Practicing social distancing during the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic can play a vital role in preventing the spread of the diseases. However, staying at home and practicing quarantine doesn’t mean that coping with these practices in your normal routine is going to be easy. During this time, taking care of your mental health is essential now more than ever, as one needs to remain calm, not stressed, and promote a positive well-being - even in times of uncertainty.
When it comes to social distancing and quarantine, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines quarantine as "separating and restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they then become ill". With this, as some diseases can be contagious even if people do not yet have symptoms, this step minimizes the spread of the illness especially during the asymptomatic period.
With the uncertainty and almost lack of hope that seems to be circulating around our world today, it is understood that spending time in quarantine can in fact take a serious toll on your mental health. A major reason for this impact comes from three key elements often associated with your mental health, as stated by the CDC: autonomy, competency, and connection. In the start of isolation and quarantine, many people often feel like they lack the control of the situation, feeling cut off from the rest of the world, their routines, and their usual practices throughout the day.
As this situation progresses, we have seen the closure of schools, offices, small businesses, and more, leaving many people feeling even more stressed with trying to balance family life with work life - and now, quarantine life. Time seems to creep by much more slowly after you've been at home for a long period of time. Even if you are home with other family members, the sense of isolation and cabin fever can be powerful and irritating.
The American Psychological Association reports that social isolation carries a number of health risks. Feeling isolated can lead to poor sleep, poor cardiovascular health, lower immunity, depressive symptoms, and impaired executive function. When executive function skills are impaired, you may find it more difficult to focus, manage your emotions, remember information, and follow directions. In trying to keep your emotions in check, there are still many resources to turn to in wanting to address your mental health. However, we put together a little guide on how to cope with your mental health during this time, from research gathered from the CDC and the American Psychological Association:
Research From Past Quarantine Measures
What may seem surprising is that while these certain circumstances in our current state is unique, several psychologists have been looking at research from past events (such as quarantine during Ebola, Swine Flu, etc.) on how exactly to approach mental health and the psychological needs of our society. For example, between 2002 and 2004, more than 15,000 people in Toronto voluntarily went into quarantine due to exposure to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS, like COVID-19, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.
During this time, residents were asked to remain in quarantine fora period of around 10 days. This means that they could not have visitors, they also had to wear face masks around other family members, avoid sharing personal items, wash their hands frequently, as well as many other measures. Afterwards, research indicated that quarantined individuals experienced a range of both immediate and short-term psychological consequences.
Ways To Start Coping
A 2019 review in The Lancet analyzed the results of past studies to get a better idea of how COVID-19 and social distancing may impact those who are quarantined. The review found that psychological distress is common both during and after periods of quarantine. Here are their suggestions on how to cope during these times:
Establish Routines :
We can agree that the biggest struggle, perhaps found within quarantine, is the disruption to our daily lives. For starters, this isolation and social distancing can leave you feeling directionless or even unmotivated as you try to figure out how to fill all the hours of the day. If you're working from home, it can be helpful to structure your time much like a regular workday, being sure to stay on top of tasks and goals you have for the week. However, this could present a challenge in itself if you have children or other family members that need to be taken care of throughout the day. Do not be afraid to set some boundaries and work with other's around you to create the time and routine you need to complete your work throughout the day.
When dealing with kids, it's essential to find a routine that works for you and them. Plan out activities that will keep everyone busy so you can get some work done. Try creating a daily schedule, but don't get too wrapped up in sticking to a strict routine. Make your routines, and don't be afraid to break up the day in case monotony settles in.
Be As Active As You Can :
Even relatively short periods of physical inactivity can have an impact on your health, both mentally and physically. One study found that just two weeks of inactivity could lead to reductions in muscle mass and metabolic effects. Consider breaking up your day with a workout, or find time to get in a walk or jog when you can. There are also many resources to do workouts from home, whether you find something on YouTube, use an App, or bust out those old workout DVDs or VHS.
Combat Frustration or Boredom :
This can go hand-in-hand with remaining active, as some of the stress or frustration that comes with quarantine can be from continuing inactive or bored throughout the day. Finding ways to stay occupied is important, so try to maintain as many of your routines as you can. Work on projects that provide you a sense of purpose or drive, or find new activities to fill your time, whether it's organizing your closet, trying out a new creative hobby, or even picking up a new skill (learning to cook maybe super helpful during these times!). Getting things done can provide a sense of purpose and competency, which is one thing that can drive your mental health. It gives you something to work towards and something to look forward to each day.
Staying in contact with other people not only helps with boredom, but it is also critical for helping decrease the sense of isolation one may feel in quarantine. Stay in touch with friends and family by phone and text, or even by FaceTime. Reach out to others on social media. If possible, join a support group or discussion board specifically for people who are in quarantine. Talking to others who are going through the same thing can provide a sense of community and empowerment.
This steps are just a few in which can help you cope with your mental health during this time of quarantine. If you feel depressed, stress, or have concerns about your mental health, do not be afraid to reach out or speak up.