I haven’t gone out in 2 years, 🆘 help 🆘! Will I ever be able to feel safe leaving the house again? Help!
✅ While we can’t tell you that leaving your house will be 100% safe at any given time (COVID-19 times or not), there are things you can do to increase your tolerance for leaving your house…..and maybe even enjoy it!
We understand. 😟 These are confusing times. With constant changes in recommendations on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 (like masking! 😷) and difficulty in understanding the data 📊 around COVID-19, we know that it is difficult to make decisions about what to do/what not to do. And many of us have fears about going out after the personal and collective losses, limitations, and grief we have experienced over the past 2 years.
Here are a few strategies, rooted in evidence based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help:
➡️ Start small and go slowly. Build a hierarchy of activities (usually called an exposure hierarchy), going from easiest to hardest. Start with the easiest one and see how you feel. For example, you may start with meeting someone outdoors for a walk and see how you feel afterwards. If you are a little anxious it is OK. Each time you do the activity, you should start to feel a little less anxious. You can slowly do harder ones, perhaps increasing the difficulty of the activity every few weeks.
➡️ Practice relaxation strategies like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation on a daily basis. Evidence tells us that by doing this, we can get our bodies and our nervous system into the rest and digest (parasympathetic) state rather than the flight or flight (sympathetic) state. That way, when you come into a stressful experience, you are prepared to be able to manage the body symptoms and the thoughts that come with them.
➡️ Pause and think through each situation and try to weigh your thoughts with evidence and see if you still feel the same way. For example:
SITUATION: The situation is that you bring groceries into your home.
AUTOMATIC THOUGHT: Your automatic thought is that you will get COVID-19 from your groceries.
ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: The alternative thought is that several research studies looked at the likelihood of getting COVID-19 from surfaces. We now know that there is very little evidence for this.
EMOTION: Now reassess how you feel and see if you feel less anxious, the same, or more anxious.
PRACTICE: Do this with any activity and practice it. Over time, doing this exercise will help you change your thinking.
➡️ Remember your #SMARTS: Space, Mask, Air, Restrict, Time, Shots. Using many strategies to keep yourself safe can still help you to gently ease into activities. Focusing on what YOU can do to protect yourself and not what others are doing helps you to feel like you have some control over the situation.
While you can’t eliminate all risk, you can find ways to slowly start to do things again.🌈 These strategies can help support you as you get started on going back out there, but are not meant to replace therapy or other forms of support. If you need additional support, there are many resources out there. You can check out our previous post on finding a therapist for the basics.
Please note: If you need additional resources, Mental Health America (MHA) offers a great way to search for resources. And if you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Support: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Stay Safe. Stay Sane.
Those Nerdy Girls