Human beings are social creatures and it’s tough to live in isolation for prolonged periods of time. While there is a large focus on the economic and societal toll of COVID-19, it is important not to overlook how it's affecting everyone's mental health. Unprecedented events that cause collective fear and an upheaval of our normal routines may wreak havoc on our collective psyche. To help you manage your mental health during isolation, we discuss 6 ways you can stay active, connected, and take your mind off the effects of being in quarantine.
1. Take Care of Houseplants
You may not know it, but your houseplants can provide therapeutic effects that can help reduce stress and help work through trauma. Studies have shown that “gardening can act as therapy for people who have undergone trauma". Specifically, the act of nurturing something, even if it is as small as a simple houseplant, can be an effective way to work through traumatic events. Taking care of indoor plants can also help with stress, something that everyone is feeling plenty of during this time. Another small study found that working with plants suppressed sympathetic nervous system activity (your flight or fight response) and promoted positive feelings in university students compared to when they were working on the computer.
Average Cost of Indoor Plants & Gardening Tools from The Garden Store
If you currently have a houseplant, try to give it some extra attention during this period. As shown with studies, taking small breaks throughout the day to check up on your plants may be a good way to reduce work-related stress. It may be difficult to find plant shops that are open, but you can still order seeds or use seeds from common produce. For instance, you can plant some seeds from veggies you already consume, like bell peppers, tomatoes, and chilli padi. You can also create a makeshift veggie garden with carrot tops, onions with their roots still attached, and lettuce, by simply letting them float on a small amount of water on a flat surface.
2. Limit Consumption of News Media
The Internet is inundated with unofficial news sources created by trolls, YouTubers and podcasters who may spread fake news on social media, creating an echo chamber that causes panic and paranoia. Furthermore, with a 24-hour news cycle that seems to constantly focus on the current pandemic, many people have started to feel high levels of anxiety. Thus, to give yourself some much needed mental respite, scientists and researchers suggest limiting your exposure to them and only consume news from credible news outlets.
Lauretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain recommends setting aside one block of time each day for news consumption, for instance, at lunch or before dinner, and not reading the news before bed. By doing so, you won’t be ruminating over misinformation and will not feel anxious throughout the day with a constant feed of negative information. The World Health Organisation also recommends spreading positive stories about COVID-19 (ex: survival, community support), rather than focusing on deaths and infection rates.
3. Maintain Communication With Loved Ones
One of the most harmful things to a person's mental health is isolation. Social isolation, even if it's perceived, can have debilitating effects on your psyche. With the current circuit breaker and quarantine measures, people may be experiencing varying degrees of depression and anxiety associated with being separate from their family and friends. But at the end of the day, humans are social creatures. Face-to-face interaction helps us become more resilient to stress and helps prevent mental decline.
While we can’t meet up with friends and family like we used to, we can still maintain communication with them via calls, texts, and video chats. You can do virtual activities together like yoga, cooking or play games on apps like House Party, which allows you to connect with your friends, chat or play with them via video. If you don’t live with your parents, call them regularly to check in on them. Keeping communication with loved ones going will help everyone involved feel less alone.
4. Maintain an Exercise or Meditation Regimen
Studies have shown that "exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood", due to dopamine released during physical activity and increased blood circulation to the brain. Even if you can’t go to the gym or yoga studio anymore, you can still keep your fitness regime using free yoga and fitness videos on YouTube as a guide for your workouts. For a small price, you can create a mini home gym by investing in an exercise mat and a pair of dumbbells. For instance, Yoga With Adriene, Fitness Blender and BeFit are some of the most popular free resources for those who want to exercise from home. Older individuals can try low intensity workouts such as Tai Chi and Qigong.
Furthermore, you can try adding meditation alongside exercise. In a review of multiple clinical trials, meditation reduces psychological stress, anxiety and can reduce the risk of stress-related health problems". To have a calmer mind and better sleep as you wind down the day, meditate with apps like Stop Breathe & Think, Headspace, Calm, Inscape or via Zoom with a guided meditation.
5. Learn to Cook or Bake
For those who enjoy it, cooking/baking is a form of meditation and stress relief. Therapists have even been using cooking as a part of therapy for anxiety, depression and other psychological problems. Focusing on a mindful task like chopping and measuring of ingredients during cooking and baking takes the mind off unwanted thoughts and gives people a sense of control. The delicious end result of the process also gives people a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t cook, now can be a good time to learn a useful survival skill so you can reduce going out to buy takeaway food. As a beginner, you can watch quarantine cooking shows or use online videos as a guide. You’ll be surprised at what you can produce even without much experience.
6. Adjust Your Thinking
Right now, it's easy to fall into a pit of anxiety and despair. After all, your routine was uprooted, you may be isolated from your friends and family and you may have lost your livelihood. However, there are ways you can manage this anxiety and stress by changing the way you think about the current situation. First, it is prudent to your emotions. Whether you are feeling anxious, sad, irritable or stressed, you should note that all of your emotions are valid. When you accept that it's normal to feel these emotions, you become more mentally resilient, rather than giving in to the emotion. This goes hand in hand with being compassionate with yourself and others. It's normal to get frustrated with yourself and your family members, but be patient as everyone is going through a rough time.
Furthermore, it is important that you don't beat yourself up over a lack of productivity. If you are currently working from home, you'll notice that you may feel unproductive, restless or lacking focus. This is normal. If we use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a basic guideline for human needs, we see that we need to address physiological needs (e.g. food, water, sleep) and feel safe (mental & physical) before we can focus on success and external validation. However, during this crisis, we most certainly don't feel safe and some of us are even at risk of not having enough food or shelter. Thus, it will be tough to perform at your usual productivity levels. Instead, do the best you can and create small, attainable goals for yourself. For instance, follow a routine, plan a budget and learn one new thing per day. Increase feelings of safety by making a contingency plan should you get sick and ensure you have enough health coverage. Feeling like you are back in control can help eliminate feelings of anxiety.
Don't Be Afraid to Seek Help If You Need It
For some, a simple change in thinking may be just the thing they need to get over mental slumps. For others, starting an activity and actively working on their mental health may be more suitable. However, for a substantial group of people, consistent therapy may be required.
You should pay particular attention to the younger and older members of your family. Children and young adults are experiencing drastic chemical changes alongside this pandemic, which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. The elderly may experience higher rates of anxiety, agitation and stress—especially if they're in isolation. In some cases, at-home mental health management may not be enough. If you find yourself or a loved one suffering from an unmanageable mental health issue, do seek help from health helplines like SOS (Samaritans of Singapore), Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), or Touch Line.