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Quarantine: Staying Mentally Healthy

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Quarantine and isolation can put stress on our mental and physical health. Here are some ways to make the most of your quarantine experience and enhance your wellbeing throughout:

  • Set up your space

Try to divide the room into different areas: work, rest, eat, play. Our brains are sensitive to context. When we repeatedly do the same activity in the same space, our brains associate the space with a certain mindset. When we sit down at our work desk, we aim for focus. When we lay down on our bed, we aim to relax. Over time, our brains will take cues from our environment to produce the desired mental state.

If we work, rest, and play in the same area, boundaries become blurred, and our brains struggle. We may find it hard to switch off from work when we want to relax or find it hard to get motivated when we want to be productive. This can disrupt our sleep, make us feel restless, and enhance anxiety.

In the limited space of quarantine, it is important to set boundaries early on to help our brains identify different spaces for different mindsets. This is also crucial if we are quarantining with family members or friends. Ensure that everybody has their own space to which they can withdraw if needed, even if that is just a small corner in a big room.

  • Bring comfort items

Bring items into quarantine that you find soothing. Familiarity makes us feel comforted. This can include things like our favourite blanket, skincare products, fragrances, snacks or even things we usually have on our bed-side table, desks, bathroom, or kitchen. We can also print photos to place around the room. Photos of our loved ones can create feelings of connectedness. Photos of our travels or nature can make us feel grounded. All these things can help our brains to adjust to the new space more easily, reducing anxiety and enhancing comfort.

  • Create a routine

Plan a routine that starts from day one. Routines enhance predictability and predictability makes us feel safe. The ideal routine is a mix of things we need to get done, such as work, things we should get done, such as self-care and exercise, and things we intrinsically enjoy, such as watching a Netflix series or making a puzzle. The routine can be scheduled as time-specific, for example having lunch every day at 1pm, or as a general order of things, for example starting the day with a shower and ending it with a phone call to family and friends. Commonly, a general structure is easier to stick with and allows more flexibility. Routines can help us to get a sense of productivity and make us feel less lost or drifting as we navigate the quarantine experience.

  • Take time to exercise

Get your heartrate up at least once a day. Exercise can boost our mood with endorphins, increase our energy levels, strengthen our immune system, clear our mind, and make us feel stronger and healthier. It can be helpful to bring weights and a yoga mat into the quarantine space. Some hotels also offer treadmills and stationary bikes for rent. We can stick to our usual exercise plan as much as possible or take the quarantine opportunity to try something completely new. There are lots of exercise apps and videos to check out, or alternatively, you can book an online personal training session for that extra motivation and guidance.

  • Stay connected

Keep in touch with others. Being physically isolated does not mean we need to be socially disconnected. Messaging is great to stay in touch easily, but also be sure to check in with friends and family via video call at least once a day. Seeing our loved ones on a screen can make us feel significantly less isolated than texting alone. Importantly, it is crucial to reach out even when we feel like withdrawing.

There are many social media groups available to support individuals in quarantine. Some of these are specific to the place of quarantine and others are more general. These groups can be an excellent resource for clarifying questions, giving and receiving support, validating our experience, and keeping up our spirits. Some of them even arrange Zoom drinks and other social online gatherings.

  • Reflect on your thoughts

Spend time reflecting on your thoughts and feelings. There will be times where the stress of quarantine may bring down your mood. This is an opportunity to observe and sit with our feelings and thoughts. Doing so can allow us to process our experiences in a healthy way and gain valuable insight into our inner world. Keeping a journal of these reflections can be helpful to stay focused. It can also allow us to identify triggers or patterns that come up repeatedly, which enables us to make adjustments that benefit our wellbeing.

  • Support others

Check in regularly with others. Being able to support others can feel empowering. This is both because it enhances our sense of control, and because it reminds us of our own resilience strategies. Fully focusing on someone else can also take our mind off some of our own distress. Support can take various forms. We may lend an ear to someone who is struggling, provide practical help to someone in need, or write about our quarantine experience to help others feel validated and more prepared.

  • Breathe

Use breathing to tell your body that everything is okay. Anxiety is a common feeling in quarantine. Whether we are feeling trapped, isolated, confused, or lost it often comes with physical symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is best soothed through deliberate, controlled breathing. When we are anxious, our fight-and-flight system (i.e. sympathetic) is often engaged. Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is successful in activating our physiological rest-and-recovery system (i.e. parasympathetic). Following a 4-4-8 count can be an easy way of achieving this. Inhale to the count of four, hold the breath for the count of four, and exhale to the count of eight. Breathing out for twice the length as breathing in gives the body feedback that things are calm and that it is okay to rest. This is also an easy technique to teach school age children.

  • Let your creativity flow

Engage in creative activities. Whether this is drawing, painting, dancing, writing, or making music – quarantine gives us the opportunity to get in touch with our creativity. We can either find a completely novel creative outlet or re-connect with something we used to love doing but have struggled to find time for. If you are feeling a bit rusty on your creative side, there are lots of online tutorials or even easy materials to get started, such a paint-by-numbers. Creativity benefits our mental health in multiple ways: Getting absorbed into a task can clear our mind, creating something can give us a sense of purpose and achievement, and allowing our creativity to flow can help us express our inner world.

  • Engage in play

Do something playful, fun, exciting, or silly. Play can bring intrinsic joy and naturally lift our mood. It cconnects us with our inner child and allows us to be care-free for a little while. You can choose to play games, watch a cartoon, or order a cheeky chocolate cheesecake for dinner. It can be hard as adults to allow ourselves to do something childish, but it can be very rewarding for our mental health to occasionally treat ourselves for all our hard work adulting.

  • Be kind to yourself

Do not forget to be kind to yourself. You are not a robot who can function without being affected by what happens around you. It is okay to not have it all altogether in quarantine, even if we usually pride ourselves in being resilient and on top of things. It is okay to be upset, stressed, or overwhelmed, even if other people in the world may be in similar or worse situations. We are allowed to be impacted by the circumstances we are in. It is normal and healthy to feel a full range of emotions and have ups and downs are you go through quarantine. So do not forget to be kind to yourself.

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