Stories from Healthy Mind

I’m a Psychologist, and These Are the 22 Things I’m Doing to Support My Mental Health During Social Isolation

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchApril 9, 2020

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In this time of unprecedented stress and uncertainty, you’d be forgiven for leaning on just about any coping mechanism available to you. My de facto methods include Gossip Girl reruns, sauvignon blanc, and making incredibly ambitious to-do lists that are inevitably replaced each day by Gossip Girl reruns and sauvignon blanc. There are, of course, healthier and more effective ways to manage your mental health right now during social isolation, and if and when you can weave them into your TV-and-wine survival-based tactics, it makes sense to do so.

This year has been, and will continue to be, traumatic in many ways, and the more you can do to mitigate the impact of that stress on your psyche, the better you’ll be in the long run. Since I’m quite obviously no role model in this department, I thought it best we look to mental health professionals for the strategies they’re employing to see them through this crisis without resorting to head-shaving and baseball bat-wielding. Below, find actually productive means for protecting your mental health during social isolation as practiced by professionals.

22 ways to protect your mental health during social isolation, according to psychologists

1. LIMIT OR BLOCK MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE

“We don’t need to know about every single death that has happened in our state or in the world,” says Los Angeles-based psychologist Sarah Neustadter, PhD. “We can spend this time however we want; it’s a rich opportunity to stay positive in the face of danger and fear.”

2. Create a safe home environment

“Spend extra time making your nest feel special and nurturing,” says Dr. Neustadter. “Customize the ‘vibe’ according to what you like—great music, rearranged furniture, etc.”

3. Become aware of your needs

“Right now, quarantine is forcing us to become extra self-reliant,” says Dr. Neustadter. “So we have to become aware of what our needs are from moment to moment, and then find ways of meeting them.” This includes, she says, the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. “Do we need connection, intimacy, creativity, inspiration, grounding, relaxation? Do we need to veg out? Do we need to disconnect? The first step is identifying what our needs are and then finding the ways to fulfill them,” says Dr. Neustadter.

4. CREATE A SELF-CARE RITUAL

“My daily self-care routine is journaling then meditation first thing in the morning,” says Dr. Neustadter. “I check in with my mood in the afternoon and will then usually do a quick tune-up meditation, and then perhaps one in the evening as well.”

5. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP

Even professionals need professional help to maintain good mental health during social isolation. “I have weekly sessions with my therapist as well as my coach,” says Dr. Neustadter. “There are tons of affordable digital options for counseling and coaching, so don’t let money be an obstacle.” Some providers, like NYC-based mental health studio REAL, are offering free services at the moment, too.

6. STAY ACTIVE 

“I’m moving my body daily,” says Dr. Neustadter. “Thirty-minute walks are essential for clearing my mind and staying active.”

7. SIT UP STRAIGHT

“I wear a comfy device called a BackEmbrace with helps with my posture and also elevates my mood,” says Dr. Neustadter. “No slouching on the couch, which can make us feel even more unmotivated and lethargic.”

8. MAINTAIN YOUR NORMAL MORNING ROUTINE 

“I make my bed, I get dressed and put on makeup, and sometimes I go a little extra and doll up with jewelry I don’t usually wear,” says Dr. Neustadter. “This makes me feel more organized and confidant while I move around the house.” You can and should fake your commute, too.

9. Utilize wellness tech

“I use some biohacking devices such as a biomat for relaxation and detox and a form of red-light therapy called Joovv light which helps with immunity, recovery, mood, and sleep quality,” says Dr. Neustadter.

10. DANCE

The benefits of getting your groove on cannot be underestimated, says Dr. Neustadter.

11. BATHE 

Neusadter prefers epsom salt soaks; here, more pro tips on how to make your tub time extra to deal with the extra stress.

12. Wake up your brain

“I keep myself stimulated and inspired by taking classes through Masterclass,” says Dr. Neustadter. Not sure which classes to take? Try one (or two, or three) of these 11 ideas.

13. Employ mental doormen

“I’m extra vigilant about any negative, depressing, catastrophizing, or hopeless thoughts that arise,” says Dr. Neustadter. “As soon as I notice I’m having a stressful or bleak thought, I immediately focus on something else and shift my thoughts to gratitude. I may even do a bit of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) on the negative thought or use The Work of Byron Katie to get underneath these unproductive thoughts and shift my mindset.”

14. ZOOM, SKYPE, FACETIME, ETC.

“I’m doing a lot of the same virtual socializing that I’ve been recommending to others,” chicago based clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD.

15. Pay close attention to your feelings 

“When I’m having an uncomfortable emotion, I take some quiet time to let it tell me what the unmet need is,” says Dr. Daramus. “I had a few minutes of really intense frustration , and it came from being shut inside. So, I ordered a weight bench so I could work out more intensely. From that, I discovered that I really love working out at home alone, which I always assumed I wouldn’t like.”

16. Get crafty

“I miss the beauty of shops, buildings, and art, so I’m making more time for sewing and other needlework,” says Dr. Daramus. “Just looking at and touching fabric and yarn is giving me life, and it’s not something I usually have much time for.” Knit yourself a stay-at-home sweater, maybe?

17. DIG INTO SOME DANIELLE STEELE

“I’m reading much lighter, more fun books than usual,” says Dr. Daramus. “Outside of work, I think my brain wants a break.” If you’re looking for a little levity, I highly recommend Samantha Irby’s latest book, Wow, No Thank YouFor a more timely yet uplifting read, try Jen Gotch’s The Upside of Down

18. Watch reruns of Gossip Girl. No, really.

Turns out, my coping mechanism of choice is actually psychologist approved! “Like a lot of people, I have a long list of shows to binge but for now I need something familiar,” says Dr. Daramus. “I’m going back to some old favorites for a sense of stability.”

19. TOAST TO YOUR HEALTH

This preferred crutch of mine apparently gets a pass, too. “I may or may not be perfecting my chocolate martini game,” says Dr. Daramus. “I definitely did not rebrand it as a ‘vodka cacao detox cleanse.'” (Read: She definitely did.)

20. LEAN INTO THIS ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME BREAK FROM THE HUSTLE 

“I’m letting myself admit that there are things I like about staying home,” says Dr. Daramus. “Society needs me to stay home as much as I can, but it doesn’t need me to hate being at home.”

21. Utilize social media for healthy connection 

“Outside of work, I’m on social media as much as I want because it’s our main connection to others right now,” says Dr. Daramus. Instead of limiting her time online, she’s policing the quality of that time, which means less time on news and more time on friends’ updates.

22. Maintain your regular wellness regimen (plus a few extra cheats) 

“I keep a fairly regular sleep schedule and try to eat nutritiously,” says Dr. Daramus. “Within reason—there might be a little more cake than usual.”

According to something called a “joy strategist,” these activities can spark joy even in dark times. Plus, try these affirmations for calmness in anything-but-calm times.

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