Our family started quarantining almost a year ago this week.
Our daughter Grace has a compromised immune system due to Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, which made us especially careful and protective of her health and well-being.
For the first four months of quarantine, we embraced family time wholeheartedly. Our son was unexpectedly home from college, and it was so much fun to all be under one roof. I was so happy to have so much time with our immediate family.
Then we started feeling the loss creep in.
Our son’s college graduation happened virtually, and we missed the opportunity to meet our son’s future in-laws who live in California.
We stayed positive.
We played games, had tons of quality conversation, cooked and ate a lot, read, binged Netflix, and spent plenty of time around the fire pit.
June arrived, and our son and his fiancée had to change their wedding plans. They got married without family present and moved to California without us being able to attend or help with the move.
We held firm in our quarantining, knowing it was the best way to protect Grace’s health.
Fall arrived, then winter. Still, we stayed home and passed up opportunities to meet with people or engage socially. We were committed to protecting Grace’s health and the health of everyone struggling with chronic illness.
Soon we noticed our patience wearing thin and our tempers flaring more quickly. We could see one of our daughters struggling with bouts of depression, which we knew was the result of the isolation we were all experiencing.
Everyone I talked to seemed to be struggling with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation and despair as quarantine continued and we marched deep into winter.
How do we nurture our mental health when we feel alone and isolated and see no end in sight? I think we have all asked this question over the past year.
I would like to offer a few suggestions that helped our family break out of the rut of extended quarantine, and enabled us to continue the important and much-needed journey of social distancing.
Acknowledge the loss
The first step toward improving our mental health during COVID-19 is acknowledging the loss we have each experienced. Some feel the loss of in-person school or work more deeply than others. We have all missed monumental moments in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Acknowledge those moments as much as possible and grieve what has been lost.
Learn to recognize the signs of depression and anxiety. Reach out to a friend who lives alone. Call a relative living in a nursing home. Check on your elderly neighbors and friends. We are all going through this together.
Change of scenery
One of the best things we did when we saw our daughter sinking into some depression was to get her out of the house. I recognize that this may be easier for us because we live in a warm climate, but making her get dressed, put on some sneakers, and go for a walk in the fresh air made a world of difference. Go for a walk, sit in your backyard, or go for a drive. The change of scenery will do you good.
Accentuate the positive
I have always been a proponent of keeping a gratitude journal. There is something transforming about recording and purposefully looking for things to be thankful for throughout your day. I encouraged each of my children to start a gratitude journal during quarantine in order to find the good in each day.
Did you know that negative thinking creates deep pathways in your brain that predispose you to think negatively in the future? Thinking negatively today will make it easier to see the negative tomorrow. Let’s cultivate positive thinking for the benefit of our mental health.
Find a new hobby
Do something you have always wanted to do or learn but never had time to do.
We are all quarantining for a very important reason — especially those of us in the rare community. We only have to look as far as our loved one sitting across from us to remember why we are staying home.
What has helped you and your family live life to the fullest during quarantine?