Sunday 22 March 2020

Maintaining Your Mental Health Whilst Self-Isolating

Ross shares timely advice on practical and useful strategies that help to make social distancing and self-isolation more manageable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

- Ross Carver-Carter

You’ve cleaned your room, four times in fact, eaten your way through the emergency supplies and binged every trending series on Netflix. The novelty has faded as quickly as your alcohol reserves and now it all seems like a bad dream. Yes, I’m talking about self-isolation, and after 4 days of it I am already feeling like Desmond in Lost. Speaking of which, if you really want to kill the days whilst hermetically sealed away, it’s not a bad place to start. Joking aside, however, if you are managing depression, anxiety or a disorder such as OCD, isolating at home—and the looming virus—will present difficulties for us all. Staying indoors is particularly daunting for those who live with mental health issues, as boredom and a dearth of exercise are both likely to exacerbate symptoms. In light of the increasing likelihood that many of us will need to self-isolate, self-quarantine or just stay at home for safety, here are a few ways that you can maintain your mental health whilst in self solitary:

1. Make arrangements for your medications
Make sure your medication is sorted and have a plan in place for getting it delivered when you can’t leave the house. The last thing those quarantined with mental health issues need is discontinuation syndrome from SSRIs. Get someone who is not in isolation to collect your prescription if need be, and be aware of how much medication you have at present.

2. Continue physical exercise
Although the gym is off-limits, that doesn’t need to mean an end to daily physical activity; try a workout video online or perform bodyweight exercises (Maybe even order some weights). Make room in the living room for your exercises and set your gym gear to one side before bed to encourage a routine. Physical exercise is a natural antidepressant that will encourage sleep and lift one's mood. Now more than ever, it is necessary. On the plus side, you won’t have to put up with grunting and queues for a machine.

3. Eat a balanced diet
With panic buying emptying out the shelves, and the uncertainty ahead making canned and frozen food preferable, it’s reasonable to fear that your diet could suffer. Whilst fresh food is likely off the menu for at least part of your self-isolation and quarantine, this needn't spell an end to a healthy, balanced diet. Use frozen fruit to make smoothies, and frozen veg to add greens to your meals. Furthermore, vitamin tablets are another good way to give your body what it needs.

4. Stay updated, but select sources and take breaks

Keep up to date with the news by all means, but limit the amount you read daily and stick to trustworthy sources. Follow credible sources such as WHO or government updates and stay away from unreliable sources. As for social media, it’s a hotbed for conspiratorial and misleading information which is best avoided. Don’t forget to have a plan in place for when you feel anxious.

5. Get creative with socialising 
Keeping in contact with friends whilst you are staying at home and practising social distancing will help to allay any virus-related fears and take you out of your own head. Whether Skyping, texting or calling friends and loved ones, make sure that you maintain social contact with those close to you—don’t suffer in silence! Gaming can also be a great way to interact with others whilst quarantined, with an added dose of escapism.

6. Wash your hands, but not to excess
If you have contamination OCD, follow the WHO guidelines and no further; ask those without anxiety disorders to assess and call out any hand washing that becomes excessive. If you find yourselves repeating the process to get it “just right”, it’s a compulsion. Similarly, if your hands are flaking or there are lesions, it is excessive and actually creates a new entry point for the virus. If you are currently undertaking Exposure Therapy, the pandemic needn't put this on hold. Continue to challenge OCD when it doubts your hand washing was sufficient, and sit with the resultant anxiety. The function of your hand washing is absolutely key to whether it is problematic.

7. Rationalise any guilt about spreading the virus
Follow the health guidelines being issued, and don’t panic about whether you could have spread it. In such a fast-moving and fluid situation, yesterday’s advice could now be out of date; that’s not a moral failing on your part, but a natural consequence of a situation unfolding rapidly. Be sensible, listen to updates and understand that’s all you can do to prevent infecting others. Don’t fret about every little action and track your movements for fear that you have been careless.

8. Remember that a panic attack can share some symptoms with the virus
A tight chest, muscle aches and difficulty breathing are all symptoms of a panic attack shared with the novel Coronavirus. If you feel a sudden onset of these, have a plan in place and practice breathing exercises. If these symptoms subside once your anxiety has faded, it is most likely that you have experienced a panic attack rather than an escalation of your symptoms.

9. Fight boredom the right way
Boredom is inevitable whilst practising social distancing and self-isolation- when it strikes, opt for healthy ways to counteract it, read: not drinking and smoking excessively. Whilst social media abounds with talk of two-week drinking sessions and lock in’s with friends, for those who are prone to depression and anxiety, myself included, this is only going to adversely affect us. Have a few drinks by all means, but not beyond your usual intake. Instead, take up a new hobby, read that book that’s been sat on the shelf or try exploring inwards now that you cannot go out.

10. Practice self-care

Now more than ever, this is an absolute priority. Small, human activities make all the difference to one's mood: a bath with essential oils, clean clothes and fresh bed sheets to name a few. On a slight side note, try to appreciate these small things all the more also.

11. Maintain a routine 
Stick to a healthy sleeping pattern whilst you are self-isolating, and make sure that you are getting sunlight as much as possible. Whilst it may be tempting to treat it as an extended weekend, healthy sleep patterns are vital and a powerful tool in your arsenal to fight against mental health issues. Get showered and dressed everyday also; whilst It’s easy to stay in pyjamas, this sets the tone for the day and can encourage inactivity.

12. Separate work and leisure
If you are working from home, keep work and leisure separate in the house—set aside a space apart from your bed to be productive. Keep work laptops and documents out of the bedroom and use it solely for sleep and downtime.

For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

To find more information about how to manage your mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, please go to our dedicated resources page on Student Minds. You can also find more information from the Mental Health Foundation and Mind.  

I am a Politics and IR graduate navigating the graduate world, one step at a time. You can find my thoughts- big and small at

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