Richard Solomon ’75, P’10, clinical director and president of Delta Consultants and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Clinical Supervisor at the University of Rhode Island, offers strategies for maintaining mental well-being during a time of uncertainty like that brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
President of the Hobart Alumni Association, Solomon is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, specializing in the neuropsychological assessment and clinical treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, pervasive development disorders and child maltreatment. A member of the Statesmen hockey team, he graduated from Hobart with a B.A. in psychology and went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Rhode Island.
“While the situation we find ourselves in is very serious,” he says, “there’s a lot we can do to cope with it.” Below, Solomon shares 10 tips for protecting our mental health.
- Make a Plan
Every day should have a plan, Solomon says. “It’s amazing how days can just go by. We can end up with two or three behind us, thinking, what did I do with those days?” A daily plan should include the objectives you have for the day relative to your work, any household chores you need to attend to and the people you want to stay in touch with.
For families with school-age children, planning also includes setting up a time for schoolwork. While the day needs to be organized so school guidelines are met, it’s important to remember that moms and dads are not expected to become teachers. “Parents are supposed to be parents,” Solomon says, “which means they are there to help.”
- Stay Informed
It’s essential that we stay informed about the coronavirus outbreak, Solomon explains, but we need to make sure we are consuming news from reliable sources; he suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins and The Washington Post.
We also have to take care that we aren’t consuming too much news. “In an era of social media, we have rapid access to information,” Solomon says. “We have to make sure it doesn’t become an addiction.” Limit the time you spend catching up on the day’s news and make sure you’re consuming news about things other than the crisis.
- Find a Balance
Finding a balance in life “is especially critical now that we are immersed in the pandemic,” Solomon says. We find ourselves concerned about the wellbeing of our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers. We hope for our companies and practices to flourish. We want to continue to contribute to social well-being.
“These are all legitimate concerns, but they can become overwhelming to the point where we’re focused on the exclusion of so many other necessities of life,” says Solomon. He notes that with extra time provided to us by changed work schedules and shelter-in-place orders, we now have time to develop our catch up on other interests — and pursuing those things can help to establish balance and maintain mental health.
- Maintain Social Connections
We are social beings by nature, so isolation can take its toll both mentally and emotionally. “We need to make sure we’re still interacting with the world and maintaining helpful social connections,” explains Solomon. Online tools such as virtual meeting platform Zoom and instant messaging app Slack make it easy for coworkers to stay connected while working remotely.
Make use of social media to stay in touch, schedule a virtual dinner with family and video chat with friends. “The technology and tools at our disposal make it easy to reach out and not feel so isolated,” says Solomon.
- Engage in Physical Activity
While it’s very important that we follow guidelines for maintaining appropriate hygiene (including proper handwashing, keeping hands away from the face and using hand sanitizer as needed) and physical distancing, for our physical and mental well-being we also need to move our bodies.
Gyms may be closed, but there are plenty of ways to engage in physical activity. “As long as we continue to practice physical distancing, we can still get out there, go for walks, ride our bikes,” says Solomon. Commit to 30 minutes of exercise a day; even broken down into 10-minute intervals, your body and mind will respond to the positive effects of movement.
- Get Outside
Solomon recommends getting fresh air whenever you can. “We have the good fortune to be getting into spring, which means the weather is becoming more accommodating,” he explains. “Go for walks and hikes. If you’re in Geneva, get out to the beautiful lake. Take a book and read for a few hours. Get in your car and drive. Immerse yourself in the wonderful season.”
Solomon recommends staying relatively close to home, maintaining physical distance (staying six feet away from others) and engaging in proper hygiene practices when you return home from enjoying the outdoors.
- Maintain the Day-to-Day
As we adjust to our new normal, we still need to “fulfill the chores of life,” Solomon says. You can — and should, if you are feeling well — still go out for groceries, fill up on gas and make a trip to the pharmacy.
It’s essential, however, that as you go about your day-to-day business you keep in mind physical distancing guidelines and other directives that may have been implemented in your area. “Our regular business can be dealt with, with reasonable and calm measures,” says Solomon.
- Try Something New
Many of us find that we now have extra time on our hands. What to do with it? “Think about the things you’ve always wanted to accomplish — books you want to read, movies you’ve wanted to see, topics you’d like to investigate,” says Solomon. Pick up a new hobby, or reinvest in an old one.
“Part of the planning of each day should include trying something new,” Solomon advises. “At the end of the day, you can look back and say, ‘I got some interesting things done today and learned some engaging new information.’”
- Ask for Help
The COVID-19 epidemic has upended our world in many ways and we can’t — and shouldn’t — expect to always feel in control. This is a time to ask for help, explains Solomon. “We all work best when we’re supported. Use the resources around you, your neighbors, your community and school system, family and close friends.”
Reach out to physicians, counselors, social workers and mental health providers. Many practices, like Solomon’s, are establishing remote connections so they can remain in contact with patients. “When stress or anxiety spike, we’re able to assess and offer some insights,” says Solomon.
- Stay Hopeful
Above all, Solomon advises, we should remain hopeful about the future. Research to develop an antidote is moving quickly. “In all of the infections we’ve experienced societally wide, we’ve never seen such rapid movements toward what looks like so many promising treatments with many in the first stages of trial showing some good applicability,” he says.
“This virus will run its course, and we’re strong enough to respond to it by engaging in responsible social behavior,” he says. “Don’t sink into an abyss of apathy and wait for an external rescue. Keep developing and growing your interests. Be physically active, paint, read. Plan and enjoy a meal with your family. These activities give purpose to your day.”