COVID-19: How to cope when you’re cooped up

No doubt about it—we’re living in frightening times, times few of us have ever before experienced. The world has changed overnight, it seems, and, unless you’ve been living with your head in the sand, we are facing a serious public health crisis. 

As a therapist, I’ve seen the many and varied ways people react when, unexpectedly, they have to spend more time with their spouse, lover, children and relatives. Some do fine with this extended proximity, but others find themselves dealing with increased stress levels and unresolved issues from the past that become magnified, whether with our teenage children, our spouses or our relatives. Being cooped up can sometimes bring out the worst in us. 

Those who are alone for long periods of time can experience feelings of anxiety or depression. Admittedly, I have experienced some of my own so far and have had to do self-soothing and practice my own advice of getting centered and grounded. We may be stuck in the house, but there are so many ways for us to reach out and connect with others. Doing so helps regain perspective on our connectedness.

Here are a few suggestions to improve your social connecting at home:

Try to reduce aggression. One of our most basic responses to fear is aggression. I’m seeing an increase of this in my clients. If you find yourself becoming angry and aggressive in a conversation with someone you’re cooped up with, take a time out. Take some deep breaths, go into another room, look at yourself in the mirror and count to 10, or take a walk and get some fresh air. Then come back in a non-reactive way when you feel you are ready. Remember everybody is doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

Practice better communication with others – now more than ever. This is the main reason people enter therapy. They take things personally, interpret what others are saying, interrupt and stop listening. This is a great time to use intentional dialogue with those your family and friends. This includes using “I” statements when speaking such as:

  • “I heard you say …”
  • “What I experienced you say or do is …”  
  • “How this is affecting me is …”

As a listener, it is crucial that you repeat back what you’re hearing to make sure you heard it correctly. “What I hear you saying is …” and then repeat back verbatim what you heard the person say and tell them you’re doing this to ensure you’re getting it correctly. These skills are important, especially when you’re having an emotional reaction.

Stay calm. We have some great tools at our disposal for calming down. For instance, I really like an app on my phone called “Headspace.” It offers guided voice meditations that really bring me to a more peaceful space, and I find these work better for me than trying to just sit and clear my overactive mind. Other available apps focus on heart rate variability. When we’re stressed, our heart rate becomes jagged, irregular. These apps help you monitor your heart rate and bring it into what is called “coherence,” which is smooth and even. 

Practice gratitude. A Colorado-based hypnotherapist, Ezzat Moghazy, asserts that it is impossible to hold opposing thoughts or feelings at the same moment. Therefore, if you are in a relaxed state and feeling gratitude for the many wonderful things and people in your life, fear and stress simply vanish. The same holds true when you vividly recall a moment in your life in which you felt wonderful, supported and happy. You are creating or strengthening neural pathways in the brain that, with repeated practice, can banish feelings of fear, stress and anxiety. Be grateful for what you have in your life – a roof you’re your head, a job, family and friends who love you.

Be sexually safe and aware. It’s a great time to discover new erotic adventures with your partner and with yourself. Spend time talking about what turns you or them on in bed, maybe something you’ve never before done, and what their fantasies are. Even ask them about what sexual imagery and erotica they’ve watched in the past, and perhaps even watch some together. 

The safest sex you can have is with yourself. Don’t feel ashamed about watching porn and masturbating. Autoeroticism is perfectly normal, absolutely safe, and a fine way to relieve stress.  

Despite the warnings about physical interactions at this time, human nature and our desire for intimacy are such that some people still will go looking for hookups. There have been calls for hookup sites to shut down, but even if that happened the reality is that some people will ignore the dangers and find underground meeting places to have sex. Don’t be one of them, please. 

Hold your boundaries. This is not a time to abandon your boundaries just because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. If your boss picks up your phone, or comes within six feet of you, remind him/her it is not OK. Assert yourself. Speak up. Do it for yourself and your own health as well as that of your boss.

Set an example. We all need to take this situation seriously. Despite your kids’ complaints, don’t let them go out and hang with others. Encourage them to practice physical distancing and connect with their friends via their phones or on the internet. Think about your neighbors or friends who may need some service you can provide. This may make you feel good, too, that you can help others.

Be positive. Focus on positive thoughts only and look for uplifting stories all around us. We should all know by now that our body reflects our mental state, and fear and anxiety play hell with our immune system. Don’t let them rule you.

Don’t negatively judge others about how they may not be handling the pandemic safely. Many people are at different levels of denial, understand and education over this virus. Don’t assume they are selfish and intentionally thoughtless. Give people the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, remember and give thanks to the doctors, nurses and clinicians on the front line who are caring for very sick patients. Also remember the non-direct care workers – police, firefighters, postal workers, grocery store clerks … the list is endless. These people are the real heroes today. Let them know you appreciate them!

If you would like to know about the coronavirus – from safety aspects to mental health issues, listen to a recent podcast I conducted