Human beings are social animals and isolation for extended periods of time can naturally cause us to feel anxious or low. If we have an existing mental health issue, we may also find that our symptoms become worse during periods of disconnection from the outside world. Here are some tips on things that you can do to stay as mentally well as possible should you need to self-isolate due to COVID-19 at any point in the future.
What is self-isolation?
This means that you’re staying at home, avoiding public places and large gatherings of people, and are staying at least two metres (three steps away) from other people even if you’re living in the same house. It’s also advised that you sleep alone if possible and avoid close contact with anyone coming to your home including delivery people, friends, family, and neighbours.
You do not need to inform the NHS that you are self-isolating, although it is advised that you contact NHS 111 online if your symptoms worsen. Do not go to your GP if you’re feeling unwell. If you are having a medical emergency (such as feeling like you cannot breathe) dial 999.
Caring for yourself and others while self-isolating
The World Health Organisation has highlighted that during this time of uncertainty, anyone’s mental health can suffer and they have published a handy guide to self-care which you might find helpful. Here are some additional tips to support you.
Avoid the internet, social media and newspapers
Avoid the internet, social media and newspapers if these are triggers for you and make you feel anxious. There is a lot of misinformation in the public domain concerning the virus and it’s important to look at information from trusted resources only (not just someone’s personal opinion). The following offer unbiased, up-to-the-minute information:
Although the situation with COVID-19 is changing day by day, and what you hear today might not be the case tomorrow, don’t become obsessed with updates. Spend a certain amount of time on gaining an understanding of what you should do when and then go and do something else.
- Even if you’re not able to get outside, do your best to stay physically active – it keeps you fit while boosting your mood and promoting good sleep. Try some simple stretching exercises throughout the day, go for a walk on your own (staying at least two metres away from other people), climb the stairs at home, or do a set number of push-ups or stretching exercises. You’ll also find exercises that are simple to do at home, and designed for all fitness levels at the NHS Fitness Studio.
- Cut back on, or avoid alcohol. It can be tempting to have a glass of something when you’re bored or frustrated, but alcohol is a depressant and will only make you feel low when the high wears off. Alcohol also disrupts your sleep – the very thing that can help you to maintain good immunity.
- Eat as healthily as possible. At a time when some foods seem to be in short supply, it can be easy to rely on foods that aren’t good for you. But taking into account that you may be less active when self-isolating, you might find that you start to gain unwanted weight. Be mindful of what you’re eating and try and get your five-a-day during this time.
- Good quality sleep is one of the bedrocks of wellbeing. Not only does it help us emotionally and mentally, but it’s also key in helping us to keep our immune system in good condition.
- Reduce your caffeine and sugar intake – these two substances can cause you to feel anxious at a time when this is the last thing you need.
- Whilst it’s advised that you stay at least two metres away from other people when self-isolating, it’s imperative that you avoid people who are considered ‘high risk’ such as the elderly or someone who has an existing physical health condition. But out of sight should not be out of mind. A daily check-in by phone, online, email or social media can ease the distress associated with isolation.
- Some people will also welcome face-to-face communication via WhatsApp, FaceTime, and other tools, so consider these where possible.
- If you have children, talk to them in honest terms about the virus but be sure to allay their fears. You will find excellent guidance here on how to support children and young people who might be keeping their worries to themselves.
- Spend time on a hobby you rarely have time to do in usual circumstances or learn something new. Hobbies boost confidence, reduce boredom and alleviate stress.
- Choose positive television programmes and films over those that will cause you to feel negative, hopeless or worried. It’s easier said than done, so make a conscious effort to choose wisely and if you find you’re feeling overwhelmed while watching something, turn it off.
- Catch up on reading but pay attention to your choice of material. Light fiction can help you to relax and go to another place for a few hours.
- Do a spring clean – there’s nothing like a clear out to help you feel more in control of your life.