Coronavirus - How to cope with isolation

Posted on: 23 March 2020 by Lynda Shaw

People over 50 are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of COVID-19 but how do you stay isolated and maintain healthy body and mind? Dr Lynda Shaw shares her tips for coping with isolation.

Isolation and coronavirus

Around the world, people are facing a once in a lifetime period full of anxiety and uncertainty that also requires us to isolate ourselves from each other.  We all know that we are naturally social and are not meant to live in isolation and that feeling lonely or trapped can contribute to poor mental and physical health but being physically isolated doesn’t have to mean being totally socially excluded. Loneliness is a horrible and debilitating feeling but with the right frame of mind and a lot of creativity, solitude can both be avoided in part or used as an opportunity.

  1. Have a positive mindset – Research shows that positivity is also contagious so approach your home isolation period with as much zeal and positivity as possible, and your family members, especially children, will catch on to the positive vibes.  Research also shows that outcomes are better for positive people. Set up a home school for your children and have some routine, but also make it fun!
  1. Be mindful. Start with a smile and hugging yourself each morning.  No one else can hug you right now so you might as well go ahead and give yourself that much needed cuddle!  Look for apps that inspire calm and clear mindedness such as Calm, Buddify and Headspace.  Print out positive affirmations that you can say to yourself and have visualisations by your bed of what you will be able to do once this period of instability is over.  Picture yourself with friends, at a family gathering or anything that makes you happy, or a place of calm.
  1. Make this an opportunity to get projects done – Use this time as an opportunity to get some organising and sorting out done in your home whether that is painting the bedrooms, cleaning the kitchen cupboards, putting up shelves or gardening.  It is also good for bone strengthening and stress release.  When a task is finished, the brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, leaving you feeling happy and fulfilled. Make a list and feel satisfied as you tick items off.
  1. Combat anxiety and stress with exercise. Find ways to be physically active – walk up and down the stairs as much as possible, look for your workout DVDs or enjoy exercise outside in the garden.  Prolonged periods of raised stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol have a negative impact on nearly every part of our body.  Side effects include increased blood pressure, muscle tension, insomnia, headaches and depression. There are plenty of apps or online videos to guide you through a yoga or Pilates class which will help you to relax and release some feel-good hormones.
  1. Worried about feeling lonely? – If you are home alone, try listening to the radio or podcasts and organise a time to phone or WhatsApp / Skype friends and loved ones. When we spend time with other people we get on well with, feel-good hormones are released and reward neural activity in the brain is activated, even if they are not in the same room.  Since you may find you have a bit more time in the coming weeks, try the ‘old fashioned’ way and actually pick up the phone and give someone a ring for a feel good moment to lift spirits.
  1. Support vulnerable and elderly people -Post a note through their door with your contact details should they need help with something like shopping.  Set up the less tech-savvy members of the family with video calling so you keep in touch and help them with online deliveries.  Research shows that helping others activates parts of our brain associated with wellbeing and at the same time, stress responses are lowered.  Again, call the elderly or vulnerable for a chat.
  1. Make sure you go outside each day – Spend at least twenty minutes in your garden if you are lucky enough to have one, ideally in the morning to help maintain your circadian rhythm and to get a dose of vitamin D.  If you are in an apartment, open the windows and get some fresh air coming in.  If you have big open spaces around your house, go for an invigorating walk.
  1. Prioritise good quality sleep – home isolation may mean we step out of our usual routine, disrupting our sleeping schedule.  Stress is the most common cause of sleep loss in the UK.  Lack of sleep can cause anxiety and depression as well as reduce our physical health. Be mindful of keeping to a good schedule, limit screen time before bed and enjoy a relaxing night-time routine.
  1. Start a new hobby – How many of us say we would love to start a new hobby, learn a language or read a great literature epic which we don’t normally have time to do? Apps and online resources are a great way to learn the basics of a new language. Studies show that reading improves our memory, language skills and reduces stress and depression.  Is there a hobby you can do from home, like painting, trying new recipes or even just doing a puzzle?
  1. Limit your time on social media – By being isolated, you may feel your phone is your principal portal to the outside world. However, it is well documented that spending significant amounts of time on social media can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness.  If you really have to be on social media, limit yourself to 30 minutes and avoid it at night. Turn off the notifications if they are causing you pick up your phone too often.
  1. Cherish some family time – As well as protecting our loved ones from serious illness, self-isolation means spending loads of quality time together with the people you live with.  Make a plan for each day so you don’t lounge on the sofa too much.  Be creative and come up with fun activities that you are normally too busy for like board games, baking together, making a beauty salon and painting nails or a den to hang out in, start an ambitious art project together or watch some classic family films together with a bag of popcorn or even enjoy a nice lie-in.

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