SOUTHERN INDIANA — As Hoosiers face the coronavirus pandemic, people are forced to transition from their usual lives to a period of staying at home.
Starting Wednesday through April 7, Indiana residents are ordered to stay at home for two weeks except for essential activities. This marks a dramatic shift in the way we go about our lives, so the News and Tribune talked to local mental health professionals about ways to cope with staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, whether they are feeling cooped up on the weekends or struggling to work from home.
Misty Gilbert, senior vice president of clinical services at LifeSpring Health Systems, said the idea of working at home often sounds great until there is no choice but to work from home, and as people are removed from their usual social and work lives, there is a major risk of loneliness.
“We want to make sure people don’t feel isolated or lonely,” Gilbert said. “I think that’s one of the common things that we’re going to see out of this, even for people who don’t suffer from mental health issues on a regular basis.”
She also expects to see an increase in depression and anxiety, and she notes that feelings of isolation will depend on factors such as having people at home to spend time with during the pandemic.
“For me, I have family at home, and it’s nice to go home and have people to interact with and have movie night with,” Gilbert said. “But many of our clients don’t have someone at home, and the situation looks very different for many people.”
As people remain physically apart, it is important to stay in touch with friends and family through video conferencing, phone calls, social media and messaging, she said, and she also encourages other ways to stay connected online, like a virtual church service. She also recommends limiting media consumption and focusing on the things that one can control.
Dr. Jeff Romer, clinical director at Personal Counseling Service, Inc. in Clarksville, said forced social isolation might lead to feelings of helplessness, as well as depression and anxiety. It is one thing to spend time alone, but not being able to go to usual gathering places such as restaurants or churches can make people feel lonely and cut off from the world.
In addition to using technology such as FaceTime to communicate, he recommends that people spend some time outside while maintaining a distance from others. For example, they might consider stepping out on their porch, listening to the sound of the birds and maybe striking up a conversation with neighbors from a safe distance.
“A lot of that sense of connectedness happens visually when they step outside, if it’s safe,” he said.
For those able to work from home, Gilbert stresses the importance of maintaining a structure. She recommends setting up a specific workplace, setting a schedule, minimizing distractions and starting the day off as normally as possible. She also advises against staying in pajamas.
“Even how you dress can affect how you work,” she said. “People need to make sure they are creating that structure for themselves.”
Even when people are not working, it is still important to have some structure, whether they are using their time at home to complete some spring cleaning or to take a walk, Gilbert said.
“Don’t spend too much time in front of the TV,” she said. “Eat your breakfast and watch the news, and then get out, take walk, visit a park — set a schedule or a structure so you’re not just doing the same thing all day long.”
Romer said it is helpful to create new routines while staying at home, such as using the time for activities such as reading or cooking.
“If you’re stuck in a place, boredom is stressful,” he said.
Gilbert believes that the longer that people have to remain socially isolated and stay at home, the more they will adjust and find creative ways to connect with each other.
“Right now and the next weeks will probably be most difficult with the adjustment from busy life to being at home all time,” she said. “Maybe try to find the positives instead of the negatives — it’s easy to think about what you’re missing out on.”