For the safety of all of us, we are stuck in our homes under lockdown and only allowed to go outside to exercise, shop food or medicine or for medical emergencies.
So if you’ve been self-isolating for a longer period, you might be feeling a little strange right about now.
Maybe your body is itching to go outside, your mind is spinning and you just want this all to be over.
Or maybe you’re snapping at your self-isolation mates (if you live with others, that is) or randomly bursting into tears.
These are all completely normal reactions to the current situation.
‘There are many reasons that isolation imposed by the COVID-19 measures could impact the wellbeing and mental health of a healthy person, let alone someone with existing mental health issues,’ Lucinda Carney, a chartered psychologist and the founder of Actus, a performance management company tells us.
‘Sudden imposed change, lack of control and lack of social contact would be three main triggers (although there are others).’
She explains that coronavirus has activated a ‘natural change curve’ which, like a grief cycle for instance, has many stages that people will be working their way through over coming weeks.
‘The requirements for us to suddenly change our ways of working and living have been necessarily dictated to us,’ she adds.
‘People are going through the natural change curve (including some in denial who are trying to continue business/socialising as usual putting many in danger).
‘As we move through that change curve we will feel anger (as many GCSE and A Level students have) and there is a natural low point of depression before we start to look to the future and explore other possibilities like the opportunity to get fit (at home) in place of the commute or spending quality time with family.
‘The problem is that we may not naturally have the coping strategies to look for future possibilities. Add to this the stresses of having young family home while being expected to work a normal day without the relief of social contact with others, it is easy to see why this circumstances can be anxiety-provoking for even the most resilient.’
You might be suffering from so-called coronavirus anxiety, with symptoms including feeling fatigued very easily, difficulty concentrating, a racing heart, having trouble falling or staying asleep, muscle tension and grinding your teeth.
This can often be exacerbated by the lack of a daily routine, such as getting dressed, having lunch outside and meeting up with colleagues, friends and family.
‘The reason that we go stir-crazy is because we are so out of our routine and we are not socially interacting with each other in our usual way,’ Holly Beedon, assistant clinical manager at Living Well UK, tells us.
‘We often stay in our pyjamas and spend time doing work from our bed or confined to one room all day, which isn’t our ‘normal’ structure.”’
Holly explains that this can make us tearful, irritable and restless, as well as make us worry about the future.
Some people may also have thoughts of wanting to harm themselves (if you do, please ask for help from a medical or mental professional, or talk to a family member or friend).
Thankfully, there are ways to combat your mind spiralling into negative thought patterns.
How to avoid going stir-crazy in self-isolation
Holly says: ‘Get up at the same time that you usually would, get washed and dressed.
‘Take regular breaks: set alarms to make sure you are doing this! Try and sit by the window when doing your work.
‘A definite room to avoid working in if you can is your sleeping space. Also, try and get outside (as long as you do this responsibly). If it’s not possible, try some indoor exercises.’
Living alone can be particularly stressful at a time like this, because you don’t even have anyone in the house to talk to.
Don’t be surprised if you start chatting to your pets and plants more or feel the urge to create your very own ‘Wilson’ (the volleyball from the movie Castaway that kept Tom Hanks company for years when he was stranded alone on an island).
Natasha Crowe, a psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member tells us that it’s important to acknowledge how you feel and not bury negative emotions.
Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling – and go from there.
‘Firstly, the most important thing to do is to accept the things you can and can’t control,’ she says.
‘What’s going on in the world right now is out of our control.
‘Humans are naturally sociable beings and we often feel disconnection during periods of isolation. Especially if you live on your own.
‘These feelings can lead to worrying thoughts and anxious feelings. Sitting with those feelings, understanding and recognising that you may be scared or lonely.
‘These are perfectly normal feelings when we feel lonely or isolated – try not to be so hard on yourself.
‘Really look at the things you can control, your behaviours, actions and thoughts.
‘Once you realise what you do have control of is simply yourself, you can take action.’
OK, so you’re working from a makeshift office at home and it won’t be the same as the office. That’s OK – create a new structure to your day and add positive elements to it.
‘Plan a fun activity to engage your team or colleagues or use video conferencing apps to stay connected throughout the day. Take breaks and move location if you can, being in the same room all day won’t help.’
Make your workspace your own. Treat yourself to the nicer coffee brand. Eat a good breakfast.
If you’re on furlough, are retired or not working for other reasons, it might be worth finding a new hobby to keep you occupied and entertained, beyond sitting in front of the sofa flicking through the channels.
The good news here is that a lot of businesses, universities and individuals are offering free tutorials and classes of all kinds – from baking to cocktail-making.
‘Write down all the things you never have time to do and set yourself manageable tasks,’ Natasha adds.
‘There is no need to rush, the less stress we put on our immune systems right now the better.
‘Reframe the situation into an opportunity to discover, to learn and let yourself reset.
‘There’s never been a better time to focus on your own wellbeing, now is a great time to practice self-compassion, be kind to yourself and take things slowly.’
Lucinda also recommends to ‘restrict social media and news’, however, social media can be a double-edged sword so if you feel that you’d rather not leave this space, you could use it in a positive way.
And always remember, you are not alone in this.
Until then, look after yourself.
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