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It’s an extremely difficult time for everyone. As the virus continues to wreak havoc on people's bodies and the economy, the social distancing and self-isolation measures are having a severe impact on mental health as well. People’s lives have been upended so completely that many experts believe once lockdowns are over, the world will have to battle another crisis, one that is also invisible to the naked eye and is just as alarming as coronavirus.
Numerous experts believe that there is a looming mental health crisis—the product of months of social isolation, fear and anxiety caused by the virus, and the pain of losing a loved one, a job, a business, or one’s livelihood.
A study by researchers from the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College in London has found that quarantine is often associated with a negative psychological effect and there’s evidence that this psychological effect can still be detected months or years later in some people.
While social distancing and quarantine measures have been necessary to flatten the curve, there is a need to put mental health and emotional well being into consideration when placing people in isolation. “If quarantine is essential, then our results suggest that officials should take every measure to ensure that this experience is as tolerable as possible for people,” the study says.
This is why many organizations like the American Psychological Association(APA), the Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Harvard Health, and the World Health Organization among others have all released guidelines designed to help people take care of their mental health and emotional well being during lockdowns.
Here are a few ways you can keep not just your mind but your mind healthy during this crisis.
1. Avoid too much coronavirus media exposure
According to the American Psychological Association, repeated exposure to media related to the pandemic may cause psychological distress. “Media exposure during the 24/7 news cycle can increase perceptions of threat and activate the ‘fight or flight response,’ which can lead to subsequent physical and mental health problems,” the organization explains. In the past, those who were exposed to several hours of television in the days after 9/11 showed an increase in levels of post-traumatic stress and new-onset physical health problems 2 to 3 years later. Similarly, those who had the most media exposure after the Boston Marathon bombings exhibited acute stress symptoms.
The APA advises the public to choose only one or two trusted sources of information to stay abreast of critical updates. People also need to limit exposure to so much negative media stories and be wary of reports circulating on social media with unverified information.
2. Explore ways to stay connected
“Humans are social creatures and need connection to others to thrive, which can make isolation challenging,” says The Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health. CAMH advises people to maintain social interaction even while in isolation. Explore ways to stay connected with people given the current situation. Try to schedule a daily videoconference with colleagues, family, and friends.
Use whatever is available to get in touch with loved ones, talk to them via text or phone calls, or chat messages online. Maintaining contact with your social support system is crucial in these trying times. You need to be able to talk to others, share how you are feeling, how the recent events are making you feel, and ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed.
3. Keep busy
CAMH also advises people to create and stick to a schedule for work, leisure, chores, meals, physical activity, and most importantly, sleep. Keeping yourself busy will keep your mind off of the negative news and the grim reports about the coronavirus. The association also tells people to catch up on other tasks or projects at home.
If you find yourself having more free time now, this could be the perfect opportunity to start a new hobby or clean up your garage to make space for a workshop. Think of all the projects you may have been putting off since you were busy before, which you might have time for now. Also, practice self-care by doing things you love doing. It could be as simple as binge-watching shows, listening to music, or playing board games with the family.
4. Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies
“Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs,” says the WHO. You may be tempted to drown your worries with alcohol but the organization says you shouldn’t do it. In the long run, these unhelpful coping strategies can worsen your mental and physical well-being. You can instead learn simple daily physical exercise at home in quarantine or isolation to keep your mobility and improve your emotional well being.
According to a study by researchers from the University of Nebraska and Omaha Medical Center, exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. Aerobic exercise like jogging, gardening, or dancing have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.” These improvements in mood are caused by the increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress,” the research explains.
5. Get enough sleep
“Sleep and mental health are closely connected,” says Harvard Health. Sleep problems may increase the risk of developing mental illnesses or the development of certain psychiatric disorders. “Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night's sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability,” the center explains. Sleep disruption affects on the brain, it can impair thinking and alter the way we regulate our emotions. This is why not getting enough sleep makes you feel more irritable, more anxious, and easily upset the following day.
Experts advise people to practice good “sleep hygiene” which means maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule, using the bedroom only for sleeping, and making sure the bedroom is conducive to relaxation. This means you would need to get rid of distractions in the room like a television or a computer.
While people move mountains to try to take care of themselves physically to make sure the virus won’t have a chance to latch on and inhabit their body, they often forget to take care of an equally important aspect of overall health. During increased periods of stress such as during this pandemic, it is important to take care of your emotional well being and mental health as well to make sure that you and your loved ones thrive and survive this crisis.