In times of global uncertainty, like the current events surrounding Coronavirus (COVID-19), it can be an overwhelming experience that as a result affects our mental health. While we may find ourselves self-quarantined to our homes to help curve the infection rates, it is important that we are mindful of how to best support and manage our mental well-being during self-isolation.
The government is now advising school students to avoid all but essential social contact. This will mean that more of us will be spending a lot of time at home and many of our regular social activities will no longer be available to us. With the coronavirus outbreak forcing millions of people, both young and old to self-isolate during these uncertain times. The lack of knowledge as to how long these measures will be put in place can really throw people off, as just days earlier, everyday life was being carried out with not a care in the world and now each day is a bit of a question mark.
With the restrictions that come with being quarantined, people can begin to feel anxious & claustrophobic about their own lives. Add to that, the fear and panic that is often promoted through news and social outlets and it can all begin to feel a bit much. It is times like these that we need to be proactive in our thinking, trying to view this season as a different period of time in your life, and not necessarily a bad one, even if you didn’t choose to be a part of these circumstances.
So lets take a look at some practical steps you can take while in self-isolation to make sure that your mental well-being is maintained along the way.
Practical steps to maintain mental balance
One of the underlying factors about Gen Z, is that they’re wired to look for balance and order in all walks of their life. Naturally then, a lot of high schoolers will already be knowledgeable of the profound affect a lot of these following steps can have on your overall mental outlook on life, but for those that feel a little lost in these times, let’s start simple.
1. Plan your day
Being told you’re going to be confined to your home can either sound exciting or terrifying at first glance, but one thing is for sure. If you do not plan your days, very quickly you will begin to feel aimless & bored, you will begin to feel trapped, you will begin to experience symptoms of anxiety & depression. I do not say this to induce fear, as we are all adjusting to a new, rather strange, way of life at the same time, but if you are not purposeful with your time then your house will quickly begin to feel like a prison.
As tempting as it might be to stay in pyjamas all day, regular routines are essential for our identity, self-confidence and purpose. Try to start your day at roughly the same time you usually would if you were to head to school and aim to set aside time each day for movement, relaxation, connection and reflection.
2. Move more every day
For a lot of young people out there, the revelation of physical activity has already been realised, but the space in which they are confined does not inspire physical activity.
Just to remind you, being active helps reduce stress, increases energy levels, helps us sleep better, increases the release of positive endorphins and serotonin in our bodies and so on, it truly is one of the strongest forms of self-medication for most mental health dilemmas.
The best thing you can do is get creative and explore different ways in which you can add physical movement and activity to your new daily routine. Without hindering yourself or others, look for ways that you can get outdoors for periods of time but even at home, there will be lots of ways to exercise and keep your body moving if you put your mind to it.
3. Try relaxation techniques
With all the external negativity, fear-mongering reports and panic-induced actions of others, this season of time requires that you internally counteract these intrusive and potentially harmful sources on your mental well-being.
Engaging in simple breathing and meditation exercises can help you take a step back from all the messiness that may be before you in order to gain a more balanced perspective and outlook on your circumstances. Relaxing and focusing on the present with a more reasonable lens can help improve your mental health and lighten negative feelings. Progressive muscle relaxation, walking, music, breathing techniques, and stretching are just a handful of ways that you can regain control of your thoughts and gain a more positive outlook on your life.
4. Connect with others
Staying at home can feel lonely, even with family about. Find creative ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and others to help you (and them) feel more connected and supported.
The natural thought process is to jump on social media, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it requires moderation, as over-consumption of social media can begin to have negative effects on an individual. This is proven to be the case even more so for isolated individuals. Perhaps exploring alternative ways of connecting can help keep things exciting for you and the others you wish to communicate with.
Reaching others by post can be a really fun way to brighten someone else’s day and in-time maybe even your own. Writing letters can be quite therapeutic, not to mention exciting for the others involved to receive a handwritten letter. Come on now, how many of us write letters in the days of instant everything? View this time in quarantine as an opportunity to do something different.
Phone calls are a great way to truly hear how others are doing in this time and for you to share. A lot can be lost over text, so it’s always good to hear a friend or loved one’s voice and truly express what’s on your mind during this new and unknown time. Better yet, Video-chat allows for you to see those you wish to communicate with, this is a stronger form of communication as a large percentage of communication is non-verbal.
Don’t feel any pressure to pour your heart out, just maintaining contact can be enough to put yourself in better spirits. This encounters could be anything, from sharing a cup of tea over video, playing an online game together, or simply sending a supportive text-message.
5. Take time to reflect and practice self-compassion
Make time every day to reflect on what went well. It's important to recognise your successes and the things you are grateful for, no matter how small. Consider keeping a gratitude journal each day where you could write two or three of these things every night before you go to bed.
Mindfulness techniques may also help you focus on the present rather than dwelling on unhelpful thoughts (though they may not be helpful for those experiencing more severe depression).
6. Improve your sleeping habits
Feelings of uncertainty and changes to daily life may mean you have more difficulty sleeping not to mention to expectations and responsibilities of your former routine now being removed, it’s quite easy to begin an irregular sleep-cycle just because you can. Do not fall into this trap!
There is a lot you can do to improve your sleep. Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even at the weekend if you can, and try to get some natural sunlight (by opening your curtains and windows) where possible. This helps to regulate your body clock which can help you sleep better.
Wind down before bed by avoiding using your phone, tablet, computer or TV for an hour before bedtime. This cuts off the blue light exposure that can trick your brain into thinking you’re in a different portion of the day.
7. Talk to professionals
The unexpected change in routine, along with increasing cases of anxiety due to mismanaged isolation is leading to a boom in use of mental health apps and teletherapy. Apps like Headspace, Sanvello or teletherapy platforms like Talkspace, TEENCOUNSELING and Betterhelp have seen spikes in use during this pandemic.
People are looking at ways in which they can “weather the storm” that surrounds them. In times when things feel out of your control, having the ability to seek professional help that can assist in bringing order in your mental health is something to be celebrated and sort after.
8. Try to avoid speculation and fake news about the outbreak
There is extensive news coverage about the outbreak. If you find that the news is causing you huge stress, it’s important to find a balance. It’s best that you don’t avoid all news and that you keep informing and educating yourself, but limit your news intake if it is bothering you.
Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality information about the virus can help you feel more in control.
You can get up-to-date information and advice on the virus from official government websites.
Get the latest news and hygiene advice from sources that you truly trust and if you find information come your way that you’re unsure about, be sure to conduct adequate research to confirm whether or not an article has remained factual or has sensationalised details.
Create a new daily routine that prioritises looking after yourself. You could try reading more or watching movies, having an exercise routine, trying new relaxation techniques, or finding new knowledge on the internet. Try and rest and view this as a new if unusual experience, that might have its benefits.
Quick takeaways to support your mental health during periods of self-isolation:
- Remind yourself that this is a temporary period of isolation to slow the spread of the virus.
- Remember that your effort is helping others in the community avoid contracting the virus.
- Stay connected with friends, family and colleagues via email, social media, video conferencing or telephone.
- Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
- Keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy foods.
- Try to maintain physical activity.
- Establish routines as best possible and try to view this period as a new experience that can bring health benefits.
- Avoid news and social media if you find it distressing.
Remember, it is OK to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed as we read news about the outbreak, especially if you have experienced trauma or a mental health problem in the past, or if you have a long-term physical health condition that makes you more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus.