With everyone in the UK now being urged to socially distance themselves from others, and many self-isolating, it’s natural to feel emotions such as panic, anxiety, loneliness and depression.
During this time of uncertainty you may feel you have no control over your situation, which can switch on your stress reaction. Your body then prepares for you to run away or fight. Right now, you’re being asked to do the opposite – stay put. All this can lead you to feel overwhelmed.
It’s important to look after your mental health to support your physical health, particularly your immune system.
Here are some practical measures to support your mental health through the isolation.
Everyone reacts differently to stress, and some people withdraw from contacting others. Remember, social contact is a fundamental human need. If you are anxious during these uncertain times, you’ll benefit from feeling connected.
By verbalising your fears to another, you can prevent yourself becoming lost in a spiralling cycle of negative thinking.
Aim to insulate yourself and others from the virus but don’t allow yourself to become lonely. Make the most of face to face media such as video calling. There’s no substitute for seeing loved ones’ faces to ground you and lift your spirits.
Connecting with friends or neighbours who may be feeling anxious and isolated will enable you to focus your energy on others rather than yourself. It can also foster a deeper connection than the occasional text message.
If you’re teary, have a good cry. If you’re angry, hit the pillow. Don’t bottle up your emotions – this will only add to your stress.
Use positive emotions – laugh at those silly video clips. Yes we are in a serious situation but remember laughter releases endorphins and relieves stress.
Constantly checking your social media feed and news streams can increase anxiety. Set limited times for checking social media to stay connected, but don’t become bogged down reading anxiety-provoking information. Unfollow or mute accounts causing you stress or anger.
Use any free time to learn a language or upskill in a subject you’re passionate about. There are a huge array of free online courses available.
It can be incredibly uplifting to help people less fortunate than yourself or assist a cause about which you’re passionate. With many people self-isolating the opportunities to help are almost limitless, and you may have time on your hands to volunteer. Many charities are struggling as their income streams are reduced and attention is preoccupied elsewhere.
It’s tempting to stay in your PJs all day, forget to clean your teeth and neglect to brush your hair. But as humans we thrive on habit, and any significant disruption to your normal routine can create stressful feelings of being out of control.
Establishing a new routine can help remind you of what you can control, creating a sense of order and normality in a time of change.
Set your alarm each morning, and schedule fun experiences into your routine. There are plenty of online events such as live music streams, quizzes and virtual cultural tours. Fill your day with events designed to uplift you and create positivity.
If you have free time, make a list of all the things you’ve intended to do but never got round to. Tackling them will help give you a sense of purpose. But be careful not to beat yourself up for not having accomplished them before – instead congratulate yourself once they’re done.
Moving is important for your mental health, and if you’re stuck at home you’ll be more sedentary than usual. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stand up and walk around at least every half an hour. Online exercise classes abound or join a virtual dance class.
Yoga is a great way to relax, stretch muscles if you’ve been sitting for a while and boost your mood.
Try to get outside if you can – walk around your garden, balcony or even your doorstep. If that’s impossible, open your windows and feel fresh air on your skin. Pause for a moment to gaze at the sky.
During times of stress and anxiety, the quality and quantity of your sleep is often first to suffer. But too little sleep is closely connected with poor mental health.
Ban all devices for a couple of hours before bed as the light they emit can interfere with your sleep/wake cycle.
Creating a mindful headspace can help reduce anxiety. There are many free mindfulness and meditation apps available. Deep breathing exercises can be really effective at calming your stress response.
Sharing your space with others often creates tension and frustration. Walk away from arguments or stand on your doorstep to diffuse tense situations.
Be kind to yourself, too. See this as a different phase of your life, which will pass in time.
It can be challenging to find your usual supplies right now but try not to rely on sugary snacks and caffeine to lift your mood. Many greengrocers and farm shops are offering delivery services so resolve to eat plenty of fresh food, especially nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables. Your body needs good nutrition to deal with stress and manufacture your feel-good chemicals.
If you would like to explore nutritional and lifestyle strategies to support your physical and mental health with Functional Medicine, I offer online consultations. Remember, we are stronger together. Contact me for more information.
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