Now that we are a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand more of the lasting long-term effects that the disease has. While we continue to learn more about the physical symptoms of COVID-19, we are also learning about the psychological outcome of the disease in the public. Social distancing is important to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But with the distance between us we also have a greater sense of loneliness and isolation. That can have a negative impact on our mental health and wellness.
It’s hard to imagine the summer months without gatherings. Summer is an important time for families, because it is often the only chance they have to visit their loved ones. During the peak of the pandemic, travel restrictions made it almost impossible for families to travel. The pandemic has taken a hard toll on the mental health and wellness of many people. This past summer was an emotional roller-coaster that I rather not ride again. No vacation time, birthday parties on zoom calls, and outfit choices were a selection of five different sweatpants. Distancing from friends and families really drove many people to the brink of breakdowns.
According to the American Psychological Association, if we as humans do not form deeper connections, our bodies go into survival mode. We produce cortisol, which is a stress hormone that alerts us to threats and danger that we may be facing. Our sleep patterns become disturbed, leading to insomnia, causing us to wake up prematurely or not fall asleep at all. The longer we are lonely, the more these changes affect us and our mental health and wellness.
What can you do to practice social distancing and cope with loneliness and isolation?
Here are 6 tips on how to get through self-isolation this summer:
1. Stay active:
Ever wonder why you are experiencing a decrease in self drive, motivation, and depression? This could be because of a lack of activity. By increasing our daily activities throughout the week, we are improving our mood, which also provides us with a sense of accomplishment. And the best part is that staying active doesn’t mean you have to commit to two hours of exercise every day! Minor tasks such as completing housework or needs that we pushed back for a while also give us a sense of accomplishment. Art projects, learning new skills, starting an online course or cooking with new recipes, are all aspects that can boost our mood and increase our positivity levels as well as provide us with pleasure.
I usually travel to visit family and friends in Colombia every summer. But since the outbreak of the virus I haven’t been able to see them. By staying active and keeping myself busy, I’m able to block out negative and sad thoughts and focus on what I’m most thankful for. Continuing to stay hopeful reassures me I will see them again soon.
2. Stay connected:
Going for a walk with a friend or social distancing in the backyard are things we can do that are within the CDC guidelines. To stay virtually connected, online calls are still a great option for face-to-face interaction. There are many ways to socialize online these days. Even events such as dinner parties, prom and weddings are virtually to create memories and spend time with family and friends.
3. Worry less and live more:
With so much uncertainty these days, it’s easy to get caught up worrying and overthinking. Many worry about themselves and loved-one’s catching the virus. There are a few things that you can do to limit your risk and ease your mind. Make sure you maintain your distance from those you don’t know well, continue wearing masks even if others are not. Practicing hygiene protocols will help to make you feel safer. Talking to a friend or family member about your concerns may also eliminate some of your anxiety.
4. Be more mindful:
We don’t need to do anything specific in order to practice mindfulness. By focusing and bringing our full attention to what we are doing, we are already acting on it. The more we pay attention to the task at hand, the more enjoyable the task will be. Simple exercises, such as taking a few minutes out of your day to pause and breath and reflect on the activity, bring you closer to becoming a more grounded and present individual. Check out Talklets blog on “Effects of Social Media on our Mental Wellness (Part 2): Breaking the Vicious Cycle”
5. Find some positives:
What made you smile today? This is an exercise that anyone can do at home. Take out a writing utensil and a sheet of paper and write three positive things that occurred during your day, regardless of how insignificant they may be. You can do this every day for one week and watch how your mood and outlook on COVID-19 and isolation change for the best. I have found this exercise to increase happiness and decrease symptoms of depression and help cope with isolation for up to six months. Once we look for the more joyful things in our life, it’s more likely that we will appreciate them and enjoy life again.
6. Practice self-care:
Lastly, practice self-care. I know I’m personally a victim of late night binge watching and eating one-to-many snacks. However, with so many things outside the realm of our control, it is important to focus on things that we have some control over. Getting some sort of regular exercise, such as bike riding, walking and jogging is important as it helps us to feel better both physically and mentally. Also, be more mindful of eating healthy. Do your best to get enough sleep. Many people developed bad sleep habits throughout the pandemic. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help you, even if your time is a bit more flexible these days. Don’t forget to take time to relax, unwind, take a bath or shower, play some music, to help manage your stress and anxiety and mental wellness before things build up and become overwhelming with day-to-day activities.
It’s still unclear when the pandemic will truly end. But even with all the uncertainty, it’s up to us to decide how we face this summer to maintain our mental wellness. Loneliness and social distancing isolation affect people more than you realize. Check in with family friends and even your neighbors to make sure that they are doing alright, as we all continue to go through tough times. As the percentage of vaccinations continues to increase, we could see a more eased and “back to normal” world soon. Treat yourself, and your body and mind will reward you.
By: Francesca Mina