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Self-care amid COVID:
creating your mental wellness space

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Table of contents

      Watching movies or TV shows that portray embracing characters, non-social distanced gatherings or maskless shoppers can seem foreign and strange, given how much “normal” has changed in 2020. Observing what used to be commonplace social practices can create sadness and a sense of grief or loss.

      COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives, throughout the U.S. and around the world. Once active lifestyles have been shuttered indoors, families and friends are separated and isolated, and the concern of catching COVID amid flu season all have far reaching impacts. You may find yourself working more or sleeping less, as mounting worry and stress impact your daily routine. With the holiday season upon us and new restrictions being discussed and imposed, this particular time of the year can be even harder on your mental health.

      However, even during COVID, your home can still be your sanctuary and a place of relaxation. Creating a mental wellness space within your home can also help restore the work-life balance that so many Americans today are struggling to maintain. 

      These are some tips to help get you started.

      Establishing mental wellness

      The closure of offices, schools, restaurants, shops and bars has largely stifled our ability to enjoy traditional activities outside the home. Instead, many of us are spending that extra time within our homes. Without regular social interaction, many Americans are struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. To fill the time, many are working more, and without that fine separation between work and home,  it’s easy to experience burnout. 

      While temporary office spaces have seized control of your dining room, kitchen or unfinished basement, now is the time to change the environment to improve your quality of life. You can do this by establishing a mental wellness space that is just for you, a place designed to be your inner sanctuary within your home where you can go to relax and practice self-care. 

      “A mental wellness space in your home is a sanctuary where you feel comforted and relaxed,” explains Dr. Brian Wind, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and Chief Clinical Officer of JourneyPure. He is the former co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Advisory Committee for Employee Assistance.

      “Similar to how our brains get into ‘work’ mode in the office and go into a relaxed state when you’re on the couch or the bed, going into a mental wellness space can help to calm the mind. People who have difficulty managing their stress and going into a calm state at home may find mental wellness spaces useful,” He explains.

      Eric Patterson, LPC for Choosing Therapy, agrees. “As a professional counselor, I try to communicate the importance of building a physical and emotional space for clients to rest, recover, and recharge from the stress of daily life.” 

      For more than 15 years, Patterson has been a professional counselor in western Pennsylvania, where he treats children, adolescents and adults for a variety of mental health conditions. “Like with so many issues, you must first ask yourself what you really need and then plan accordingly,” he recommends. “Experiment with several options before committing to a finalized plan.”

      Who benefits from a mental wellness space

      Mental wellness is a universal priority; it is something that everyone — regardless of age, gender or lifestyle — needs in order to maintain a healthy life. 

      “During the time of COVID, we have had a significant increase in the amount of anxiety and depression cases in the United States. A recent study showed that over 70% of Americans reported an increase in anxiety or depressive symptoms,” says Eric E. Strom LICSW, BCD, a Clinical Social Worker and Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health Solutions, LLC. He also runs the Mental Health Solutions Podcast.

      Mental wellness for the whole family

      • Children can benefit from a safe place to hide from the stresses of a world they do not yet fully understand. 
      • Parents will appreciate a quiet place that is just for them, without the interruptions of work, family and daily life.
      • Seniors may not be accustomed to all this activity around them, so creating a space that is just for them away from the family and noise can be extremely beneficial.

      A mental wellness space also gives teachers and other professionals who are working from home a space away from all their work clutter, while children can benefit from a creative play space separate from their remote learning environment. 

      Patterson cites the man cave as a common example of a mental wellness space in the home. “The idea of a ‘man cave’ was born from the idea that men in the home had no place to feel comfortable and do what made them happy while surrounded by positive stimuli,” he says. “The struggles of men may have been overblown, but it serves as a good model for a mental health space in the home.”

      Whether you’re trying to avoid work burnout or you are simply just missing your family and friends, a mental wellness space can reinforce feelings of wellness and positivity even throughout such difficult times.

      Do I really need one?

      “If there is a seasonal affective disorder, there is also pandemic affective syndrome,” says Jolene Caufield. She is a Senior Advisor for Healthy Howard with a Master of Science in Professional Health Studies and Oriental Medicine, specializing in healthcare, healthy living and wellness, including mental health.

      “The unending threat to mortality and physical well-being, topped with social isolation, rendered all of us unable to access the routines and social support systems we rely on for effectively managing our stressors,” she explains. “Because of this, many of us faced emotional and mental instabilities, which broke down all boundaries we’ve set to separate our personal and professional lives, ultimately leading to overall lifestyle devastation and complete disruption.”

      Dr. Wind of JourneyPure addresses the growing conflict between work and home during COVID. “COVID-19 has created an incredible amount of health worries, financial stress and stress due to social isolation. It has reduced the boundaries between work and home, given that many people were forced to work remotely. Other than the increased stress, many have found themselves overworking as they continue to work past working hours now that there is no clear physical separation.”

      Creating a space

      Find your space

      Creating a mental wellness space does not have to be a massive undertaking, says Strom of Mental Health Solutions. “Setting up the space is a personal decision, but it is something that should feel calm and comfortable. This could be a corner of a bedroom, an extra room if one is so fortunate, a space in the basement, or anywhere that you can create something that is relatively quiet, comfortable and allows you to engage in self-care.”

      Patterson suggests some additional considerations. “When setting out to create your space, consider what you need most. Do you need a dark, quiet place or do you need an environment full of pleasurable stimulation with loud music, bright lights, and a huge TV?” he asks. “By picking a room, a corner, or even a large closet and turning it into a place of calm, peace, tranquility, and privacy, you accomplish a lot, especially during a time when family members are forced into close quarters for extended periods.”

      For those with unused closets or storage, you may consider knocking down walls to create more room for your wellness space. However, you should always consult with a professional before that type of work is done. It’s also a good idea to check your home insurance policy before initiating any construction on your home, no matter how simple it may seem.

      What should I include?

      As the founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com, Grant Aldrich recommends finding a secure space. “I suggest that people find a lockable room to use as a mental wellness space,” he says. “It’s also best to hang a sign on the door for when the space is in use. If someone is using the area to meditate, they need to be sure that no one will come in and disturb them.”

      Patterson also acknowledges that not all of his clients at Choosing Therapy are able to dedicate a private space for personal use. “Some people may not have the space for their own room, so they should focus on creating emotional boundaries, rather than physical boundaries,” he advises. “By investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones and an iPad, you can block out a lot of the outside world for chunks of time.”

      Aldrich agrees. “If an entire room isn’t feasible, try to set aside a space in the common room. People can use blackout curtains to differentiate the area from the rest of the room. Signs can also be hung around the room, encouraging relaxation.”

      Finally, Patterson reminds us that the outdoors can always be a great solution. “If you need time in nature to recharge, get yourself a warm coat and dry boots, so you can find a personal sanctuary outside, no matter the temperature.”

      Don’t forget the kiddos

      “While we adults struggle with the stress and anxiety of Covid and working from home, our kids do as well,” says Strom. “It is important to remember that for many children they all of a sudden one day were told that they must go home and will not be allowed to see their friends again for an unknown amount of time.”

      He adds that a mental wellness space for the kids may also require some customizing. “In creating a comfortable space for them, it is important to consider their age, things that they enjoy, any sensitivities, and keeping the space comfortable. It’s important to remember that during these times, there may be some children that regress; allowing an older child to have a stuffed animal or blanket that they previously had not shown interest in is important and is OK.”

      Know the signs

      Children are often unable to communicate feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, so they may act out in other ways.

      “It’s important to pay attention to their overall behavior,” advises Strom. “Actions such as acting out, being more upset or angry, and acts of defiance can be signs that children are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Children withdrawing, regressing into old behaviors and age ‘inappropriate’ behaviors can all be signs of stress, anxiety, or depression.”

      Dr. Wind of JourneyPure lists some other signs for parents to watch out for in their children.

      • Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy
      • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
      • Eating a lot more or less than normal
      • Feeling sad or irritable most of the time
      • Having extreme fear of typical situations, such as social situations
      • Being afraid of being away from parents
      • Repeated episodes of breathlessness, dizziness, shaky hands or heart pounding 
      • Signs that they are very worried about the future

      The kid zone

      To make your kids more relaxed in their mental wellness space,  Dr. Wind has some suggestions. “Include cushions or comfortable chairs with their favorite books and soft toys. You can pick out cushions or blankets with them, so it becomes a space that they own as well,” he recommends. “You can teach them to meditate in their mental wellness space and introduce relaxation music to them, while placing an essential oil diffuser in the space to help them relax.”

      Talk to your children to find out what makes them most comfortable and how they would like to set up their space. Creative solutions such as a sheet tent or backyard playset fun zones are options that may encourage de-stressing and play.

      Bottom line

      Navigating the stresses of daily life in addition to the challenges presented by a pandemic is no easy feat. From seniors to children and everyone in between, COVID-19 has disrupted most aspects of normal life and ushered in a seemingly endless time period of social distancing and quarantine. That has had an enormous effect not only on our personal lives, but also blurring the line between personal and professional time.

      “Many people struggle to separate out the demands of work and home life as they continue to work from home,” Strom tells us. “For many, they struggle to set firm boundaries around their work schedule. This is also true of the struggle between working from home and having children doing schooling from home. Having a mental health sanctuary is incredibly important to maintain a sense of calm and balance.”

      Mental professionals, like the experts referenced here are, all doing their best to step in and help where needed. Many adults and children have experienced positive results from working with experienced medical professionals who can help them understand these new changes and how they are impacting the world around them.

      Regardless, a mental wellness space in your home is a relatively easy and affordable way to create a better environment for you or your loved ones. 

      After all, adds Strom, “Everyone can benefit from creating a space in their home that is their own.”

      Our exclusive featured experts

      NameTitle & qualificationsCompany
      Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D.Chief Clinical OfficerPh.D. Clinical Psychologist Former co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Advisory Committee for Employee AssistanceJourneyPure
      Eric E. Strom, LICSW, BCD
      Clinical Social WorkerChief Executive OfficerHost of Mental Health Solutions PodcastMental Health Solutions, LLC
      Eric PattersonLicensed Professional Counselor 15 years of experience treating mental health in children, adolescents, and adults Choosing Therapy 
      Jolene CaufieldSenior Advisor with a Master of Science in Professional Health Studies and Oriental MedicineSpecializes in healthcare, healthy living, and wellness including mental healthHealthy Howard
      Grant AldrichFounder and CEOSeasoned business professional with experience working with students, parents and familiesOnlineDegree.com