Woman in a yellow sweater doing a puzzle in the living room at home

Those living alone face a unique set of challenges in adapting to self-quarantine guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing puzzles can only take you so far.

Editor’s Note: Transform Through Therapy specializes in online group therapy, with a special focus on grief and caregiving. In this series, they will be talking about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on mental health.

While there’s a lot of information out there about how parents and kids are being affected by COVID-19 — balancing online learning, work, toddlers, etc. — there is another side of sheltering in place if you live alone.

We checked in with Ericka Dall, a dental office manager who lives alone in Washington state and has been working from home managing emergency appointments, and how COVID-19 has affected her.

It’s been an evolution

That first weekend, which in Washington state, was mid-March, she dug out a puzzle, made some dinner and thought, “This will be fine, and it will be over soon.” But as more news came out and new orders were given, by the next weekend, she did not feel the same way.

“It went from, ‘I’m going to be OK’, to ‘Oh wow, this is something more serious,’ and then ‘Everything is shutting down, people are losing their jobs,’ and then it’s pure panic and sadness,” Dall said in a recent interview. You can watch an additional video with Dall here.

It was an evolution of feelings that were all so new and she was experiencing them and going through it by herself.

“It’s figuring out how to live life without life around you,” she said.

With a complete loss of her usual schedule and routine — she likes to keep busy — the isolation can induce a lot of anxiety. So she’s tried to institute a new type of routine, like attending online barre classes, having a daily walk and scheduling calls with family and friends.

Finding a give-and-take

She works closely with another co-worker who is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. Through this period, they’ve been able to talk through each other’s struggles, and Dall said it’s brought them closer. Because this co-worker has other responsibilities — not just a child at home, but online learning, etc. — Dall has taken on additional work as a support and a way to take off some of that pressure.

“See where you’re able to fill in the gaps for each other and lift each other up.”

Dall has also made an effort to keep lines of communication open by reaching out to one or two employees each day, and she feels like it’s a mutually beneficial practice.

“Thank goodness for technology. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to stay well through this,” she said. “When we all come back together, it’s just going to make us stronger as a team.”

There’s a lot of wins in that daily communication. If you’re part of a remote-working team, make a concerted and genuine effort to check in with co-workers and joke, laugh, even complain. It’s important to keep those relationships going.

From our psychological perspective, the best way to get through any type of crisis is open, honest, blunt communication, that is delivered with kindness.

Lessons learned

The hardest part of all of this for Dall has been not seeing her family. She had several trips planned between March and June that had to be canceled. And then on top of that, there was the loss of her activities and daily routine, along with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen or how long it’s going to last.

Because of these circumstances, she’s learned the most about herself, and we’d argue that’s probably true for a lot of people.

“It’s been surprising. I knew I was strong, and very independent,” Dall said. But she feels like all of us deserve a big pat on the back, too. Yes, she has had her sad days — and we all have — but she’s learned that it’s OK to not be busy. It’s OK to sit home and be with her own thoughts, “which before could be a scary thing,” she said with a laugh.

But what Dall is describing is a positive thing for anyone. Taking time to be with yourself and be with your thoughts, particularly if it’s not something you typically do, can be amazing.

“I’ve never done a puzzle before; now I’ve completed three,” Dall said. “And it’s been good.”

Like many people, Dall isn’t taking any of her relationships — from family, friends, co-workers and others — for granted.

“Anything I can take away from this experience, I’m going to grab onto, and I’m going to hopefully carry it onto when we get back to ‘normal.’” Dall said.

If you have any questions about handling COVID-19, we’d love to answer them! Email questions to jess@transformthroughtherapy.com. For more information about Transform Through Therapy, visit http://TransformThroughTherapy.com or check them out on social media.

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