The dangers of isolation: How to cope

A conceptual illustration of mental health. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, has taken the world by storm. What started out as “under control,” as described by President Trump, has turned into a very real and very threatening global pandemic.

With the pandemic has come a new way of life. Social distancing is the latest norm and the issuing of stay-at-home orders by local governments has become as routine as your morning coffee.

These recent lifestyle changes have forced many Americans to reevaluate life as they know it. For thousands, the most problematic adjustments have been social distancing, isolation and quarantining. These adjustments have affected the public in many ways, but the most prominent is mental health.

Maintaining perfect mental health is an impossible task. For many, staying positive and optimistic was already an uphill battle. Being confined to a home, or for some, a room, can be traumatic and cause more harm than good.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Common sources of stress during this period include a drop in meaningful activities, sensory stimuli and social engagement; financial strain from being unable to work; and a lack of access to typical coping strategies such as going to the gym or attending religious services.

“A hiatus from work and other meaningful activities interrupts your daily routine and may result in feelings of sadness or low mood. Extended periods of time spent at home can also cause feelings of boredom and loneliness.”

If you are feeling this way you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there were an estimated 11 million adults age 18 or older in the United States who have a diagnosable struggle with their mental health. With the recent developments as a result of the virus, these numbers could increase significantly.

Luckily, the APA has solutions, the first being to limit news consumption and to only follow reliable sources.

“It’s important to obtain accurate and timely public health information regarding COVID-19, but too much exposure to media coverage of the virus can lead to increased feelings of fear and anxiety. Psychologists recommend balancing time spent on news and social media with other activities unrelated to quarantine or isolation, such as reading, listening to music or learning a new language. Trusted organizations — including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the World Health Organization — are ideal sources of information on the virus,” said the APA reports.

If limiting news consumption doesn’t suit you, it may help for you to create and follow a daily routine. According to the APA, “Maintaining a daily routine can help both adults and children preserve a sense of order and purpose in their lives despite the unfamiliarity of isolation and quarantine. Try to include regular daily activities, such as work, exercise or learning, even if they must be executed remotely. Integrate other healthy pastimes as needed.”

In efforts to return your mind and body to a state of normalcy it is beneficial to use psychological strategies to help manage stress and stay positive. The APA says, “Examine your worries and aim to be realistic in your assessment of the actual concern as well as your ability to cope. Try not to panic; instead, focus on what you can do and accept the things you can’t change.”

“One way to do this is to keep a daily gratitude journal. You may also choose to download smartphone applications that deliver mindfulness and relaxation exercises. For example, PTSD Coach is a free application developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology. It contains coping and resilience resources such as exercises for deep breathing, positive imagery, muscle relaxation and more.”

As the virus continues to take its course, it is important to stay updated with messages from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC outlines steps to protect yourself from the virus such as avoiding close contact, cleaning your hands often, wearing a face mask if you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are unable to wear a face mask), etc.