Self isolation. Solitary confinement. Time alone. However you choose to phrase it, the prospect of being shut off from the rest of the world is alarming. And as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, lockdown is now the new normal – not just for the UK – but for many people around the world. The latest national lockdown in Britain, which could last until Easter, prohibits household mixing and closes non-essential shops, schools and gyms.
While social isolation preserves our physical health, the loneliness it brings could present a challenge for our mental wellbeing. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, approximately nine million people in the UK have said that they often feel lonely, with many struggling to make lasting, social connections with others. In a study undertaken by the British Red Cross in 2017, almost a fifth of individuals stated that they don’t have friends that they can turn to in times of need.
As we all follow the ‘stay at home’ guidance, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you not only protect your body, but your mind too.
Structure your day
List-making has long been a go-to practice for those who feel overwhelmed by the tribulations of everyday life. Nicola Hett is a psychotherapist and executive coach based in London. She said despite being locked inside, one of the keys to staying healthy is “creating some sense of output” – however trivial it may seem.
“It’s important to create some sense of timetable for each day – what I call meaningful activities” she says. “This can be anything: outstanding housekeeping tasks, DIY, catching up on reading novels, or trying something you have always wanted to do, like creative writing.”
By making a list, we can replicate the “external timetable” from work that motivates us each day, and combat the inevitable feelings of purposelessness that accompany self-isolation. Your stroll to the water-cooler could even be supplemented for a walk to the tap in your kitchen.
“People will play with this in different ways; it might be that you set yourself a timer, or it could be as simple as creating a to-do list, but not beating yourself up if you don’t achieve it, because you can always do some more tomorrow.”
Coronavirus restrictions may stop you from attending your weekly spin class at the gym, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising all together. It’s been proven that working out has an overwhelmingly positive impact on our mental health, and can even alleviate negative emotions, such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
“Exercise is very good for mental wellbeing, because it sends endorphins around the body, which can change us from a negative state of mind into a more optimistic state of mind” says Nicola. “Obviously you can’t run indoors, but you can jog inside and that might create the equivalent sense of wellbeing. It might be that people can even use technical tools to replicate the experience of being outside – such as a nature scene on the TV.”
Chris Worth is a copywriter who regularly works from home. He says that although he is “naturally introverted,” his key to staying “sane” is exercise.
“I’ve got grip trainers, kettlebells, and a pull-up bar within metres of my desk,” he says. “A great risk to mental wellbeing is the ‘cabin fever’ of feeling locked-in and unable to move properly. So I make sure the day is punctuated with plenty of calisthenics moves.”
A good idea is to use at home exercise routines on apps such as Class Pass, or on DVDs, which allow you to exercise from the comfort of your sitting room.
Maintain social contact
There’s a reason solitary confinement is used for hardened criminals. Social interaction is key to keeping our mind healthy, and can provide welcome relief from the trials of everyday life. Without proper social stimulation, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression can rapidly set in.
Of course, in isolation socialising can be tricky. But that doesn’t mean you have to shut yourself off from the world forever. One of the benefits of our hyper-digital age is the ability to connect with anyone around the globe in a matter of seconds.
“It’s really important to have some social contact with somebody outside of the house everyday – whether it’s over the telephone, on Skype, or talking to a neighbour outside of the home,” says Nicola. “It might be good in those times to talk about the struggles you’re experiencing, but it’s also important to focus on the positive things, so you’re not just dwelling on the difficulty that brings the mood down.”
One practical tip Nicola suggests is creating a Whatsapp group, either for close friends and family, or for people in your local community. That way you can check in with others at certain times throughout the day to see how they’re doing, and also share tips about what is working for you.