The quarantine isn’t easy for the majority of us.
Think about it—we are facing an economic collapse during a pandemic. There are so many unknowns, and we are all full of fear. The whole world has been put on hold—except for the bills. A lot of people are out of work temporarily, some of us permanently. Businesses are closing and owners are going bankrupt. Routines have been disrupted. Livelihoods are in jeopardy. Our kids are out of school for the rest of the year. A lot of people are working from home and teaching their kids via distance learning at the same time. To understate it, we are extremely inconvenienced.
Those of us with mental illness always struggle in the face of the unknown. We dislike routine changes, lack of structure, isolation, fear, and stress. When it is of this magnitude, it is like living in hell.
Being high-functioning—let’s be honest, barely functioning—with a mental health condition, is a delicate balance. Many people depend on their structure and routines made up of different mental health hygiene tasks. When routines and structure have been disrupted, things begin to slip through the cracks.
A lot of individuals with mental illness rely heavily on their support network made up of different providers, friends, and family. However, that has also changed. Combatting isolation and surrounding ourselves with healthy people plays a pretty big part in maintaining one’s mental health. However, now that is impossible unless done virtually.
The obstacles due to this pandemic feel endless. That is why we must be gentle with ourselves. After my son’s father died, my depression and anxiety symptoms were exasperated; I went from a high-functioning individual to barely able to get by.
I still hold myself to the same standards I did before all of this, and when I fail to meet those standards I am unkind to myself—even though those expectations are now completely unrealistic. One day a friend told me, “If nothing else, Kelsey, get up in the morning, take a shower, and call it a productive day.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think this was some life-saving advice. So, I set what felt like the smallest goal I had ever set, and began fighting through my depression. I made myself shower every day. Honestly, I immediately started to feel better when I met my goal. Any improvement was good in my eyes. I also realized that my negative self-talk began decreasing when I reevaluated my expectations for myself.
When we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, the result is usually undesirable. A lot of individuals with mental health disorders have a pretty loud inner critic, not meeting our expectations can make this internal dialogue quite intense, which can start to unravel things. That is why we must be gentle with ourselves.
Setting realistic goals and expectations to have something to feel proud of, and slowly expanding on them is helpful. Setting some small goals that will support us mentally may be crucial during this time, maybe it is a reminder on our phone to take our medications, or perhaps it is putting a date on the calendar for us to call a friend and reach out.
Keep in mind when adding to the goals and expectations, you are still keeping them reasonable and achievable. Don’t forget to practice self-care when you are unable to reach your goals. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Give yourself a pass from harsh criticism, but don’t make excuses. Stay honest. Try to practice awareness of your thoughts, and when you begin to let your inner critic take control and demean yourself for not meeting its attempt to stop the thinking and practice being gentle with yourself.
All of this can be done by practicing self-care, doing something that makes us feel proud, or simply telling ourselves that we are a human with good intentions, and we will try to change the behavior tomorrow. It is just that, a behavior within our control that can be adjusted. There are many different ways to practice self-compassion, and it looks different for everyone. What works for one person won’t always work for the next. So, try different approaches and stick with what works.
COVID-19 is a tough time for most people, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Our house doesn’t need to be spotless, we don’t need a new at-home workout routine, our kids don’t need to prep for Harvard—find the places we can manage our expectations and reduce our stress during this time. Remember that this is temporary and that sometimes maintaining our mental health means turning off the news.