free exercises online to perform indoors. These breaks in your day, and the benefits of fresh air, can be helpful, says Dr. Leibowitz.
4. Create a Calming Space
Isolate some part of your house to be a calming space where you can go to relax and unwind. This could be a corner in your bedroom, a chair in your living room, or even space outside on a porch or down in a basement. Whatever space you choose, Dr. Leibowitz says it’s important for it to be free of clutter. On a frequent basis visit your calming space to reflect, relax, and quiet your mind.
I Need to Talk to Someone, But I Can’t Afford Therapy
If the weight of this pandemic is too much to bear, you should seek professional help. But sometimes professional help is not always an affordable, realistic option. “Any intentional practice to calm the mind can help,” suggests Dr. Leibowitz, “anything that helps you process your thoughts [and feelings] in a healthy way.” Dr. Leibowitz suggests deep breathing, meditation, physical activity, journaling, and talking to a trusted family member or friend as some viable options to consider.
He also points out that now is the time to be taking advantage of free online tools that are available to you. Do some research online for tools that your doctors, employers, or the state you live in might have to support you. There are a lot of free apps like Happify, Breathe2Relax, Mindshift that offer tools to help you process your thoughts. In addition, Talkspace has launched a free therapist-led Facebook group where you can voice opinions and concerns and get guidance and feedback from a licensed therapist. “[A group like this] will also allow individuals to cultivate a sense of community during this isolating time,” says Dr. Leibowitz. If you are a frontline medical worker, Talkspace launched a program to give you access to 2,100 free hours of therapy. You can find out how to sign up for this service here.
Regardless of the way you choose to cope, the fact of the matter is, coping with this adjusted way of life is difficult for everyone. “It is hard for us to focus on tasks, hard to parent, difficult for us to be good partners, and we all feel the weight on our shoulders. The more pressure we put on ourselves to be strong, the harder it is. Give your spouse a pass. Cut your child a break. Give your colleagues and friends the benefit of the doubt. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself — you are doing the best you can under challenging circumstances and right now that is good enough.”