5 pandemic isolation tips from mental health pros who live alone

  • Carl Evans is director of programs and operations for Hope For The Day, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization.

    Carl Evans is director of programs and operations for Hope For The Day, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization. Courtesy of Carl Evans

  • Nicole Yarmolkevich, a licensed professional counselor at Amita Health Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights, advises people who live alone to make sure they hear other people's voices and disengage from pandemic news to stay mentally healthy.

    Nicole Yarmolkevich, a licensed professional counselor at Amita Health Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights, advises people who live alone to make sure they hear other people's voices and disengage from pandemic news to stay mentally healthy. Courtesy of Amita Health

 
 
Updated 4/27/2020 6:45 AM

Nicole Yarmolkevich and Carl Evans both live alone and are experiencing the challenges of solitude during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

But their jobs could give them an advantage over others during this phase of isolation: They both work in mental health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yarmolkevich, of Buffalo Grove, hears from clients with severe psychosis, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression during her work-from-home hours as a licensed professional counselor for the Amita Health Center for Mental Health. Evans, of Chicago, works to prevent suicide from his position as director of programs and operations for Hope For The Day.

Both have the know-how to offer suggestions to stay mentally healthy while living alone during the pandemic. Here are some of their tips:

Set a schedule or routine.

Why? Not for its own sake, but to give the mind a sense of forward progress.

"Negative thoughts, doubts, anxieties can build up if you don't give your brain a sense of forward activity," Evans said. "A schedule sets your mind and disciplines your mind to focus on certain checkpoints."

A schedule can be "totally leisurely and casual," he said, but it still will "set your mind and discipline your mind to focus on certain checkpoints."

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Disengage from pandemic news and social media.

Why? To avoid being overwhelmed by negative thoughts or the temptation to compare yourself to others.

"I've found a lot of clients get triggered by all the politics that's involved in all of this," Yarmolkevich said. "They have a difficult time with taking out the facts they need, so they get stuck in those negative emotions."

Another negativity trap comes from social media, which can serve a positive purpose of providing connection, but also paints an incomplete picture of other people's lives, Evans said.

During the stay-at-home order, he said, people who live alone need to be especially wary of posts from people showing off all of the crafts they've made, the desserts they've baked, the fitness challenges they've completed. These posts, he said, can have the downside of making others feel they're falling short.

"You want to be mindful to disengage from social media and be aware if you compare your activities to the productivity illusions you see online," Evans said. "The important thing for you to focus on is keeping yourself healthy and stable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hear someone's voice.

Why? It helps to strengthen the sense of connection and communication more than text alone. So don't skimp on the Zoom and FaceTime, even in a world of tweets and Snapchats.

"I have found that it's more meaningful," Yarmolkevich said. "You don't get the same feeling you do of comfort when you're physically next to someone, but hearing that voice and everything that goes with it, I think a lot of people are drawing to it."

Do something physical.

Why? An analog activity that doesn't involve a smartphone or computer helps keep the mind active and focused.

This doesn't have to be anything complex or creative like carpentry or painting, Evans said. It can be simple, too: "Wash clothes, clean a space, rearrange something, read a book, fold something."

Choose personal ways to relieve stress, and don't feel bad if these aren't the same methods used by others.

Why? The mind is like a soda bottle, Evans said. It gets shaken up by challenges like isolation and the health risks and economic fallout of the pandemic.

Everyone can choose different ways to take the top off the bottle that is their mind and relieve some of the built-up pressure. Maybe it's running, journaling, laughing, listening to music, playing video games, binge-watching TV, dancing -- whatever.

"If that gives you a sense of relief and takes your mind off the stress and strain of quarantine -- excellent," Evans said. "Embrace those things."

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