Mental health vital to thriving during social isolation

KOKOMO, Ind. – So, you’re adjusting to a new way of life amid the coronavirus pandemic? It’s very important, now more than ever, to take care of your mental health.

Hoosiers, like most of the nation, are being asked to stay home in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The sudden isolation, compounded with new responsibilities, economic worries, and more togetherness, can lead to increased stress and anxiety, said Rosalyn Davis, Ph.D., clinical associate professor of psychology at Indiana University Kokomo.

“You’re going to have to distract yourself and find the things that will be fun for you,” Davis said. “Just try to keep patience for yourself and the people around you. Give yourself some grace right now. We’re in a situation that isn’t something we’re used to. We all just have to take it day by day.”

Davis, who leads the campus’s Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling program, said it’s easy to get overwhelmed while practicing social isolation, so it’s important recognize when frustration is rising.

“If you feel like you aren’t functioning well, like you haven’t showered for three days, if you’re easily frustrated, it’s time for a reboot,” she noted. “If we’re not taking care of ourselves, we can’t take care of everyone else.”

People thrive on social interaction, so it’s crucial to take advantage of opportunities offered by technology.

“Check in on your friends and see how they’re doing,” she said, adding that IU Kokomo faculty and staff have “hallway talks” via Zoom during the work week, just to keep in touch. Netflix also offers ways to have online parties so friends can enjoy a movie or show together, but in their own homes.

“If you’re in certain fields, you have high relational needs,” she said. “We like to talk to people, we like to see them grow and thrive. It’s harder because we’re all hanging out at home now. Check in, be available to others who need you, but check out if you need to take care of yourself.”

Davis added that the current situation, with people suddenly working from home or laid off, and possibly supervising children who are doing e-learning long-term, also is a cause of stress. It’s important not to have unrealistic expectations during that time, she said.

“Don’t overwhelm yourself, because it looks like we’re in for a long haul,” she said. “Don’t assume you’re going to be as productive as if you were at work. There will be days you will do well, and there will be other days you will just be a couch potato and hang out with your family. It’s unreasonable to try to do everything every day.”

Taking short breaks also helps, she said.

“Most of us are handcuffed to our computers now,” Davis said. “We don’t normally sit at our computers for six hours a day, so stop. Make time to get up and do something else.”

All that togetherness cooped up in the house also can create anxiety, so she suggests taking breaks as needed — especially as the weather gets nicer.

“Being outside for any length of time tends to boost mood,” she said.

What she does not recommend is taking on a large renovation project, because “home projects are bad under the best conditions.”

For those who have previously been in counseling , she recommends contacting the therapist, noting that many are now practicing telehealth, practicing via videoconferencing or phone. People who have been taking medication for any mental health reason should continue taking it, she said, and make sure to have enough — or start back on it if they quit taking it.

“Taking your medication if you need it is always a good thing,” she said. “This would be a good time to ask for refills, or to get a new prescription started.”

For updated information from IU related to COVID-19, please go to coronavirus.iu.edu.

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.