Things I had never heard of before 2020 began: Coronavirus, COVID, and Social Distancing. March 15 was my last day in the office for my actual job and I haven’t been back since. I am so incredibly thankful for being able to telework and not have my terrible commute, but with the social distancing, my emotions go through waves of highs and lows. My boyfriend and I do spend weekends together (we’ve even spent a couple weekends up at his cabin and it’s been wonderful) and every meeting I have at work is a video meeting, so I don’t feel completely isolated and alone.
However, now I have to go to the grocery store wearing a mask – which by the way, I avoid as I now have pretty much everything delivered. Going for my daily runs in my neighborhood and having to avoid everyone else I see on the sidewalks definitely affects my psyche. Getting an email from my dental office as they are finally open again and knowing I have to wear a mask, get my temperature checked, use hand sanitizer upon walking in and all the extra precautions we have to take now – will I be laughing with the staff like I used to (I seriously love my dentist and his entire staff)?
Life is so different now and I do hope one day to get back to some sense of “normalcy” – but sometimes I wonder if that will actually come to fruition? Only time will tell. At the very least, my meditation, flowdreaming and trying to embrace each and every day have quadrupled! I spend almost no time on social media anymore and have delved deep into working on side projects. I haven’t watched the news too much, finished three seasons of Ozark, and now I’m onto watching Outlander – there are a lot of episodes I need to catch up on (as of this writing, I’m only on Season 1, Episode 4 – but damn, Claire and Jamie….chemistry!). Yes, I even watched Tiger King. 🙂
Pacific Medical Centers reached out to me and asked if I’d like to write about some topics related to Mental Health Awareness Month and of course, what I’m personally going through right now came to mind. Through email, I received some great information from Sandie Leistiko, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker that I’d love to share with you. Please know as you read this that you are not alone in what you are feeling!
Tell me about social isolation and its ongoing impact on mental health during COVID-19. In what ways is this affecting us, especially for those who may have preexisting mental health concerns?
Based on my observations and personal experiences, I’ve noticed mixed responses. Many are experiencing waves of gratitude while connecting with their immediate circles and larger communities. People are also experiencing waves of sadness due to reminders of lost opportunities, fatigue with uncertainty and the lack of physical touch. It appears that people with preexisting mental health symptoms and those with no history are both responding to their current environments.
Because first responders and frontline healthcare workers see and experience trauma regularly, what are ways that they can cope with this everyday stress?
Ways to cope with regular stress include trying to incorporate flexibility in your thoughts and behaviors, like holding lightly to expectations. With constant change and uncertainty, allowing compassion for yourself and others offers us to connect with shared experiences including distress and gratitude. Try and maintain a routine, especially with the constant and traumatic change surrounding us right now. As emotional humans, allow yourself the willingness to grieve.
Due to social distancing, many of us have reverted to video communication and are experiencing Zoom Fatigue. What are other ways we can stay connected while practicing social distancing?
Outside of video calls and with the nice weather, I’ve enjoyed hearing the many creative ways to connect and celebrate events, such as:
- Drive-by birthdays or parades
- Having socially distant picnics
- Greeting family members through windows
- Sharing creative messages and pictures on houses, walkways and even painted rocks
- Tokens of gratitude between neighbors
- Gathering virtually to watch free Broadway musicals
- Playing board games online
With the shift to fully remote work and school schedules, what are some strategies you can suggest for families to cope with these new routines?
While the situation may be undesirable, there are a variety of options to help you and your loved ones cope. Remind yourself of what you value and consider some of the following tips to help you and your family cope with new routines:
- Holding expectations lightly allows for compassion with mistakes
- Remember to continue to adjust routines to best fit the needs of your family and yourself
- Be sure that you’re giving yourself, and your loved ones, regular breaks to recharge from emotional distress, which may include lunch, yoga, stretching, or even a walk to get fresh air
- Be accepting of the stress of increased multitasking and help each other see that there may be “two sides to every coin”
- Be a role model to your family – communicate, through words and actions, consistently including accepting mistakes, learning from mistakes
- Assigning tasks to help each other may allow for sense of contribution, closeness, shared experiences, opportunities to connect
- Keep your routines to help adjust to new changes
Can you discuss the importance of understanding the connection between physical and mental health?
Reminding ourselves when we feel sad, depressed or anxious doing the opposite of how we feel can actually help us recover quicker. Being physically active becomes soothing , helps increase energy, and burn off excessive anxieties or tensions. With better weather in the Pacific Northwest, consider your backyard as your treadmill. Consider walking, biking and gardening. Yoga is another great way to start and end your day, especially with more sedentary behavior. It also reminds us to slow our minds, or if needed, increase the flow for cardio. With distractions of physical activity, you may notice more around you and begin enjoying meaningful living which also helps not being a hostage in your head
Sandie Leistiko is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker at Pacific Medical Centers at its Renton clinic. She received her degree from San Francisco State University and Seattle University. Sandie’s Medical interests include anxiety and cultural needs. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with my family and friends, hiking, meditation and spirituality.
Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) is a multi-specialty medical group with nine neighborhood clinics in the Puget Sound area. Founded in 1933, the PacMed network is one of the largest throughout the Puget Sound and offers patients more than 150 providers for primary and specialty care. PacMed’s culture focuses on its mission of delivering high-quality health care focused on the individual needs of its diverse patient population with an emphasis on improving the quality of health in the community.