8 Ways To Cope With Mental Health In Isolation
By Claire (The Millennial Londoner) Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This blog is purely for informational purposes compiled from personal experience and reputable sources. If you require any health advice please speak to a medical specialist. Stay Safe. Stay Indoors. Save Lives. These unprecedented times have turned the world upside down leaving A LOT of confusion, fear, stress, and depression. People are being urged to stay indoors to prevent this highly contagious and deadly disease from spreading further. In a time of uncertainty, the only thing we can be certain of is the way we take care of ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. Being confined to your home can wreak havoc on your mental health. So here are some ways you can boost your mental state. Go For A Walk/Exercise Eating Healthy Listen To Music Spend Quality Time With Friends And Family Planning What You Will Do After Lockdown Cleaning The House Mindfulness Journaling 1. Go For A Walk/Exercise This one is probably the best and most effective way to improve your mental health during the quarantine. Although different countries will have different protocols regarding lock-down, it would be inhumane to prevent people from getting daily exercise. So for most countries, you will be allowed to go outside briefly once a day to get air, exercise, or take your pet for a walk. Utilize this opportunity as it will produce serotonin also known as the "happy" chemical in your brain. If you are running low on serotonin you might start feeling fatigued, irritable, anxious, depressed, or crave sweets. You can challenge yourself to make every workout session more intense which will increase your heart rate and strengthen your muscles. A quick way you can do this is by bringing some dumbbells with you on your walk. Being able to get fresh air can also help clear your mind from the stresses of what's going on in the world right now. If you prefer doing workouts from home there are plenty of apps and Youtube videos you can follow along to. My personal favourite is Joe Wicks' workouts, he also has some amazing cookbooks on how to make healthy meals in 15 minutes (highly recommend). The beauty of doing home workouts is you don't need any gym fancy equipment to be able to get your daily workout done. It can be easy to lose motivation, feel low, and maybe even question the point of getting out of bed every day during the quarantine. Owning a pet that requires daily exercise will give you a routine whilst also giving them their daily exercise. If you have a dog use this time to not only benefit your health but theirs too. Although we are being confined to our homes, we must remember our pets are too so letting them get fresh air will improve their well being too. But this won't be enough to sustain a healthy mind so let's move on to the next tip. 2. Eating Healthy (Wait! this isn't as lame as it sounds) As much as eating healthy isn't pleasant for some of us it can be fun if you experiment with the food you like, recipes, and different ways of consuming them. Eating healthy isn't just about eating 5 fruit and vegetables a day, it's about staying hydrated, having daily vitamins to boost your immune system, and having a balanced diet. What Vitamins and Minerals Are Best To Improve Your Mental Health? Vitamin B Complex: This is the primary vitamin complex that has a profound effect on your neurotransmitters. Vitamin B1: Our bodies require this to convert glucose into fuel. Without this, our bodies will become very lethargic and our brain will run low on energy causing us to become more anxious, irritable, and depressed. Vitamin B5: We need this vitamin to prevent fatigue and depression. Vitamin B12: Arguably the most vital vitamin in the B-complex, vitamin B12 is crucial for maintaining healthy nerve cells and red blood cell levels. If you are B12 deficient it can lead to anemia and other health implications. This can cause symptoms such as mood swings, disorientation, depression, panic disorder, dizziness, and shortness of breath. What Foods Have Vitamin B In them? For the most part, we have to rely on meat, fish and leafy greens to get our daily intake. An alternative is to take Vitamin B supplements to get your recommended daily intake. This will be a great alternative to people who are vegan and/or vegetarian. Foods that are high in Vitamin B are; Salmon Liver (Beef, Pork, Chicken) Spinach Peas Fruit (fresh or dried) If like me you don't like eating healthy there are other ways to still get your daily dose of Vitamin B without forcing yourself to eat vegetables. You can mix the vegetables with the food you like such as: Having mashed potatoes and gravy with vegetables mixed in Making some healthy side dips Create snacks combining vegetables with your favourite treats Experiment with your favourite meals and mix some extra veg with it Make some smoothies. Drinking your vitamins and nutrients is a personal favourite of mine I like to make green smoothies to gain my daily dose of Vitamin B. You can experiment with recipes to see what you prefer and add sweeteners if you find them bitter. The beauty of drinking smoothies is you can put anything in it from frozen fruit, ice cubes, various fruits, and vegetables the combinations are endless. Not only is consuming a daily dose of vitamins beneficial to your mind but it's also beneficial to your body. Fueling your body will also strengthen your immune system and help your body fight against bacteria, viruses, and other illnesses. 3. Listen To Music Listening to music is a fantastic way to boost your spirits during the lockdown. The music we listen to can influence our view on life and everything around us. Isolation can make us feel a variety of emotions like claustrophobia, anxiousness, hopelessness, and depression. This is why unwinding with our favourite music is so important for our mental well-being! Studies show that listening to music releases dopamine (also known as the happy chemical) and can reduce cortisol levels in your brain. It can also improve productivity so if you're working from home you might find it more beneficial to listen to music. I find listening to my favourite songs distracts me from my anxious thoughts, allowing the physical symptoms to subside along with it. I highly recommend listening to your favourite songs next time you're overthinking too much or feeling overwhelmed, it can really boost your mood. Apple and Spotify have plenty of feel-good playlists you can listen to if you want some inspiration to add to your library. But like the previous steps this won't help you cope in isolation on its own so let's move on to the next tip. 4. Spend Quality Time With Friends And Family (Virtually) As humans we are social by nature, so we should use this time in isolation to catch up with that friend you forgot to reply to, that family member who you promised to catch up with or maybe getting to know your neighbours more. However with social distancing in place it is so important to NOT break the law to speak to your loved ones. Now more than ever we need to socialize with one another. With the evolution of technology there is no excuse in spending more time connecting with our friends and family whilst practicing social distancing. Tired Of Typing? Luckily we live in a time where we can virtually talk to people through our handheld devices almost everywhere on the planet. Apple Facetime, HouseParty, Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are some of the best platforms to virtually hangout with your loved ones. Check-in on people who might be alone, vulnerable or struggling with their mental health. We all need someone sometimes just to listen to us and remind us that we're not alone. It doesn't have to be a formal conversation that feels awkward, intense or that you are pressurizing that person to talk about their feelings. Let it flow naturally and make it feel completely natural because that's the goal here, we need to feel like we can trust the people we open up to without feeling judged. It's hard to accept when you're not okay, but it's EVEN harder to tell people that you're struggling to keep your head above water. Whilst we are all stuck indoors we might start feeling out of touch with reality and start feeling lonely. It is so important to stay connected to people even if it is digitally, it will improve your mental health immensely. 5. Planning What You Will Do After Lockdown If like me you're feeling a little defeated knowing all your plans for the foreseeable future have been cancelled, you'll be wondering what to do with yourself whilst waiting for the lock-down to be lifted. One thing that I find always makes me happy and optimistic for the future is writing down things I want to do or achieve e.g I want to go on holiday to America. Planning things to look forward to not only kills time and distracts you from what's going on in the world right now but it motivates you to keep pushing through the hard times. Knowing you'll have a reward at the end of this will boost your morale and give you something to look forward to. If you can't think of anything or want some inspiration getting started, try making a mind map of goals you'd like to achieve, jobs around the house that need doing or activities you'd like to experience. Think of things you might like to do once lock-down is lifted such as; Going to the theme park Going to the cinema Going to a music festival Going on holiday Buying a pet Visiting family and friends Going shopping Going swimming Examples of goals you'd like to achieve could be; Learning a new language Paying off any credit cards or bills Redecorate the house Make career plans Start saving and becoming more frugal with your money Trying new coping mechanisms to maintain a healthy mind Being on time to work/school every day Making every day as productive as possible The key to writing down plans is making them as detailed as possible. If you want to go on holiday don't just write down a location, look at different accommodations, means of transport and compare prices like you would if you were booking a holiday. Hopefully, you will start feeling much more optimistic about the future and excited for the lock-down to be lifted. Although lock-down won't end abruptly and it may take up to a year till we go back to normality, we can still make plans even if it's just to get us through these unprecedented times. The main objective here is to distract ourselves from anxiety, depression, and the general doom and gloom going on in the world right now. Not only will it be rewarding planning it but you will hopefully feel a sense of accomplishment having waited so long to finally do those activities. 6. Cleaning The House Similarly to the previous point, we should distract ourselves and do things that keep us occupied for a long period of time. Especially with anxiety and depression, you will find your mood improves ever so slightly once you re-direct your thoughts from the things that make you anxious or depressed. This is where cleaning comes in, we all hate doing chores and probably find it quite monotonous, however, whilst we're all stuck indoors this is the perfect time to get on top of the washing up, laundry, gardening, and decluttering. Whilst some recycling centers will be closed we can still prepare any unwanted goods to go once quarantine is over. Luckily for us, we have incredible key workers that are working round the clock to provide us with everyday items so we don't have to go out and buy bin bags, cleaning products, and storage containers. Use this time to find items that could go to charity, be sold, or recycled. For items that are too good to go to waste why not try: Freecycle (a non-profit site that allows people to give away items for free) Cash For Clothes (get paid 50p per kilo of clothes) Donating To Charity As the saying goes "one mans trash is another man's treasure" which couldn't fit more perfectly in dire times like this where people may be struggling financially and looking for cheap bargains. I find that my anxiety gets worse when I am not doing anything and end up thinking myself into a panic attack which is why keeping busy is imperative to me. Being physically busy is perfect because you are physically exerting energy whilst being occupied mentally by thinking of the task at hand. After a while of being inactive, you might experience insomnia because your body isn't exerting much energy throughout the day so you won't feel tired when it comes to falling asleep. Exerting energy, eating kiwi's (before bed), and reducing screen time before you sleep are a few ways to help revert insomnia. 7. Mindfulness Being mindful simply means being aware of your mind and body in the present moment. Life can be chaotic sometimes and we can feel quite burned out after a while. By practicing mindfulness we can press the pause button on life and just take a moment to be present without thinking about work, replying to texts, completing chores, etc. When is the last time you stopped and sat in silence? I didn't take it seriously when I first heard about mindfulness until I practised it a few times. Since then I take time out when I feel overwhelmed or burnt out to reset my mind and realize that life doesn't have to be this stressful. That I am in control of my life no matter what is going on in the world I can revert myself back to a calm state of mind. How Do We Practice Mindfulness? There are many ways we can practice mindfulness, here are a few of the most popular methods: Meditation Grounding Techniques Walking Mindfulness Meditation I struggle to meditate as I usually end up getting bored easily however if you have never tried it before I highly recommend you giving it a try. You can find a plethora of sites, videos, and apps that give guided meditations, here are some to help you get started: Headspace Calm Simple Habit InsightTimer These are only a few sites to practise mindfulness but they are a good place to start. You can alter them and see what works best for you. The best part is that they are free to use unless you'd like to pay for premium meditations and music. Grounding Techniques This is one of my favourite techniques because it is simple, quick, effective, and works well with anxiety and panic disorder. The beauty of the grounding technique is that it allows you to divert your attention to your surroundings allowing your anxiety to dissipate. The 5 Step Grounding Technique Tip: Make sure you are comfortable and preferably sitting down before trying this method 5 Things You Can See Find a nice place to sit down so you can observe your surroundings. Look around and spot 5 things you can see. 4 Things You Can Feel Whilst sitting still, look around you and find four things that you can touch. 3 Things You Can Hear Listen around you and identify three different things you can hear. 2 Things You Can Smell This one might be a little tricky if you are in a rural area but try and find two distinguishing smells. 1 Thing You Can Taste This one can tie in with things you smell, can you taste something? like fresh air or maybe you were eating something and can still taste it. The point of doing this exercise is to distract you from your racing thoughts of impending doom. It can temporarily reduce stress and it allows you to acknowledge the present moment. The Breathing Technique Find a nice comfortable spot and take a seat. This technique also works well with panic disorder alongside mindfulness. The beauty of doing the breathing technique is you can breathe anywhere, discretely without drawing your attention to yourself. Very quick and easy to do, this will only take a few steps. To start this technique you must be seated comfortably with your back straight and feet touching the ground. Step 1: Close your eyes and inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds. Step 2: Hold your breath for a further 4 seconds. Step 3: As you exhale (for 4 seconds) imagine you have a balloon in your stomach and as you're releasing that breath push your stomach outwards like you're inflating a balloon. Repeat these steps until you feel calmer and more present. Walking Mindfulness Walking is another quick and easy way to practice mindfulness that can be done at any time you go for a walk. To practice mindful walking, you must go for a walk when you have some free time where you are not in a rush to get somewhere allowing you to delve into your thoughts. As you're walking you'll want to focus on your physical sensations and think of the following questions: How is your breathing? Is it fast? Is it slow? Do your feet feel light or heavy? What sounds can you hear? Can you hear cars passing you by? Do you hear birds tweeting or people talking? What scents can you smell? Can you smell freshly cut grass? The flowers blossoming? Maybe you live in a city and can smell petrol from passing cars or fresh bread from the bakery. All these types of questions should be going through your head whilst you're walking. We can get too caught up in our own lives to just exist and be aware of how our bodies feel. Anytime you find yourself getting distracted try and bring your attention back to your breathing, even tell yourself to inhale and exhale if it redirects your thoughts back to the present moment. 8. Journaling A classic way of coping with your thoughts is by writing them down in a diary. I'm not suggesting creating a masterpiece as Anne Frank did but I am sure you can agree isolation will make many of us feel trapped, depressed, anxious, etc so writing down what you're feeling will allow you to get those feelings off of your chest. It has been scientifically proven that jotting down your feelings can improve your mood and even help you release any pent up emotions. The beauty of doing this is you can analyze your thoughts and determine if there are any patterns or triggers that may be causing you any emotional distress. Not sure where to start? Here are some questions to help you get started: What are grateful for? Why are you most grateful for them? What did you do today? How did it make you feel? What did you eat for breakfast? Is this your favourite meal of the day? What are your favourite activities to do at home? How does it make you feel afterwards? What makes you feel anxious? What makes you feel depressed? What are your biggest fears in isolation and how do you manage them? Conclusion Whether you try all of these methods or just some of them, hopefully, you will notice a difference in your mental health during this isolation period. Through these unprecedented times, we can learn more about ourselves and our inner strength making us stronger than we were before COVID-19.