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by Aarti Gupta, PsyD
Aarti Gupta COVID-19 Lockdown

Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, many of us, even those who have not been infected by the virus, will choose to quarantine in our homes for the upcoming weeks. Capsized travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over scarce re-sources and information overload could be a recipe for unchecked anxiety and feelings of isolation. Here are a few pointers that could help you survive spiraling negative thoughts about this uncertain time.

1.) Reframe “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”

As dismal as the world may feel right now, think of the mandated work-from-home policy as an opportunity to refocus your attention from the external to the internal. Doing one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude. Set your sights on long-avoided tasks, reorganize, or create something you’ve always wanted to. Approaching this time with a mindset of feeling trapped or stuck will only stress you out more. This is your chance to slow down and focus on yourself.

2.) Stay close to your normal routine

Try and maintain some semblance of structure from the pre-quarantine days. For those individuals with children, sticking to a routine might be easier; however as you work from home, it could be tempting to fall into a more lethargic lifestyle, which could lead to negative thinking. Wake up and go to bed around the same time, eat meals, shower, adapt your exercise regimen, and get out of your PJ’s. Do laundry on Sundays as usual. Not only will sticking to your normal routine keep you active and less likely to spiral, it will be easier to readjust to the outside world when it’s time to get back to work.

3.) Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage

Freeing up your day from work or social obligations gives you plenty of time to obsess, and if you have a tendency to consult Google for every itch and sneeze, you may be over-researching the pandemic as well. Choosing only certain credible websites (who.int or cdc.gov is a good start) for a limited amount of time each day (perhaps two chunks of 30 minutes each) will be in your best interest during this time.

4.) A chaotic home can lead to a chaotic mind

With all the uncertainly happening outside your home, keep the inside organized, predictable and clean. Setting up mental zones for daily activities can be helpful to organize your day. For example, try not to eat in bed or work on the sofa- just as before, eat at the kitchen table and work at your desk. Loosening these boundaries just muddles your routine and can make the day feel very long. Additionally, a cluttered home can cause you to become uneasy and claustrophobic of your environment- so keep it tidy.

5.) Start a new quarantine ritual

With this newfound time, why not do something special during these quarantined days? For ex-ample, perhaps you can start a daily journal to jot down thoughts and feelings to reflect on later. Or take a walk every day at 4 pm, connect with your sister over FaceTime every morning, or start a watercolor painting which you can add to everyday. Having something special during this time will help you look forward to each new day.

6.) Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable

Many licensed psychologists are offering telehealth options over HIPAA-compliant video chat platforms. Remember to reach out for help if your anxiety is reaching proportions that is unmanageable without professional help.

Letting go of illusions of control and finding peace in the fact that you are doing your part to “flatten the curve” will certainly build mental strength to combat the stressful situation the whole globe is experiencing.
 


About the Author

Dr. Aarti Gupta, PsyD is Founder and Clinical Director at TherapyNest, A Center for Anxiety and Family Therapy in Palo Alto, California. She specializes in evidence-based treatment for a wide spectrum of anxiety disorders, including OCD, panic disorder, social anxiety, trichotillomania, and generalized anxiety disorder. Dr. Gupta serves on ADAA's public education committee.

This is all very good advice and I'll give it a try. The problem is that I've been working from home so other than two quick trips to CVS I've been trapped in my house for eight days and not only is it raising my anxiety level but I can already feel myself sinking into a severe depression for the first time in two years. It's not the virus that's doing it but just the idea of being trapped with no end in sight. What if Fauci gets his way and we're on lockdown for months? I may not make it that long. I'm worrying about my family getting sick, I'm worried about seeing my retirement investments evaporate, I'm worried that there won't be any jobs when (if) this finally ends and for all these reasons I seriously have no hope for the future. I've tried to create a routine, I've tried to distract myself as best I can and I'm avoiding as much coronavirus coverage as I possibly can but it's not working. Obviously, I support trying to contain the spread of the virus but no one seems to be concerned that for some of us, a prolonged lockdown could prove more deadly than coronavirus.

Briefly:
- we can't leave the property, so walking is out
- my girlfriend and I had to cut our overseas trip short to come home, we lost thousands of dollars.
- we are arguing a lot
- my retirement fund is collapsing
- all the things I used to do are either (a) unavailable, or (b) I don't feel like them anymore

This too shall pass and life will go on as normal .. hang in there. My 401K was tanking - I called my "401K people" and we put what was left of my money into a "safe place" - it has actually gone up $5K since. If you have a car, take a drive - I do this daily. I too am arguing with my spouse of 30 years - I walk away and count to 10 or go for a drive. Sorry about you losing money on your trip - you are not alone - many people, including my niece lost out on a trip! At least you can travel, I have RA, pulmonary hypertension and panic attacks on a daily basis. Please just be grateful for the things you have right now. Hang in there.

Much better advice than some other "professionals" ate putting out. I've watched videos that only made my anxiety & depression worse. You have actual, honest, down to earth, EASY suggestions that ate doable & will actually work for anyone!!! Thank you!!! 💖😻💖🌹

I came to this site because I thought I was depressed. I now realize I am not after reading some of the stories. I am one very lucky American that I live in this country.
Now is not the time to waste energy on things we cannot control. Such as the Stock Market. I find making a list of what you want when this IS OVER. What YOU WILL do different. Reading it everyday-rewriting it-rearranging it-crossing things out and adding to it really helps.
I sent a lot of money, lost a lot in the last stock market crash and had to downsize big time. But I’m still here! And a good thing. I got to see a Great Grandson born who is now 6 yrs old. We have to FaceTime now but I am going to do my best to stay healthy so when this IS over I can give him the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.
Next time you need food add a box of brownie mix to the list. Treat yourself. You deserve it!!
Sit back enjoy the brownies, realize the good things. For this to shall pass and you WILL make a New Start with your list. I Did!

I am bipolar,have epilepsy and migraines and my doctor recommended that I leave home 3 times per week to get out and gym. Now it is week 3 of lockdown,my doctor is not availavle,I cant go for my check up MRI to see if my brain tumour grew back and I am so suicidal.
I am a dressmaker and can make dresses to sell after the lockdown, but I live in Africa where money is rare.We can die of other thongs than the virus.

I can’t reach any of my doctors to fill my psych meds. What so I do!?

I realize this is minor, and as an educator and a therapist, I fight an ongoing battle against battle against abysmal English education. Among rampant abuses is the overuse of quotation marks, exclamation points!!!, and Capitals for "Almost" Every Word. Please don't perpetuate these habits. They show no understanding of words' definitions. When "you" understand a word, "you" won't need to "emphasize" each one by placing it in Quotes!!!

I’m still waiting for my lab results to come back. I have self isolated myself because my symptoms all match coronavirus. I have a fever and sore throat and muscle aches today. I’m disabled but usually try to stay active to the best of my ability so isolation is tough especially if you don’t know if you have it or not. Can’t walk outside, lawsuit with private disability carrier...attorney says 99% of the time they’ve got you on surveillance. Having said all that, I have a tremendous guilt about not cleaning my house. PLEASE somebody tell me it’s okay. I feel like crap and really can’t muster the strength to do.

@Sheryl it really is ok! Your house can wait for a cleaning. What’s most important is you take care of you. You’re not feeling well! Be kind to yourself.

If it makes you feel better to do a little something, just make sure your dishes go in the sink or dishwasher and make sure trash is in the trash.

You will get through this! Relax and focus on you!

No one should feel guilty. You are under a lot of pressure, be kind to yourself. Switch off for the day and rest. Take care of yourself how ever you like, no one is here to judge you, how would they have a right to? Just stand still and breathe, this will pass at some point and until then know we are all in this together. Remember all that matters is you are well, so put your feet up today and maybe tomorrow you may feel the same, or you may feel better, it doesn't matter, listen to what your body tells you to do first, your mental health needs you body to be healthy first. It is your home, you will look after it when you are ready, just not today.

Well, this is all well and good, but you're strangely assuming all people get to work from home. This would be a far more useful article if you considered the three million+ who applied for unemployment last week.

Hi Dr. Gupta,
I just wanted to say, your article is very helpful. Everyone is scared right now, and I know some peoples situations are different and more severe than others. Your article is a small part of guidance to assist others. But it's not always made for everyone's situation. There is a lot of structure to help anyone. And it's finding a connection to your own problem within the guidance you have provided. Thank you for taking the time to help!

Dr. Gupta-

Thank you for your write up. My wife's concerns grows even if I go to get gas with the current Corvid-19. Since having giving birth to my daughter, she has developed more anxiety issues particularly with cleaning hands/germaphobic. Now that we are "locked up" within the house, it has tremendously gotten worse. Without leaving the house, she washes her hands 25-30 times...and that may be a low count. It's taken a tole on the relationship. She wont eat what I cook since having our kid. We cook separately. Every day. She will not include my pillow case with our sheets or her pillow case. By any means am I a professional, but I've mentioned that we need to seek counsel. More so from a cognitive therapy perspective. Is this something that you thing we should pursue? Thank you in advance.

Your article is great, but what about the one who is stuck in another country and husband is in different country, all flights closed one day before my flight and both are locked down alone, missing my husband badly and want to be with him in this bad time, cant calm my nerves, please help, counting days.

I am in the same situation and pregnant too. I am lucky that I got a large yard so I occupy myself with backyard gardening but I am still frustrated because I don't know when I will see my significant other again plus we haven't done much shopping for the baby who is due to arrive in August. Now I am afraid to buy anything in fear of bringing the virus home. Not sure how to deal with this version of life at all.

This is a very very hard time for everyone. The government is not “punishing” us, but trying to stop the spread of Covid. If we don’t “flatten the curve” it will be so much worse. Cases are increasing exponentially right. We have to do this for the good of all. I live in Northern Illinois, and our state it under the “stay at home” order. The streets are empty. It’s very odd.

I understand the anxiety; my anxiety is through the roof! I had such a rough day that I was laying in a bath of hot water just to calm down some. I live alone, and am pretty much a homebody after work, so this is not so unusual for me, but for some reason it’s really making me crazy. Perhaps because there is no choice? I’m isolating myself from my family because I’m a pharmacy tech and am exposed to a lot of people. My biggest fear is being an asymptomatic carrier and giving it to someone. My employer requested that I stay home last Tuesday, because I had a slight fever. I’m perfectly fine but they were being understandably cautious. Consequently, I missed three days of pay, and with my original scheduled days off, I have been home for 5 days (tomorrow will make it 6). I too, live paycheck to paycheck, and am worried about finances. I do, however, realize that I’m very lucky to still have a job.

Everyone just hang in there! It’s really bad for people with anxiety and depression to isolate further, but I’m trying to think of it as a small thing that I can do to help the situation, especially when it causes us to feel so out of control. Make use of FT! Write out CBT charts to break down your catastrophic fears! I think about the pioneers who lived in one room cabin and were stuck in there for the whole winter. People do make it through! 💖

I don't like it when New York State Governor Cuomo extends a date when the two week lockdown will end which he did about twice, which to me is very frustrating, just like if he does not want things going back to normal like it was before March 16 when the outbreak began, and on March 22, just before the lockdown began just like if I was a prisoner in my own home, and I get nervous when the cases of Coronavirus just keeps going up just about every day, and when lot of people die from it everyday, which makes me very upset.

Of course some people are frustrated by the stay-at-home orders, but you must realize it's not about whether political leaders "want things to go back to normal" or not! The lockdown extensions you bemoan are directly tied to the exponential spread of new cases and the escalating deaths you say upset you. It has to be this way.

I am Abdur Rauf from Pakistan I am suffering from anxiety due this out break of xovid 19 . I am thinking whole day about that I feel all syptoms in my self suddenly my blood pressure come low what should I do to come out from this satiation

I started off thinking this will be ok just stay in with my husband who has copd and severe emphysema and keep going as normal but as the days have gone by my old panic attacks have started to feel as if there coming back. I learnt a long time ago how to Suppress Them but I spend all day now making myself think of others things. It’s getting so hard I feel like I’m going a bit crazy I just can’t see beyond this time as if this is for ever and I’m never going to see my 4 children and 4 wonderful grandchildren again. My husband is strong he tells me not to worry but I keep from him most of how I’m feeling this will end won’t it and I will be able to go out again I’m 62 and I don’t want to tell my children how I feel I’m the strong one for them we chat each day on face time but I long for a hug.

I am doing my best to stay in the normal routine but seems as if I can only think about the “worst case scenario”. It’s effecting my sleep as the brain begins to process this new emotion of helplessness. Not wanting to die alone in a hospital. Lacking sleep from epic nightmares no one should have.
I hope it’s not just me. Worried to call my healthcare provider, my ptsd and anxiety breaking my spirit to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

How can I cope with the anxiety I feel because I am required to work? I am stuck between not wanting to be out because I am petrified and potentially losing my job... I also have bills. I experienced my first ever panic attack two weeks ago, and every day since then I have little small ones. I am constantly anxious, my chest always feels tight, I cry.... I am having a really hard time with this...

I’m a regular at work. Want to work. 600 employees. I’m the one who cares. Now I’m suddenly at home. No family , no pets and zero contact. Work for most is income. And yes it is. But I struggle with depression, so work for me is cathartic. So I’m a month out without an end in sight. My friends don’t understand. They have spouses and pets. They act like I’m bitching. They don’t understand the meaning of alone.

How ever impossible it may feel, we know there will be an end. All we can do is look after ourselves and our loved ones and unite in our communities to fight this crisis. The only thing we can do to fight it is to stay away from anyone outside of our homes. There is nothing else we can do. We know deep down we are all hysterical and frightened but we can only sit and wait for the virus to pass. If we can encourage each other to accept and understand we are not in control, nor is anyone but we are surviving at home, we are doing our very best. Learn to accept this however hard, whatever the outcome and discover what coping mechanisms you as a good person needs to pull through. Push your boundaries, push your comfort zones, learn who you are, learn to just be. We will all learn how precious life is and how vulnerable we all are regardless of circumstances. Support each other, be empathic, compassionate and strong.

Thank you Dr. Gupta for this article. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for all my adult life. I was doing pretty good with a combination of medication and self care habits. But this pandemic has been a blow to my mental health. I feel like I’m physically and mentally shutting down and going back to a bad place. Thank you for clear and practical advise on steps we can take to keep from spiraling! I’m hopeful that these tips will keep me on track!

I currently live in a house where no one gets along and there is constant fighting. My plan was to move out but it came to a halt with this virus. I go to sleep crying every night. Some people in the house refuse to listen about social distancing and go out as they please. I go on drives as a form of escape but of course I have to come back. Any advice on what I could do. It's been taking a toll on my mental health worrying about the virus being brought into the house and the fights constantly breaking out.

I found the article to be very unsympathetic to those already struggling, such as those with mental illness. There was a “shame on you” tone to the article, that is you were not doing all the things suggested, that you were a failure. For some just getting out of bed is a struggle. There isn’t a one size fits all to this crisis. I have read many articles which were more compassionate.

the government is so focused on protecting the medical staff, however the medical staff are in direct contact, so how would me staying in protect them. if i cannot leave my house and enjoy what life has to offer then what is the point of being alive? having a lot of dark thoughts over the past few weeks, not sure il make it out of this

Thank you for this article Dr. Gupta. You have cohesively outlined several positive ways we can tackle this difficult situation. I plan to share it with many others. There have been some interesting comments here from readers expressing everything from feeling inspired to distress to anger and defeat. Human behavior can vary greatly especially at times like this. I think it’s important to note that your article was clearly intended to provide tools for people to help them get through the quarantine and not intended to address each individual’s specific circumstances. As a fellow therapist I value the information in this article especially because it provides a clear picture of how people can best conceptualize and manage the isolation. I would like to share my perspective on this as well.

I speak from a position of a professional in the mental health field, a mother, and someone who has successfully learned to manage my own anxiety and panic disorder. I am also dealing with a financial instability and loss at this time due to the pandemic. That said, here’s how I see it...

The human brain is wired to worry to protect us even if we have no control over the situation itself. We can only control our own thoughts and behaviors. To begin with, we must control our stress levels or we will tax our immune systems and compromise ourselves. Granted, some are more impacted than others there is no sugar coating it. However, I think the point of this article is to make the most of this time even if we struggle.

If we can reframe our perceptions of this temporary new normal we have a shot at coming out of this intact. To do this it is imperative that we be open to actively seeking alternative thoughts or actions than we are used to. That means going out of our comfort zone at times to entertain possibilities that we would have likely dismissed or failed to see before. It’s ok to be uncomfortable sometimes. Personal growth stems from actions outside of our comfort zones most of the time.

We also need to actively employ balance. Balance is not something we find it’s something we do. If we can balance our thoughts we can in turn balance our emotions so we can think clearly and make better choices.

I. My experience, we always have a choice no matter how bad our circumstances are to make a conscious decision as to how we want to handle ourselves. Do we want to be victims of our circumstances or empower ourselves to make changes? My advice is for all of us to focus on the aspects of this that we can change-our own perspectives and behaviors.

We might fear, fall, falter or fail, but as long as we are still in the drivers seat we will flourish!! Make something good happen today and build your resiliency daily by reminding yourselves of your individual strengths. Each of us has been tough times before and we will get through this as well. What can you do to make today better?

I suffer with anxiety. Since meeting someone a year ago and daily exercise, I’m pleased to say it’s managed.
My little family were making plans to all come together to live under one roof during Easter.

Since lockdown I have put others best interests above mine, and now feel anxiety is taking over.
My son has moved into his dads temporarily. It was deemed best due to school closures, his dads a teacher and I’m a key worker but fortunately can work from home. My routine created with my son has totally gone.
Feeling lost is an understatement.

I have raised numerous times with my partner that I believe it would be in both our best interests to temporarily move in together until the lockdown has ended. This would help with loneliness and anxiety.
My partner is torn between what’s wrong and right, concluding in no decision or movement for two weeks.
I now have no routine, my son’s away and my partner is becoming distant day by day.

I try to regularly contact others, but once that call has ended. Instant downer.

I don’t know what to do. My anxiety is really hurting my body and mind. I feel selfish because everyone is in the same boat. I suppose it’s just cabin fever settling in, with added “why wouldn’t he move in?”

Guidance appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to write this and trying to help others. I'm going to try your suggestions and be grateful. Its a life changing situation for most people and we need to help each other out as much as we can, even if its just by staying positive. Positive self talk is a powerful thing but so is negative self talk. Hang in there!!!

I am feeling very depressed and low and getting a feeling this is end of life and nothing will get better as per the current increase in the no’s of corona infected rise .Dont know when this lockdown will get over and even if it gets over will the fear be killing us each day

I’ve been home for a month now. I live in Connecticut, work for a company in New York and cover financial reporting for the UK branch of the business (which I am just learning). This means I am up and working by 3am EDT and continue until 6-7pm EDT...everything takes longer from home trying to access files on NY and UK file servers. Which means I am working 6-7 days a week to get a week’s worth of work completed. At the start and end of my work day, maybe I forage for some less than stellar food items in my kitchen. More often than not it’s just coffee and water with toast in the morning and at the end of the day more likely I just pass out to start all over again. In other words I sit at my computer for 16 hours a day. There is no socialization, no exercise...hardly any glimpses of natural light. This past Thursday I felt my chest compress, my body tingle, buzzing in my ears, my muscles tense and my breathing became short and shallow. I tried to ignore it and pushed through the full work day. I went to bed and awoke to a full on panic attack. I was out of control and wanted to escape. I kept screaming that I am trapped and had no control. I just wanted to get out of the house and drive and drive and drive. My keys were taken away, ambulance was called and I was sedated. I’m home now and have called work to say I won’t be logging in for the week. The panic is still there...lingering tightness waiting to explode again (now with the fear I won’t have a job to go back to) and physical ticks (eyebrow, lip, thumb) but I have tele-health options for therapy and psychiatric counseling. I will take the week to set a routine comprised of realistic work hours with scheduled breaks during those hours. After work, I will have time allotted to reach out to family and friends (every day), walks and activities that bring me joy. I am hopeful that the controls I put in place now will keep my mental health. This post is not a “woe is me” post. It is meant as a cautionary tale. I didn’t see the signs and when I did I pushed them away. Don’t. You are more important than your job. You have to take care if you to take care of others. We are not in control here but we can be in control of how we handle the situation we have been thrust in. Let us not be victims but survivors. I know I am working forwards that end.

Thanks for sharing. Anxiety is hard to deal with. I actually can relate to your post. It is definitely not a, Woe on me!
It is a fact that anxiety attacks are real. Your suggestion will help me and many others to cope.

I’m really suffering with this isolation. I live alone. I’m working from home. It’s too much alone time.

My son has autism and normally stays in his room, but he will go outside with me or his dad on his terms. Now he is getting very angry, frustrated, suicidal because when he wants to get out he cannot. He does not talk to people he does not know and will not talk on the phone. How can I help him, because I do not want him to totally withdraw

Your article does not help me at all. I honestly believe I will never see my lived ones again. I'm a carer for mum with dementia and she cant hold a conversation. I'm going to have serious problems if this goes on

Gilly Anne, I hope you have been able to 'hang on'. I'm so sorry you have such a hard situation, being a caregiver to a victim of dementia. I hope you can find help somehow :)

I have had sever social phobia, OCD and BDD all my life. Self isolation and over the top hygiene...welcome to my world...When this latest crisis is bought under control and everyone go's back to there lives, spare a thought for people like me...The self isolation and the fight against the invisible demons go's on...and on...and on.

I'm usually a social butterfly my daily routine is get up in the afternoon walk over to the mall meeting with friends at the local tim Horton for a coffee and doughnut and then I go to petsmart to play with the kitties but now that we are on lock down i can't go anywhere. Sure i have a big one bedroom apartment, 3 cats 2 Russian hamsters, but with not being able to get the motions to go walking around in fear of being ticketed by our local police for not following the lock down rules, its putting my anxiety over the edge, of course my parents are not helping me either my mom keeps telling me how many people have died from COVID in the city and that they are putting the bodies at St. Clair College complex. Its definitely NOT helpful for my anxiety

As like many others, I have been tagged as an essential. Yes, I work 5 days per week. I was in a relationship but with the virus and social distancing I can call it a wrap. I had pneumonia and it scared my lung. I am on meds so I am doing all I can to take care of myself. My friend is a social butterfly so I had to distance myself. Living alone, in a new city away from family and friends is a challenge but this virus brings on a whole nother challenge.
I am just trying to see am I alone out here. I work at a hotel and we had to let most of the staff go. It is only management left performing all jobs.
Because we are so short hand it helps with me being tired. The sad thing when the dust settles I am extremely lonely.

So I'm a teen,my mom is a therapist,and my teachers have given us an hellish amount of homework. Me being a teen has me not being able to see my friends. My mom is a therapist and she does Zoom so I hear lots of sad things.My mom also thinks the government is trying to control us. The homework is ultra hard and a hellish amount.

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