Yes, quarantine life is stressful. An expert explains how to weather the storm | Opinion

By Megan Jones-Hoffman

I woke up this morning, just like you did, but it takes Herculean effort to make my feet hit the floor. So much so, that I’m scared that I may never be the same person after COVID-19. Maybe you feel the same. We’re in good company.

Staying calm, being optimistic, and trusting our collective future is becoming more difficult with every passing day, with every caustic social media post from public officials. Speaking objectively, an unstable government and flailing economy is nothing new, particularly over the past 20 years. That doesn’t make it easier to focus on a brighter horizon. For most, the picture grows increasingly hazy.

It would be easy to give in to the darkest forces in your mind, to discount the remaining steadfast examples of good all around us. But you’re reading this. You’re trying to do better, and that’s incredibly brave.

How can we possibly transition from living and working in captivity to a “new normal”?  How can I prepare to leave the quarantine environment and return to an uncertain work and home life?

To answer these questions, I reached out to Alyssa Ott, the supervisor of outpatient services at Laurel Life, a mental and behavioral health care provider, with offices in York, Pa. Ott is an expert in addressing the negative effects of trauma in both individuals and organizations.

We discussed the most important impacts of self-care and self-preservation during this, or any, crisis situation. The most basic and simple tools we have are often the best, she explained.

“We must decide what is a priority in our lives, what do I value first, second, etc,” she told me.

It sounds simple, but accepting the idea that some hobbies, relationships, and activities will just have to wait until after we’re all released from quarantine will make every part of your life easier.

  1. Accept Yourself. The simplest things in life can often be the most important during a crisis. Organize your thoughts and decide what matters most to you. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most important elements of  human existence are at the base of the pyramid. Our security and physical sustenance is at the base, and supports all other endeavors. Meaning, if you’re not your “best self” right now, that’s ok. You’re surviving. That’s the best we can do sometimes. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
  2. Make lists. This also sounds incredibly simple. When you feel overwhelmed, make a list of things in your life that you can control, the things in life that you can’t control, and a healthy, simple goal that you can reach in the safety of your home. What attitudes should you leave behind in the wake of this global pandemic? Taking ownership of your thoughts is a sign of strength. Embrace them, and let them go.
  3. Learn something new: no money, no problem. As long as you have internet access, you’re in the driver’s seat. The Smithsonian Institute has compiled a long list of resources for your learning pleasure. In addition, libraries across the country have provided digital tools and applications at no cost to their communities. Sometimes, you just need to take a break from your feelings. That’s ok, too.
  4. Check your expectations. Many of us are working from home. Children are also out of school, which leads to an unprecedented number of professional parents facing incredible demands; we are expected to do our jobs, home school our children, and face a crisis at the same time, all while being deprived of our support structures.

Ott suggests that you focus on a new type of balance, “aim for quality over quantity,” she said.

Ultimately, you will far more productive, and produce better results, if you balance the needs of your family, your work, and your self-care by scheduling your time with intention.

‘Give your loved ones a call:’ Wolf offers tips to ‘stressed’ Pennsylvanians

Plan, when possible, to spend a block of 1-2 hours on work, then 1-2 hours of time teaching or engaging with your children.

Include time for your spouse or partner, if needed, and repeat. If you can establish reasonable expectations for the work you can successfully complete on the daily, it will be much easier to deliver for your boss and your family.

Be patient with others: We never know what our friends, neighbors, and coworkers might be going through. Maybe there are people in your life who aren’t taking the same precautions that you think are prudent. Maybe they are, and you just don’t happen to see it. Your life, even in dire circumstances such as these, will be easier if you can accept the idea that not everything is known to you, and you’ve also made mistakes. Give others the same grace that you would like given to you, and release your need to judge and control. 

With practice, you will find a new sense of calm and fortitude that will outlast any crisis.

As with any situation, if you can’t handle your thoughts and feelings, and believe that you are currently in a crisis, dial 911. Don’t be ashamed. The world needs you, flaws and all.

Megan Jones-Hoffman is a veteran, writer, and mental health advocate on a professional pause for motherhood. For more of her work, please visit mompositive.org.