Many are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis alone, and may be suffering for it.
Culture Spotlight

Living through the lockdown alone? Here are some mental health checks

Be mindful of media consumption, reach out regularly, and other things that even introverts need to consider during these troubled times. BY JACS T. SAMPAYAN
| Apr 08 2020

It’s been more than a month since Metro Manila has been on lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the globe. These days, the focus has been on the body—and rightly so—as the immediate need is to keep as many people coronavirus-free, and have their stomachs sufficiently filled. 

But what of our mental health? As much as viruses, exhaustion, and hunger can break our bodies, so do fear, anxiety, and isolation can unravel the mind. This is true especially for those who, for one reason or another, find themselves riding out the quarantine all alone. Life coaches say that this is true even for those who staunchly self-diagnose as “introverts.” 

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“While introverts may display more resilience in a situation where physical distancing and isolation have become crucial, we cannot automatically assume that they are happy about the current situation,” says Angela Ureta, a communications consultant, professional coach, and member of the International Coach Federation. “Normally, introverts stay away from big gatherings or places where people congregate as a matter of choice. In a lockdown, there is no choice. So the mere idea that some basic freedoms can not be exercised in the interest of public welfare already impacts people in a psychological way.”

Aurora M. Suarez, a certified life and career coach under the Courageous Living program, agrees. “I believe that a lockdown or community quarantine can bring about so much emotions. This is a new and completely different normal for everyone and it’s okay to feel what you're feeling, whatever that may be: fear, anxiety, being overwhelmed, maybe even relief.”

Since the COVID-19 began, Ureta says she’s had a few pro bono “coachees,” some of whom are people who live alone or have been stranded in the city and can not come home to join their families. “Most of them are overwhelmed by what is happening—both locally and globally—and find it difficult to adjust to the unexpected and abrupt lifestyle changes,” she shares. “Many are also confused and feeling stuck, asking themselves if there is a way forward from this sudden standstill.”

Through deep listening and by asking carefully articulated questions, coaches like Ureta are able to make their charges realize and prepare for different possible outcomes. “When we say we will bounce back, we also ask ourselves: Bounce back to what?” Ureta points out. 

 

How do you cope?

Many people engage in different activities to cope with the current uncomfortable uncertainty we are all living in, from general cleaning or learning a new skill online to revisiting a childhood hobby or connecting with loved ones. The latter can be done in many ways: Most of us call our family members as much as possible; Some have taken to writing letter blasts to their friends; And still others—particularly those born after 1995—have turned to such digital proclivities as TikTok.    

“Be intentional about your media consumption. Check credible news sources once a day. Mute your messaging notifications so you only check them when you’re ready.”

Whatever the method, Ureta and other life coaches build on this and help their coachees focus on the present moment and what they are being called "to be" right now. 

“I say ‘to be’ because this is not a time to worry about being productive—to be anxious about what ‘to do,’” Ureta explains. “There is little to be done. So maybe it is time to just be and become more in touch with ourselves and our inner world.” Some questions she might ask you during a session include how you are feeling, how you can do things differently to be more optimistic, and what you can do right now to move forward. 

Suarez gave several others suggestions, which she shared to the subscribers of her newsletter, Joyful Little Note.

These include meditation, prayer, journaling, exercise, and getting fresh air every day. She also suggests acknowledging the fears you have, and reminding yourself that it will be okay. “Reach out to people and let them know you’re there for them even if you can’t be physically present,” she says, adding that going back to old hobbies or unfinished projects would also be a good endeavor. “If you are working from home, you can spend the time you used to spend in meetings on them. So write your novel, dust off your paint brushes, pick up your calligraphy pens, make jewelry, bake cookies, cook a new dish, knit.”

"This is not a time to worry about being productive—to be anxious about what ‘to do," Ureta says.

 

Giving help if you can—and in turn asking for it when you need—is also something that you should try doing, Suarez says. “People do want to help and it’s a gift to them, too, to give them the opportunity to do so.”

 

What you should avoid 

Suarez also adds that we should be particularly mindful what our eyes and ears are exposed to. “Be intentional about your media consumption. Check credible news sources once a day,” she suggests. “Mute your messaging notifications so you only check them when you’re ready.”

Ureta adds that if social media or the news has been agitating you, take a step back and minimize your exposure to it. “Just know enough to be informed, then use the rest of the day keeping yourself occupied with other things—particularly things you enjoy,” she explains. For her, staying calm is rooted in being in the moment, trying not to overthink, or avoiding creating terrifying scenarios that make matters worse. “I know this is easier said than done, but it has to be done,” she emphasizes. 

Now is not the time to be too hard on yourself, Ureta advises. “Don’t push yourself too much to perform or be productive. But at the same time, don’t let yourself slacken that you can't find the energy to do anything,” she says. “Shower, get out of your pajamas, but try to resist the temptation to wallow in self-pity. This is not happening to you alone; this is a global situation and, while we do not want to minimize one's pain or anxiety, we also don’t want to fuel it more.”

Suarez says you shouldn’t beat yourself up for feeling what you're feeling, for not doing enough, for not helping enough, for not "taking advantage" of your work-from-home time. She says simply that you should "be gentle with yourself." If you have been receiving therapy, see if you can talk to your mental health professionals via Zoom or on the phone so you can keep up with your appointments. And, if you haven’t started any self-care practices—exercise, drinking enough water, proper sleep—it’s time to do so. 

“Don’t be a lone wolf. If you live alone, find a way to connect with someone via Zoom or Facetime daily. Make a daily date with a friend, or your family members just to catch up and not feel so alone,” Suarez says. Ureta adds that you can also reach out to strangers who come in the form of professionals offering free coaching or counseling sessions at this crucial time. “The International Coach Federation-Philippines is one of those organizations offering free coaching sessions and they have the details on their Facebook page,” she suggests. 

Most of us call our family members as much as possible; Some have taken to writing letter blasts to their friends; And still others—particularly those born after 1995—have turned to such digital proclivities as TikTok.

“As I shared with a good friend who was having a hard time coping, we are all being taught a new way to live as the old ways have become unsustainable,” Ureta says. “So we empty ourselves of all expectations and learn to be in the moment—and rediscover who we are without all the trappings, busyness and excesses we have become accustomed to.”

She adds that things will not “return to normal” as we don’t even know what the new normal will be. We all need to develop resilience, the ability to bend without breaking as well as the complete openness to adapt to what we are becoming.

“We are evolving. No one will get out of this exactly the same person as they were before,” Ureta says. “Somehow, quite strangely, there is some consolation in that.”

To get in touch with professional coach Angela Ureta, you may email her at angelpilgrim@gmail.com. To get in touch with life and career coach Aurora Suarez, you mail message her at lifecoach@auroramsuarez.com.