What are the Effects of Isolation?
People around the world are experiencing the effects of prolonged isolation during this unprecedented time. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many of us to stay away from physical contact with others by working from home, avoiding social gatherings, postponing travel, and any other activity that puts us in close contact with other people. Even though many countries, states, and counties are loosening restrictions, many will continue to feel the effects of 2020.
As social creatures, we are programmed to interact with others and we thrive on connection. Prolonged self-isolation can bring about unpleasant symptoms of depression and anxiety including feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, fatigue, loneliness, agitation, nervousness, compulsive thoughts and behaviors, sleep changes, and rumination.
The good news is there are several effective, holistic self-care strategies to combat these negative symptoms and maintain mental and physical health during self-isolation.
Although your normal work routine may have changed during this time, it is important to find something to get up for in the morning and keep busy with each day. Aside from working from home, this could mean taking care of daily chores around the house, starting a project, cooking for your family, or learning something new. The importance of finding your purpose is central to the Japanese concept of ikigai meaning “reason for being.” Finding your ikigai will give you a reason to get up in the morning. You may not be able to perform your life’s work during this time, but finding small purposes for each day is just as important.
We all know that physical exercise has countless physical and mental health benefits. Even if your gym is closed, it is essential to find a way to move your body each day. Going on a brisk walk or jog, practicing stretching based exercise like pilates, or lifting weights are great ways to maintain a healthy body and a positive mind.
Although many of us are keeping a physical distance from friends, family, and acquaintances at this time, it’s important to stay connected. Make a point to pick up the phone and call a family member or email a friend. Take advantage of social media to keep up with others and feel less secluded.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet is especially important under times of stress. To keep your body and mind strong, be sure to nourish yourself with fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of water. Staying well hydrated is always essential. In Dr. Eva Selhub’s article in Harvard Health Publishing she explains that the way serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, moods, and inhibits pain functions is directly related to diet.
Revisit a Hobby
Although some of us are working from home, many of us have more time on our hands than usual. This is a great time to revisit an old hobby or start something new. Draw in a sketchbook, paint with watercolors, pick up your guitar, try a new recipe, or learn a new language! Life isn’t only about work, our hobbies are an important part of our personal growth and fulfillment.
It’s normal to experience different emotions during this time. It’s important to be mindful when emotions arise and accept them rather than pushing them away. If we pay attention, our feelings can tell us a lot about how experiences are affecting us. All emotions are valid and should be welcomed, not judged. The more we welcome our feelings, the less of a hold they will have over us and our behaviors.
Research has shown that expressing gratitude has an array of health benefits including making us feel more optimistic and improve overall wellbeing. An article in Harvard Health Publishing suggests ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis including writing a thank you note, thanking someone mentally, keeping a gratitude journal, counting your blessings, praying, and meditating.