Catarina Peixoto | April 03, 2020

Dealing with isolation and anxiety

It should be easy for a psychologist to deal with this kind of situation since we know the theory, right?

It has been hard to adjust to what is happening. Everything is new for me, as well as to all of us.

I’m in voluntary isolation and working remotely since March 12th. Although remote work is not a new practice in our company, I didn't like to do it often..I’m a people person. I like personal and direct contact. That alone is quite a challenge, but now I’m not even allowed to be with my family or having my routine activities, like going to the gym (I’m kinda OCD about that), which are the main things that keep me sane.

I’m lucky to really enjoy being at home. I have my dog and my 50 plants (this could be a theme for a blog post too) to keep me company these days. The first days were the hardest, but as time goes by I’m getting used to this new routine.

One of the most important things, in my opinion, is to accept the fear, especially of the unknown. “How long will this last?”, “Will I be infected?” “Can I go buy groceries safely?” are natural worries and it’s ok to have them. The fear has a reason to exist. When we feel “threatened”, we become more vigilant and available to adopt protective behaviours in a way to adapt to situations that promote our safety, as well as others.

Accept that you will feel anxious. You are being “attacked” with constant information about this, and probably this is the main topic of most of your daily conversations as well. So it’s normal to feel anxious.

This was the first step for me. Allowing myself to feel things, either good or bad, and slowly trying to discover ways of coping with all this.

How to face anxiety and isolation

It’s important that you are aware of your thoughts and the effects on your body. You should not be ashamed of the things you think or feel, just try to understand the reasons behind it. If you understand what triggers you, you will be able to adjust and adopt other behaviours. For example, if you get triggered by the constant information, try to select only one source to keep you up to date, like watching the news just once a day (for me it works to watch during lunch since I tend to get more anxious in the evening).

Try to focus on the now. Nobody knows how long this will last and the overall impact it will have on our lives. No one controls what will happen, so why focus your concerns on that? Try to focus on what you control, to gain more sense of peace and to decrease anxiety. Go for small and daily activities to occupy your mind, like reading a book, cooking a good meal, doing exercise or listening to music.

Identify and explore the thoughts that are upsetting you. Don’t get trapped in constant thinking of bad scenarios, but try to analyze the probability for that to happen. Focus on thinking in alternative situations and try to adopt realistic thoughts and a positive attitude. Think of how many other difficult situations you have experienced in the past and which you have successfully overcome. Remember the strategies you used and adapt them to deal with this situation as well. Trust that you will get through this!

Dedicate time to activities that you like and make you feel good. Do something you really like every day. Get some sun (if you can), meditate, exercise, watch that show that always makes you laugh (for me it’s Friends! :) ), talk with a friend that gets you in a good mood.

Create an agenda and a routine. It will help you keep your mind occupied and at the end of the day (or week) you will get a feeling of comfort and accomplishment.

Look at this moment as an opportunity to do things that you always wanted to do. We frequently use time as an excuse. Now we have all the time we want (and more). Think about what you want to do. Take this time to work and improve yourself! Work on your balance, develop new skills, think about how you will feel when this is all over, your adaptability, creativity in maintaining routines and create new ones. Remember the quality time you spent with yourself, how you managed to be close to your loved ones and how the relationships were strengthened, besides the circumstances. Look at this experience as an opportunity for individual growth!

Most importantly, if you are having a really hard time adapting to this situation and you cannot find solutions yourself, ask for help. Talk to your family, a friend or even a professional. More resources have been created to reach more people. Remember that it's ok to ask for help. Everyone needs it.