Just a few short months ago, telling someone that you were self-isolating might have conjured up thoughts of turning off the tech, switching off the mobile and enjoying a few days of ‘Me Time’. It sounds relaxing, enjoyable, something to look forward to. Of course, that was BC (Before Coronavirus), in the days when we had a choice about when to jump in the car for a drive, meet up with friends or just head to the local shopping centre for some retail therapy.
In truth, it is this loss of choice that most of us find so difficult to deal with. Even if we are fortunate enough to share a home with others, the lack of a clear end date to the current lockdown can make it easy to start feeling isolated and alone.
Amidst this year’s World Health Day focusing on ensuring nursing and midwifery workforces are strong enough to ensure everyone gets the healthcare they need, and the recent public demonstrations of appreciation for the NHS and other key workers, it’s worth remembering that some people are putting the welfare of others before their own, only to return to an isolated existence when the day is done.
Enforced isolation can affect people in different ways and, whilst there may not be a solution to fall back on for now, there are some things we can all do to protect our mental and emotional health.
Normalise feelings of distress
Feeling down, scared or simply frustrated are understandable responses to the situation we are all facing. Accepting these feelings as a rationale response can help to alleviate anxiety and reduce the risk of spiralling emotions driven by an unrealistic expectation that we can just carry on as normal. This is not normal for any of us and our emotions about how the current pandemic impacts our day to day lives are neither right nor wrong, they are simply the way that we feel.
Talk openly to others
There has been a huge surge in people using services such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime to make a virtual connection with their nearest and dearest. And, whilst it’s fun to host a virtual dinner party or play games together online, it’s equally important to talk – really talk. Being open about our feelings doesn’t just help us, it helps them too. We are all in this together and sharing our experiences reminds us that we are not alone, just separated. If you feel you can't talk to members of your family or friends, there is always someone to talk to at Samaritans or MIND.
Avoid unrealistic targets
In reality, no one knows how long the current lockdown will continue and so it is best not to become fixated on any particular date or event by which time freedom of movement will be restored.
Rather, simply accepting things are the way they are, for as long as they are, helps avoid the emotional rollercoaster of anticipation followed by frustration and distress.
Enjoy the sunshine
We may be on lockdown, but government advice still allows for up to an hour of exercise each day. Making full use of this provision during daylight hours, when the sun’s rays help the brain to release serotonin, can improve both mood and mental focus. And if you can’t go out, simply sitting by an open window and feeling the fresh air on your face can still give you a boost.
Remember, even if some people’s social posts might have you believe otherwise, this is a difficult situation for all of us and, if you are struggling with isolation, so is everyone else. In other words, you may be isolated, but you are not alone. We will all get through this together.
As the lockdown continues, one day can start to feel like another and our life can begin to lose direction and structure. Creating and sticking to a routine, with defined activities for each day, can give us a sense of purpose and stave off feelings of futility or boredom.
But remember, it’s not just about ticking off jobs you’ve been avoiding for months try to build in plenty of time for playing games, reading a book, doing a puzzle, watching the box-set you've had on your list for months or doing something creative can stimulate the brain and create a positive mindset.
Turn off the news
Constantly watching distressing news coverage, or scrolling through social media horror stories, can leave us physically and emotionally drained. Switching off from the current pandemic and focusing on more positive activities can give us a welcome and mentally refreshing break.
Physical exercise can play a big part in improving our mood, our ability to manage stress and our overall wellbeing.
The Mental Health Foundation have published an excellent guide to looking after your mental health using physical exercise and, whilst going to the gym or embarking on a 3 hour trek across the fields may be out of the question, there are plenty of things we can all do to keep fit at a social distance.
Sales of alcohol leapt by 22% in March and, whether it’s due to boredom or anxiety, it is all too easy to comfort eat and drink to make ourselves feel better – at least for a while.
On the other hand, maintaining a healthy diet, keeping properly hydrated and getting good quality sleep can help both our mind and body deal with the stresses of isolation.