We all knew quarantine would be hard, but no one told us it would be this hard.

Between managing your workload, taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning and everything else in between, there’s also an immense amount of pressure to do more than just survive. Social media will leave you to believe you need to learn a new language, launch a new business or even be a world-class chef.

But the truth of the matter is — you don’t owe anything to anyone besides yourself. Previous studies involving mandatory quarantine have shown that extended periods of isolation can lead to feelings of frustration, helplessness, emotional exhaustion, post-traumatic stress symptoms and more. So mental sanity should be your one and only priority during this time — not increasing your productivity to keep up with the ‘gram.

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW shares a few tips on coping with anxiety throughout the pandemic, and why it’s okay to be unproductive while in quarantine.

ESSENCE: Having anxiety on a good day is difficult, even more so during a pandemic. What are some tips on handling this COVID-19 stress?

Chapple: Individuals with anxiety have a desire to avoid the discomfort of their feelings. This can sometimes intensify the feeling of being out of control, which can cause many people to feel even more anxious or out of control. In the age of COVID-19, we are all experiencing the same things. We are living in a world that is out of our control, so here are some tips for handling some of the stress: 

  • Feel your feelings. In other words, allow yourself to feel sad, feel angry, uncertain or even grieve but try not to allow yourself to fall too deep into an emotional spiral. I often tell my clients that when you feel anxious to ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and “what should I do about it?”
  • Try to put some structure in your day, block time for breaks, for rest, for exercise, and for work. 
  • Set up a space that you will enjoy working in and try to keep it separate from your sleeping/resting space if you can.
  • If you are in quarantine with family members, remember to continue to do things individually that you did before. For example, if you worked out alone you do not have to start working out with your partner you can continue to work out alone or workout with a group of friends online. 
  • Take breaks from news and social media if it gets overwhelming.  
  • Get outside when you can. Take a walk or sit in the sun.  
  • Some days will feel like you will feel great and some days it will be hard to get out of bed – have self -compassion and show yourself and others a lot of grace right now.  
  • Stay connected with friends and family – schedule virtual happy hours or coffee breaks (try a fun background in Zoom!).

What worries you most when it comes to people’s mental health during this pandemic? 

So, I want to speak to this idea of social distancing — for many people with mental health challenges, it’s causing additional isolation. For many people when they have mental health challenges it’s harder to plug-in, be involved or ask for help. Quarantine has added an extra layer of isolation and made it more difficult to get assistance. What worries me is additional isolation, in the black community, it means having even more mental health challenges and less resources than we had before. It means we cannot grieve the same way we grieved before because we cannot attend funerals.  It means that many more of us will fall through the cracks leading to more substance use and domestic violence in our community. 

How do we socially distance from people without emotionally distancing ourselves?

For many people, the term social distancing is triggering because we’re not social distancing we are physically distancing. It is interesting that when we first started talking about distancing from people the thought was it was only about being social. There are lots of other reasons people meet, not all of them are for social reasons. For college students, it’s sitting together in a coffee shop and writing together; for mothers, it’s talking to other mothers, collaborating on babysitting or helping kids get to soccer practice period; for some people, it’s just figuring out ways to get their job done next to another person for support. 

So, to help us emotionally, many of us have moved things that we normally do in-person to online. There are social media challenges, people are meeting in virtual spaces. It’s also created a lot more social media distractions. There are people feeling left out, those who aren’t on social media and those who rely on actual human contact are starting to feel isolated. Many of those people are logging onto social media and comparing themselves to others. 

Why is it OK to be unproductive in self isolation? 

This argument only speaks to those who need the space away from working. This is not the case for most people. Women with mental health challenges who must zoom all day with their corporate jobs, write up documents or prepare spreadsheets, or people like academics who juggle home, family, or live alone — it can be perceived that because we work from home, that we don’t have a lot going on. It is OK to be unproductive, but it is also not OK to be unproductive in some cases because there’s work to be done. Additionally, essential workers do not have this choice. They must work regardless. 

A friend of mine called quarantine a sabbatical because as a busy professional and mother who is recently divorced, she had been working hard for so many years that this quarantine forced her to slow down and rest. 

And why should we stay away from social media notions claiming anything otherwise? 

There are so many demands placed on black women in our society on a regular basis. Many of us have professional and social responsibilities in addition to family duties. Some of these duties include assisting extended family members and friends of family members. Black women often are not given the luxury of being tired, depressed or ill because there are people counting on us. So, with COVID-19, there is an extra layer of pressure for us to be superwomen. The stuff on social media causes us to compare ourselves only to fall short or feel left out or help other people who are struggling.

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