How to Not Go Crazy While Sheltering in Place
Tips to ease boredom, frustration, and anger amplified by relationship problems.
Posted Apr 22, 2020
Although much has already been written about the COVID-19 pandemic, about self-care in quarantine, and about the financial reverberations locally, nationally, and internationally, we still struggle to adjust to the new reality, wondering what the next new “normal” will be. Add divorce-related difficulties, and the situation becomes more complicated. The stress might feel intolerable.
Caught off-guard and unprepared, much of America was sailing along on a wave of optimism and growing prosperity when the tsunami of the coronavirus hit our shores. Maybe in January or February, you were thinking about a separation or divorce, or perhaps you were already on the road to divorce. Or perhaps being cooped up with a partner with whom you have been unhappy has convinced you that divorce is on the horizon, and you’re anxious to get that started.
Separated or not, the emotions of the divorce certainly amplify the emotions of having to stay at home. If you were anticipating a divorce or had already separated, you may be more affected by the overwhelming stress of the pandemic. With less energy and mental capacity, you may feel powerless to deal with all the stress.
Over time, even as we adjust to working from home, the stress can increase because of the isolation caused by social distancing and from the disruption of our everyday routines. You have probably seen information about the stress of isolation, the frustration of homeschooling your children while working from home, and the uncertainty and worry that affect us all. This epidemic will surely make the history books, like the plague and the 1918 flu pandemic. We are living in historic times.
Are you climbing the walls at home, perhaps with the person who will become your ex?
If you envisioned the freedom to socialize independently, to spend time with friends and family for emotional support, or to create a new home and new schedule—all of this has probably been upended. If you are recently divorced, you may have started to date again or begun a new relationship. And now it seems you are shackled to your home, helpless and with no idea of when or how it will resolve. You may be frustrated by the sense of being trapped in a perpetual groundhog day, and desperate to move ahead into the next phase of your post-divorce life. Your irritability may be coming out in ways that make you feel even worse: bickering, edginess, impatience, or impulsiveness.
Fortunately, some positive phenomena have emerged during this crisis too.
Neighbors helping neighbors or joining together to honor frontline workers in various ways. In my neighborhood, neighbors come out at 8:00 p.m. and howl, often joined by a chorus of coyotes. People are cooking and baking more than ever, reminding us of the comforts of home and hearth. Uplifting videos of music, ballet, or singing from performers’ living rooms have helped to remind us that we are all in this together. Hilarious videos featuring toilet paper rolls or masks entertain us as we spend more time on social media. These ingenious and creative inspirations give us a reason for optimism.
So what to do when you are climbing the walls?
How you talk to yourself matters. Instead of “I can’t stand this!” tell yourself “I don’t like this, but we are one day closer to the finish line. I can get through this.”
Breathing matters. “Yes, yes,” you say. Fact: When you are stressed, you either hold your breath or take short, shallow breaths. The lack of oxygen to your brain makes it hard to think clearly or calm down. Focus instead on taking a few minutes, several times a day, to just breathe long, deep belly breaths. Just three breaths will help you feel more in control.
Perspective matters. Sitting in your home and feeling closed in by four walls is depressing! Take a 10-minute walk in your neighborhood and pay attention to the signs of spring that are appearing daily. Let yourself feel gratitude for Nature’s steadfast survival, despite the upheaval caused by the virus.
Let your eyes focus on something in the distance too. If you are spending a lot of time on a computer or laptop, take a few minutes to just stop and look out the window to get a longer view. This will relax your eyestrain and refresh your perspective.
Talking to someone matters. Pick up that 50-pound telephone and reach out to a loved one! Reaching out helps reduce your sense of isolation and draws your attention away from your surroundings and emotions. Whether you vent to a friend or share a video chat with a supportive family member, you will feel less like climbing that wall.
As a psychologist, I wonder about the mental health reverberations that will follow in the months and years to come. Experts report that there is and will be a surge in addictions, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is exacerbated by the fact that treatment is almost impossible to find currently, and telehealth is just finding a firm footing in our health care system.
A possible positive outcome is that you may experience post-traumatic growth as a result of this time at home with all of the worries and stress you have faced. “Results seen in people that have experienced post-traumatic growth include some of the following: greater appreciation of life; changed sense of priorities; warmer, more intimate relationships; greater sense of personal strength; and recognition of new possibilities or paths for one's life and spiritual development.”* If you can hold this as your vision, it may help you get through this time.
Take care of yourself during this quarantine, and use the time to develop new positive coping habits. Stay well!
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D.
*Tedeschi RG, Calhoun LG (July 1996). "The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 9 (3): 455–71.