Most of us have been in lockdown for a few weeks now and may be starting to adjust to our new lifestyles. However, some are still struggling, and with the Easter Holidays looming, the full implications of having to stay home may just be starting to kick in. As if it wasn’t terrifying enough having to come to terms with a global epidemic, there are additional pressures associated with self-isolation that can weigh on our mental health. However, we need to remember that these feelings are normal, and there are things we can do to take control of quarantine emotions.
Many of us have found ourselves in a situation where we have very little to do for what may be a prolonged period of time. If this applies to you, think of all the things you’ve always said you wanted to do if only you weren’t so busy. See this situation as having given you the gift of time!
- Do all the jobs you’ve always said you don’t have time to do:
It’s an excellent time to do some DIY, work on the garden, tidy out your wardrobe – basically, any organising, sorting or renewing that you have been putting off. Tasks such as these are particularly beneficial because they occupy our minds and provide a sense of achievement at a time when we may be feeling a little useless or powerless.
- Work on self-improvement:
Think of what you would like your life to be like in an ideal world, either personally or professionally. Look to strengthen existing skills, learn new ones, or branch out. Planning or developing skills for future can really help us take back some control into our lives. Many universities are currently offering free on-line courses (edX, Coursera) and there are a number of free language learning apps (Babbel, DuoLingo). Some of these even have interactive options, providing an excellent opportunity to meet new people. If you have a creative streak, use this time to paint, draw, or write.
It is entirely natural to feel anxious, especially when facing an unknown or potentially threatening situation. The problem is that when anxiety is prolonged, it can become damaging to both our mental and physical health. This is why it is important for us to try to reduce anxiety as much as possible, and develop coping mechanisms to turn to should we start to feel overwhelmed.
- Switch off the news and social media:
Important messages from the government will get to us, otherwise, the media are generally recycling the same stories, which can lead us to get a skewed version of reality. Social media is also a vector for fake news and negativity. Try to avoid news of the virus, and focus on the here and now of your own life. That said, make sure not to cut yourself off from the good aspects of the outside world! Leave your Facebook open on your messenger page, rather than your news feed, so rather seeing news notifications, you’ll see messages from your friends pop up.
This can be easier said than done in times of stress, but sleep deprivation can have a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. Try to create a consistent bedtime routine. Avoid screens for an hour before bed as blue light can affect our circadian rhymes. If you have too much buzzing through your mind, write it down. Writing thoughts down can make them more concrete and easy to manage, while providing a way of ‘removing’ them from your mind until you’re in a position to address them. In the hour before want to sleep, create a relaxing routine – have a bath, do some relaxation exercises or read a book and then go to bed, even if you don’t feel tired. Your brain will start to associate this routine with sleep.
- Practice mental self-care.
Set aside enough time every day to look after your psychological health. Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can be useful to reduce anxiety. There are a number of online support resources available to help with mental health (both in relation to every day life, and dealing with the virus). These offer practical advice for self-help, but also contact details for online support groups and advice from professionals if necessary.
Self-isolation can turn all aspects of our normal every day lives into stressors. The best advice in this situation is to simply do what you can. There are some small tasks that can help, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t do it all.
For those of you who are working from home, try to keep a routine as close to work hours as possible – give or take. You may benefit from taking an extended lunchtime to exercise or spend time with the kids, but try not to vary too much from your normal hours. Try to keep a routine for the kids too. If they are of school age, try to keep their schedule similar to school times. If they have school work, keep working times short, and intersperse them with lots of breaks – ideally outside, or doing something active.
- Keep work-spaces separate:
If possible, keep your work-space away from your normal relaxation rooms so you can separate work and family life. Try as much as possible to keep it distraction (child, pet and partner) free, but make sure to take plenty of breaks where you can spend some time with them. Avoid working over your set hours, as this can eat into precious family and relaxation time.
- Don’t be hard on yourself:
A number of people are struggling with the demands and expectations associated with working remotely, especially in relation to learning and becoming comfortable with new technology. Make sure to ask for additional support from your employers if you feel you need it.
If you can’t get the kids to do their school work, or they don’t have any, don’t force them. Remember that not all education is formal. Walks, playtime, and baking can all involve language, maths, and science skills. There is also a wide array of resources online, for children of all ages.
In times of uncertainty and stress such as these, it can be tricky to stop our minds from racing. Juggling immediate and future concerns can easily spiral out of control, so in this case, we need to psychologically remove ourselves from the tailspin.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature is good for all aspects of our mental health. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, try to spend as much time as possible in it. If you are still working from home, if you can, do it outside, and if not, get into the fresh air when you take breaks. Try to pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells around you as a grounding tool.
If you have the opportunity, try to find a way to nurture nature – looking after either plants or garden wildlife. This in itself is beneficial, providing a project with medium term goals, but can also be used as a useful educational tool for children (wildlife charities such as The Wildlife Trust and RSPB have some excellent resources). You can also think about growing some fruit or veg which will keep you going throughout summer, helping reduce those supermarket trips!
Again, if safe to do so, try to get out for walks, jogs, or cycles. A combination of being outside, and the exercise, will help to remove you physically and psychologically from your immediate situation. The endorphins will give you a boost, and help you feel refreshed. Even if you aren’t able to get outside, try to do some form of exercise every day. Exercise is a very personal thing, so find a kind that suits you. There are any number of videos online ranging from low-impact (stretching, senior classes) to high-impact (aerobics, kickboxing), but a number of gyms, personal trainers, and health instructors are providing additional resources at this time. Be careful not to overdo it, and build up slowly – remember that any exercise is better than none!
One of the biggest difficulties for many is the lack of social contact with others. Some are missing being able to see close family, and some are just missing everyday chit-chat as they go about their lives. Regardless, isolation is something that in itself, can be detrimental to mental and physical health. As a result, it is crucial for us to find ways to keep connected with others from a distance.
While physical contact could be considered a basic human need, in the absence of this, any form of communication is a close second. If you are feeling scared, upset or lonely, reach out. Interaction with others can reduce cortisol and release endorphins, reducing stress and boosting happy chemicals. We are lucky that we live in a time where it is easy to stay connected with others from a distance, but remember that some people are not able to keep in touch remotely.
Take some time to call elderly friends and relatives for a chat and to see if they need any help. If it’s safe to do so, you can even leave a note or a bunch of flowers for them. Have a look to see if there are any community schemes to help elderly neighbours, or consider starting one. There are also some not-for-profit organisations working in the community to help vulnerable groups such as the homeless (the NCVO offer advice about who to contact). Not only will you be helping those who need it, but you will also indirectly be helping yourself, with research showing that our own mental health benefits from helping others.
Try to have online meet ups with your friends. If you have the tech expertise, organise a coffee catch-up, evening drinks or a movie session with a group of friends over zoom or Facetime. Some people have been inventive with their technological skills creating pub quizzes and karaoke sessions. Even if some of your friends don’t have the necessary technology, you can call them and put them on loudspeaker. Try to organise regular get-togethers and ‘events’ so that you have something to look forward to.
- Don’t be hard on yourself: we are all trying our best in an exceptional situation
- It’s ok to be scared/upset/angry: it is normal to feel this way. Don’t bottle it up – vent to your friends, it’s likely they feel the same, and you’ll feel better for speaking about it
- Don’t feel you have to have a ‘perfect’ isolation: if you don’t find time to exercise, if you can’t make your routine stick, if the kids won’t do their school work, don’t worry.
- Do what you can, things will settle down and a routine will develop
- If you have something that works for you, stick with it – don’t worry about what everyone else is doing!
- Look after each other – we will get through it more easily if we help each other (from a distance!)
- If you feel you can’t cope, seek help immediately. Call Samaritans for free on 116 123