They call it ‘social distancing’ and many say it is our best bet for flattening the curve and slowing the rate of infection of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. The preventative measures of washing hands regularly, avoiding touching your face and self-isolating if sick all make perfect sense and are backed by scientific research which should help our healthcare systems cope with the pandemic and successfully treat as many of the worst affected as possible.
As the world reacts to this pandemic, we face uncertain times and it is very easy, in the midst of the crisis, to forget about our mental health.
Human beings thrive on connection. ‘No man is an island,’ as the great John Donne is so often quoted, expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to thrive. When faced with self-isolation and social distancing, it follows that, while protecting our physical health, our mental health is likely to suffer. We are not meant to be on our own.
So how do we ensure that, while protecting the physical health of ourselves and others, we don’t cause lasting damage to our mental health?
What does self-care look like in these uncertain times?
The constant news cycle of updates and statistics can be overwhelming and can cause fear and anxiety in even the hardiest of souls. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations but being fed a continual stream of information can be distressing. It is important that you keep yourself informed but also find the balance and switch off the news cycle or social media for a while, especially if you are starting to feel overwhelmed. Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage and take a break.
Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Keeping our natural serotonin levels high will keep our mood from dropping when things are tough.
Make time to unwind and relax. We are, in many ways, being forced to slow down and be careful in the midst of this global crisis. Take time for you and indulge in some of the activities that you don’t have time for in ‘normal’ life. Cooking, baking, reading, painting, walking in nature… whatever you enjoy.
Connect with others. Yes, social distancing means that we are not likely to be sharing a giggle over cocktails at a bar, but that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain healthy relationships. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Pick up the phone or jump on Skype and chat with your family and friends regularly. Maintain healthy relationships in spite of the boundaries that have been placed on us.
Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, global health crisis that has taken place. Times like this challenge but also bring out the best of humanity. Neighbours will help neighbours. Strangers will come to each other’s aid. The world will recover through many tiny acts of kindness.