Coronavirus has taken our global community by storm. As a new, little-understood viral condition, several factors have made it extremely difficult to contain. Primarily, the veracity with which COVID-19 can transmit from person to person. Coronavirus is an airborne disease that can spread when people cough, sneeze, or talk, spewing nasal and throat secretions into the air. Viruses are minuscule particles, tens of millions of them can fit on to the head of a pin, so they can hang in the air or land on other people or surfaces. Another factor that has made the pandemic difficult to manage is the widely varying effects it can have from person to person once infected. Thousands of people have contracted the virus but have remained asymptomatic, which sadly has resulted in people unwittingly spreading the virus to others, for whom it can have much more devastating consequences. Due to these factors, the UK government has produced several significant measures to minimise the spread including the initiative of self-isolation. However, many studies have shown that there is robust evidence to suggest that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk of developing mental health conditions. So, what are some key factors you can implement for managing mental health during this time of isolation?
Managing mental health
One of the most effective methods of managing mental health is to avoid the plethora of social media, media, and conspiracy theories which we are being constantly bombarded by on a daily basis. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram use algorithms as a way of sorting posts that are most relevant to the individual user. They prioritise content a user sees in their feed based on the likelihood they will actually want to see it. What that means in practical terms is that if you click on posts full of sensationalised unvetted information about Coronavirus or any other negative topic then those are the sort of posts that will present themselves to you, hour by hour. These posts are designed to incite a response, but continued viewing can lead to anxiety and the reinforcement of negative beliefs. Mainstream press and media are also guilty of the amplification and manipulation of people’s emotional responses to this crisis, with attention-grabbing headlines such as:
“Coronavirus could kill more in Britain than in any other country in Europe, leading expert warns” – The Sun
“Coronavirus may be TWICE as infectious as thought” – The Daily Mail
It is very easy to skip over the words ‘could’ or ‘may’ in those fear-mongering headlines and to buy into the collective fear which they are trying to convey in order to sell more copies. Even the BBC and ITV, usually considered trustworthy sources of information, have been guilty of falling into the exploitative journalism trap. So, whilst it is impossible to avoid news regarding COVID-19, and we are not suggesting burying your head in the sand is the way forward either, be very cautious that the news or sites that you look at are reputable, registered sites that have actual facts rather than promoting fear and anxiety for their own profit.
Although you may be at home the majority of the time, except for essential grocery trips, it is important to build a sustainable routine. It is vital to avoid the trap of laying in bed all morning then hitting NetFlix until the wee hours. Firstly, the prolonged impact of disturbing our bodies’ circadian rhythms that promote the correct gene expression for day and night can have negative health repercussions, emotionally and physically. Secondly, having some structure and routine in the day will aid managing mental health. It can help us to cope with change, form healthy habits, and reduce our stress levels. Whether you are still able to work from home or not, there are various things you can implement into the daily routine that will promote your mental and overall health.
Mental health during isolation
Your daily routine should definitely include communication, as it is a significant strategy to manage mental health during isolation. At times, it is difficult not to reflect on the individual impact this lockdown is having, whether it is health concerns or financial worries. It can be hard to remember that we are all in this together. One way to rectify the isolation is to use your technology to keep in touch; WhatsApp groups, Skype video calls, Facetime, Zoom conference calling are a few of many ways to stay connected and prevent loneliness. Companionship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. We need to talk to our friends and family and, in turn, be available when they need to talk to us. Our friends can help us to remain grounded and can help us to keep things in perspective. It is worth putting effort into maintaining our friendships and family relationships for our own health and from a more altruistic standpoint.
Although public gyms and swimming pools are closed to prevent further transmission, maintaining regular daily exercise and building it into your routine is vital to staying fit and healthy. Daily exercise releases the feelgood hormones that flood our bodies whereupon we are imbued with enthusiasm and positivity, in direct contrast to sitting on the sofa with a grab bag of Wotsits and a box set. The positive effects of exercise on mental health are widely verified and although your former method may not be available, there are a plethora of exercise videos on YouTube and other sites that will suit your tastes, whether you are into bodybuilding or yoga. If you are lucky enough to be in lockdown with your partner and children then use your exercise time to take some space for yourself; as much as you love and adore your offspring, the thousands of sentences you will inevitably be bombarded by beginning with ‘dadddddyyyyy’ will eventually fray even the strongest of nerves.
Mindfulness into your daily routine
Besides keeping channels of communication open and exercising, you could try employing mindfulness into your daily routine. If like many of us you struggle to switch off the mental chatter, there are many helpful guided mindfulness sessions to be found on the internet. Eating healthy foods with plenty of antioxidants can boost immune health as well as promote mental health so try and make some room in your fridge for lots of fruits and vegetables. Maybe dust off the cookbook you had for Christmas in 2011 and extend your culinary skills. Finally, a great way to fill your day is to reach out and help others, whether you become an NHS volunteer, pick up shopping for those who are more vulnerable, or just spend ten minutes chatting to an elderly neighbour from the end of the driveway. There is strong evidence to suggest that when you help others, it can promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness. Helping others can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active. The knock-on effect of this is that it can improve your self-esteem. Aiding others, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can help to put things into perspective and make you feel more positive.
By introducing and maintaining a daily routine and a consistent practice of daily interventions, you can actively manage your mental health during this isolation period. Your emotional wellbeing is like a piggy bank; prolonged exposure to sensationalised news spawned by the media will have an injurious effect on your psychological health thus depleting that bank. Those who have a consistent practice and routinely try to boost their mental health will have a larger account in which they will regularly deposit those healthy returns.