Some Tips From The Housebound
Hi, my name is Susan and I’m just as stressed out and confused as you are right now.
But, I’ve been living with chronic pain and fatigue, as well as generalized anxiety disorder, for many years and I believe that experience has given me a bit of an edge dealing with the current situation.
If you have never been housebound before or had to live with chronic anxiety and fear of the unknown, you may want to reach out to people you know who have been living with chronic illness or anxiety disorders. They will probably have some useful tips for you.
Some people have been at home for a week or so at this point (late March 2020), and we’re hearing that it may be months before we can return to anything like normal social activity. So we need to figure out a new normal, together, and support each other as best we can.
I have been working from home with limited ability to travel or socialize for close to ten years. Here are a few things that I have learned.
Do your best to maintain routine and normalcy
If you are working from home now and never have before, it can be a pretty surreal experience. Especially if everyone else is home too. You may need to re-purpose some spaces in your home. Do your best to keep work hours (or school hours) and designate a specific area for work. Even if it is just sitting at a different end of the couch, a physical marker of “at work” and “not at work” makes a big difference.
Get dressed, do your hair and makeup
It may sound great to work in your pajamas but trust me it can be demoralizing to live in rumpled sweatpants day after day. Take a shower, do your hair, put on nice clothes. It makes a huge difference. If you’re accustomed to changing when you get home from work, then do that now. Signal the end of the workday and stick to it. It will help more than you think.
Try to keep a schedule
Yes, extra sleep is a great idea right now, but do try to keep regular hours. Eat meals as a family. Have together time and not-together time. Schedule work and school hours, be realistic, and forgive yourselves when it doesn’t work out. It’s important to stay as patient and flexible as we can manage. If you need to scream, or cry, by all means go for it, but try to let your loved ones know it’s not about them.
Limit your exposure to the news
We want to be informed, but we don’t need to drown ourselves in data. I’ve given myself two 20-minute sessions per day to check on the situation. That is more than enough. That 20 minutes includes all my social media, but doesn’t include my work email, which I check during work hours. It also doesn’t include scheduled calls or video calls with friends and family. Of course we try to talk about something other than the crazy/awful things that are going on out there, but some talk is inevitable. Do your best to get your news from credible sources, and don’t spread information you’re not sure of.
Living with anxiety
You’re probably scared. That’s okay. That’s normal. There are lots of unknowns here. Forgive yourself for feeling fear. Trying to deny it or hide it will only make it worse.
If you’ve never lived with anxiety before, there are some things you should know. For one, anxiety has physical symptoms as well as mental and emotional ones. Some of those symptoms may be:
- Fidgeting, unconscious movement
- Muscle pain
- Digestive disturbance
- Hot/cold flashes
- Tingling or numbness (esp in the face)
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
You should also be aware that the more you focus on the symptoms of the virus, the more likely your anxiety will manifest some of those symptoms, whether you are actually sick or not. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy or losing your grip, it’s a normal reaction in times of stress. Give yourself a break. Take a walk or a shower, get some exercise, some fresh air, do something creative. You’ve got this.
Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence
This concept was originally developed by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and has been adapted for use with anxiety issues. I personally find it quite helpful. The idea is that within your Circle of Concern are things you can’t control, like health, warfare, the economy, other people’s behavior, etc., so instead we focus on our Circle of Influence, which is things we can control.
Here’s a link to a visual description of Covey’s concept: https://uthscsa.edu/gme/documents/Circles.pdf
For instance, getting angry about policy decisions made weeks ago does no one any good. Deciding what you can do right now to actually help people, or to build a better world, does lots of people good, especially you. You can’t control what other people do, only what you do. So stay at home if you can, wash your hands, you know the drill, you’ve been to the CDC site as many times as I have. You know what to do.
Stay safe, stay calm. Get in touch, by phone or email or skype, or whatever works for you, tell people you love them, share hope and joy and plans for the future.
A sense of purpose
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung taught that the best cure for anxiety is purpose. As someone who lives with anxiety every day, I have found this idea really helpful. Rather than just reducing my activities, seeking comfort, avoiding unpleasant stimuli, I can focus on a sense of purpose, something that inspires and energizes me.
Do you have a secret dream? A passion? Something that feels like the real you but you never quite dared? Now is the time to do it! Take a step, even if it’s a tiny one, toward something that makes you feel like yourself inside and out. Yes, I know social distancing make this seem really hard, but you can watch an instructional video or read a book or write a list of what you will do, just take that first step.
The most important thing to remember is that we are all in this together. It’s okay to be scared, to be stressed, there’s so much uncertainty right now. But we can also count our blessings, be kind to each other, look for where we can help, and look toward the future we want to build together.