To care for his own mental health during the coronavirus pandemic and Michigan stay-at-home order, Dennis Paryaski enjoys taking a walk near his home in the Southfield City Centre. He appreciates the wide shared-use pathways and the roundabouts on Evergreen Road, and he’s even grateful that traffic has become calmer during this time.
“I like to imagine that the whole City Centre complex exists just for me,” he says.
As a clinical therapist with Oakland Hills Counseling, Paryaski recognizes the value of caring for his mental health during a time of unparalleled uncertainty. Paryaski draws upon his 24-year career as a retired Southfield Police officer and detective, which he says provided a strong foundation for the work he does today as a psychologist.
Here, Paryaski shares some helpful tips for coping with the isolation, uncertainty and fear of living through the coronavirus pandemic.
You are a human being. Can you be a “human doing?”
Isolation and loneliness can lead to depression, says Paryaski. To combat this, he recommends getting up and doing something. “Every day is an opportunity, and there are opportunities within every day to be productive, so approach it with that mindset. Don’t be passive,” he says. Walk a dog, ride a bike, or do something that makes you feel productive, even if it is just sweeping your floor, vacuuming your carpet or organizing your kitchen cabinets.
Reach out to others.
“Social distancing limits this, but you can always make phone calls,” Paryaski says. “If you have elderly relatives, call them. This is the time to have frequent conversations. Drive by their house and talk to them from their porch or balcony.”
“Everyone identifies exercise as a holistic enterprise that oxygenates your blood and releases endorphins in your brain to enhance your mood,” says Paryaski. “Weather permitting and provided you can do it in a safe way, get some exercise. You can do this just by taking a walk on the sidewalk.”
Bring order to chaos.
Disrupted routines can feel chaotic. “This is not calm or peaceful,” says Paryaski. The need for order is one reason people are drawn to jigsaw puzzles right now. “What is a puzzle? It’s a box filled with the chaos of unconnected pieces. By connecting the pieces, we bring order to the chaos, which can be a very therapeutic enterprise,” he says. Other ways to create order include building with Legos, writing poems, playing music on a guitar or other instrument, and painting.
Create something to look forward to.
Paryaski remembers going for a drive with his parents when he was young. “There was no destination. Oftentimes, it was just about getting out of the house,” he says. Having something to look forward to can help when we are feeling angsty or shut in. Any activity that you can plan will help you recognize that you are controlling your own choices. Paryaski suggests trying a simple activity like flying a kite. “Find an open field, get some branches from your yard and put a garbage bag over the sticks. Maybe establish an online kite challenge and see how many will participate. Post videos or photos,” he suggests.
Find ways to celebrate accomplishments.
Loved ones may be experiencing a new type of grief that comes from the sudden end to all organized activities, says Paryaski. “I think about student-athletes in their senior year. Whether they play softball or baseball, participate in track or other NCAA sports or even high school basketball championships, these were their dreams and they were looking forward to this with anticipation or excitement, and all of it was pulled out from under them. This is a significant loss,” he says. The sudden end to these activities is a form of death or a “death of a dream,” Paryaski says, and can invoke feelings of grief that can go unacknowledged. “Who wouldn’t feel sad about not being able to do this significant event?”
While we can’t control these cancellations, we can recreate celebrations in our own way. “Look for opportunities to celebrate in any way you can. It might be multiple times in multiple ways, but celebrate now. Just because the school won’t conduct a graduation ceremony, still do what you can do to celebrate,” he says.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Anxiety and depression tend to cause an inward spiral and downward focus. “You orbit yourself, and that can be unhealthy,” says Paryaski, adding that one hallmark is continued extreme negative self-appraisal. “The hope is at some point you realize you are becoming inward and downward so you can look up and out. That’s where getting help steps in.”
Connect with a mental health provider to build a relationship to help process your thoughts and feelings, Paryaski suggests. Or, find a trusted friend who can serve as a sounding board. “When individuals talk about an issue, they come to a different place by virtue of the fact that they have someone to help facilitate,” he says. Sometimes just airing your feelings brings resolution.
“This virus brings our sense of mortality to the forefront and makes us aware of our vulnerabilities, so it’s a good time to take inventory of what we are grateful for,” he says. “In a way, the virus has turned off some chaos [of everyday life]. It has quieted us and stilled us in such a way as we can take inventory and express gratitude. My hope is that people can have a phoenix-type experience through this, on both an individual basis and a community basis.”