Some people may struggle more than others when adapting to self-isolation. People who have been engaging with health services or community support groups to help manage their conditions may face greater psychological barriers to wellbeing when self-isolating.
Spending days, or potentially weeks at home with limited social contact, resources and stimulation can be detrimental to a person’s mental health, which can exacerbate how other conditions manifest. It is important to consider how people may now have to adapt their behaviour to self-manage and take preventative measures against predispositions to conditions such as internet addiction disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
Highlighted below are recommendations for how people can enhance their wellbeing if required to self-isolate. Each strategy also considers some relevant risk conditions that individuals may have to adapt to self-manage as a result of self-isolation.
Have a routine
Making a plan and identifying what you can control during this time can empower you with a sense of purpose to make goals and track progress:
- create a daily timetable and consider sharing it with others in your household for encouragement
- bring an intention to be active by finding new ways to exercise and perhaps consider enrolling in an online course
- organise regular video calls with family and friends, and practice guided mindfulness exercises (see Work Psychology Service piece on Wellbeing and Resilience)
Without a healthy, goal-oriented routine it is easy to feel rudderless. A lack of purpose may lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, which can in turn lead to more compulsive tendencies and bad habits. This can be problematic for people with pre-existing conditions such as internet addiction, online gambling addiction, substance abuse issues, and eating disorders. For people with these conditions, it is important to maintain a routine to facilitate self-management and maintain control your condition.
Find a balance and seek credible information
While it has been established that too much media can undermine your mental health, there are also indications that too much social media can escalate anxiety more than traditional media. It is important to seek credible information when looking for updates, and don’t rely on social media posts. Instead, place a higher value on national media with links to trustworthy medical personnel. Credible sources of information include:
Find a balance for how often you check the news or your phone for new information. If you feel obsessive tendencies developing, schedule one evening check-up of credible news sources daily.
Regularly unplug from technology
With disruption to our regular routine, it can be a natural response to turn to technology to pass the time, whether on phones, tablets, laptops, or games consoles. It is important to set aside time to intentionally unplug from these devices and participate in alternative fun and healthy activities such as exercising or reading.
Individuals who struggle with Internet Addiction Disorder and gaming addiction need to be particularly mindful of intentionally unplugging when self-isolating. Allocating a limited amount of time in your routine for recreational use of technology will help counteract negative side effects of long hours spent plugged in, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disruptions and inactivity.
Self-isolation can result in those with gambling addictions relapsing. Although most sport has been suspended, the risk of online gambling has increased. While the establishment of a healthy routine is important in self-managing this addiction, Gamcare offer further online and telephone support in response to these circumstances.
Establish a healthy sleep routine
Inactivity, increased use of technology and less obligation to adhere to a regular daily routine can result in your sleep suffering and potentially to the development of insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep can simultaneously help reduce the amount of stress you experience while also preparing you to better manage your stress the next day. Here are some tips for developing healthy sleep hygiene practices:
- maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- exercise early in the day
- be mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake
- avoid the use of technological devices at night time
- practice guided mindfulness for relaxation in the evening
Maintain a healthy diet
Changes to your daily routine may affect how you eat throughout the day. It can be beneficial to try and maintain a balanced diet, as eating healthily can decrease stress. Consider planning your meals for the week ahead. This will help you know what to order or ask family or friends to drop to your house for your weekly shop. Creating a structured plan of nutritious meals throughout the week may also help incentivise healthy eating.
Stress may result in increased appetite for comfort foods. Overeating of such foods can negatively impact physical and mental health. Factors such as inactivity, exposure to high volumes of food due to bulk buying and anxiety as a result of media perception of limited food resources can place those who experience eating disorders at risk. People who have, or are recovering from eating disorders may have some concerns surrounding self-isolation. Beat Eating Disorders can offer guidance and support for those struggling to self-manage their eating disorders.
Avoid substance abuse
In response to stress some people may turn to substances, including alcohol, vaping or smoking. While this may initially alleviate stress, anxiety and depression, during self-isolation overuse of, and reliance upon, substances can increase due to rising tolerance levels and delayed recovery from stress. This can result in problems developing for physical and mental health, as well as impacting on those around us. For those at risk, addiction or relapse for people in recovery can occur. In these circumstances it is important to:
- follow medical guidance for intake of prescription medications
- reduce and be mindful of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake
- reduce the use of non-prescribed substances
If you are struggling, seek professional help Addiction NI
Connect and seek support
Whether it’s for help with shopping, someone to chat to over the phone, or support for a condition that you are struggling to manage, just because you are in isolation, do not feel like you are a burden and should not make contact for connection or ask for help. Use technology for positive social connection. Reach out to friends and family through phone, video calls or social media, and consciously turn to those who have a positive influence on your mood.
Those who were availing of formal face-to-face support before self-isolation may find that services have moved online. The points above have highlighted support networks for those that may struggle with certain conditions in self-isolation. If you are experiencing intense feelings of distress and despair, organisations such as Lifeline and Samaritans are always available to listen.
High Risk Conditions
Some people are at an increased risk from COVID-19 due to high risk health conditions. Others may be living with, or caring for, an individual who is in the high risk category, or are aged 70 or older. Self-isolating with a high risk condition, or having a member of your household at increased risk can be a worrying time. If you have any concerns about managing high risk conditions, your mental health or wellbeing during these times there are a number of resources available:
- advice and guidance for people at higher risk of COVID-19 is available on the gov.uk website
- advice on looking after your physical and mental health on the Public Health Agency website
- the Work Psychology Service have released several articles about looking after your mental health and wellbeing including 'Wellbeing and resilience' and ‘Thinking about thinking’.
- if you or a member of your household are in a higher risk group, you can stay up to date with the latest government issued guidance and resources