How to stay sane during isolation

Peninsula experts provide tips for weathering COVID-19 precautions

Stick to a routine. Talk often with friends and family over video chat. Get outside, but make sure you stay 6 feet away from other people.

Just don’t drink too much booze.

With some thought and perseverance, North Olympic Peninsula residents can weather the stay-at-home isolation enveloping the United States and combat the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health professionals in Clallam and Jefferson counties said.

Wendy Sisk, executive director of Peninsula Behavioral Health in Port Angeles, and Jim Novelli, executive director of Discovery Behavioral HealthCare in Port Townsend, said Thursday and Friday they have yet to see an increase in counseling requests or crisis-line calls during the past three weeks.

As Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 stay-home order grinds on, Novelli and Sisk said a rush on mental health services may occur once people in non-essential occupations start heading back to work and restaurants and other businesses reopen.

That will happen some time after May 4, when the order that is set to expire could be extended by Inslee for a second time.

“We’re actually seeing a decrease in the number of new people who are seeking services now,” Sisk said.

Nor has there been an increase in calls to the regional crisis hotline at 1-888-910-0416, Sisk and Novelli said.

Sisk recalled a recent snowstorm when residents had to hunker down for a week without anywhere to go.

“We actually saw a surge once things started to get back to normal,” she said.

“I would not be surprised if we see that this time as well.”

Sisk said the trend of referrals to the clinic usually drop in the spring and spike in June and July.

“I also have concerns that people do not realize we are here and we are open,” she added.

Novelli, a Port Angeles resident, said his staff is making extended use of telephone conferencing and the TeleHealth video platform to stay in touch with clients.

“We’re pretty much doing that 100 percent of the time with most of our clients,” he said.

Staff also is delivering medications and sometimes food directly to patients, providing another way of maintaining contact, albeit still at a distance.

“We’re providing services as usual, just in a different format,” Novelli said, adding that perhaps four to six people a day are seeking services from a staff that’s working on a rotating schedule.

After the stay-home order ends, “we’ll probably see a bunch of people coming out and saying, ‘I need help now,’” he added.

In addition, Novelli wonders if some small businesses on the Peninsula will be able to reopen when the time comes.

“There’s no guarantee.

“People may find out they have no job.

“There’s a lot of stress potential that way, too.”

Novelli and Sisk said people isolating at home should abide by a routine at home just as they would at work: set regular times for reading, watching TV or movies, taking walks or talking with family and friends.

That goes for people who live with partners or alone, they added.

“People often struggle when they don’t have structure, have a plan for the day,” Sisk said.

For those with partners who are not usually home together as much as they are now, “try to have patience and kindness for one another, for those you’re sharing space with,” Sisk advised.

When stress does boil up, “take a break if you can,” she added.

“Go outside for a walk, give yourself time to settle down, reach out to support groups, friends or family.

“Everyone has some level of underlying stress related to the pandemic, and everyone manages stress differently.

“Oftentimes, people just need someone to talk to about how they are feeling.”

Novelli urged residents to check in with friends or family on a regular basis through FaceTime or other real-time video platforms to stay socially connected.

“Technically, you can go outside, just stay away from crowds,” he said.

But Novelli was disturbed by recent news reports that sales of liquor nationwide have grown during the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants in Washington state are closed under the stay-home order.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that alcohol purchases grew 22 percent for the week ending March 28 compared with the same period last year, according to the research firm Nielsen.

Online alcohol sales also grew, according to the report.

People should not sit at home and drink as an outlet to get through the stress, or veer off from a disciplined, healthy diet, Novelli cautioned.

“Don’t get away from the things that make you feel good about yourself,” he said.

Novelli urged people to resist attending any kind of social gathering, a tough goal at a time when Passover and Easter fall during the same week.

Novelli, 66, waffled over inviting his daughter, a nurse at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, for Easter dinner, before deciding against it.

He reminded her he is in a high-risk age group for catching the highly contagious respiratory virus.

“‘You could be asymptomatic, I can’t risk you giving it to me, and I give it to my workplace,’” Novelli told her.

“My emotions said one thing, my brain said another.”

His brain won.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at

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