From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us. And you’re not alone in this.
If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.
Quarantine is a period of time where someone stays at home. It’s the next step in physical distancing to “flatten the curve,” or slow the rate of infection. Isolation – different from quarantine – is when someone who is waiting to be tested for COVID-19, waiting for their test results or has tested positive is secluded to prevent them from spreading the virus to others.
“No matter which situation you find yourself in, remember that taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally plays a big part in your overall health,” says Dr. Laura Maphis, a psychologist at Geisinger Medical Center.
It’s been shown that a period of just two weeks in quarantine can be linked with serious mental health issues, which can include:
Some of these may have long-lasting effects. “That’s why you should check in with yourself regularly,” says Dr. Maphis. “If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, make sure you continue your treatment and check-in with your doctor, letting them know if symptoms change or worsen.”
If your mental health worsens to the point you have thoughts that life isn’t worth living, please call 13 11 14 for Lifeline Australia.
It’s common and totally normal to feel afraid and stressed during a pandemic or outbreak. But taking time to step away from the noise and focus on yourself can help ease those feelings.
Make time for projects that make you happy. Spend time reading, writing, knitting, decluttering, painting, meditating or doing yoga — whatever you enjoy.
“If you like to cook, plan out your next few days of meals and cook healthy dishes for yourself and everyone in your house using what you have on hand. This will also challenge your creativity and help you fight boredom,” says Dr. Maphis. “But, if you’re sick, leave the cooking to someone else.”
Doing something with your hands can be a great release during a time like this. Just remember to practice good handwashing!
“If you’re stuck in your house, take time to move around a little,” says Dr. Maphis. There are plenty of free exercise videos you can do right at home and free trials to apps you can download to your phone.
“Ask your doctor first if you have any questions about your ability to exercise safely and consider low impact forms of exercises,” says Dr. Maphis.
Exercise of any kind helps boost and support the immune system. It’s also a great tool for managing anxiety and stress and will help you pass time throughout the day.
Mindfulness, which can be defined as present moment awareness, has been growing in popularity more and more each year, and now is a great time to try it out for yourself. Just five minutes of meditation each day can help you reset your mind and your perspective.
“Meditation and breathing exercises can help to slow your heart rate down and clear your mind. When practised regularly, it can buffer the effects of stress, which helps support your immune system,” says Dr. Maphis.
But you don’t have to be “mindful” in a meditative way if it doesn’t work for you. Taking a bath or reading a book – and staying off social media during these times – helps to clear your mind and relax.
Ways to be mindful include:
Taking breaks from the news and social media helps distance yourself, even a little, from what’s going on and avoid getting overwhelmed. When you’re spending time doing another activity, you’re automatically removing yourself from the barrage of news and social media that can be hard to avoid.
And, when you’re practising self-care, consider not posting it to your favourite social media channels to really embrace giving yourself a break from these outlets. It can actually feel empowering.
“Taking these steps to practise self-care will help a great deal to pass the time, and to feel like you’ve done something productive with it. Seeking reliable, up to date, and accurate information can help to avoid feeling overwhelmed by all of the information that’s out there,” says Dr. Maphis. “And by seeking reliable information from trusted sources, you’ll feel well-informed and less anxious.”
Remind yourself why you’re practising isolation or quarantine. It’s to keep not only ourselves safe but our older neighbours down the street, our parents and others we care about who may be extra vulnerable.
Thank yourself for doing such an honourable and selfless act, and keep your mind busy as much as possible.
No matter what you do to practice self-care, remember to avoid touching your face – especially your mouth, nose and eyes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of our elbow when coughing or sneezing to stop the spread of viruses, like COVID-19, that are spread through droplets.
Keep an eye out for any symptoms in yourself and those around you. If you or someone you care for is feeling sick, experiencing fever, having difficulty breathing, showing signs of respiratory illness or symptoms of coronavirus, call your primary care doctor.