With the prospect of widespread home working and social isolation on the cards, it's important to consider how such measures can impact your mental health.
Whilst we all understand the importance of these measures on our physical health, and those who are immunocompromised, we cannot forget that our mental health plays a vital role in our overall wellbeing too. I have therefore gathered together the best tips for helping you to get through isolation with your sanity in tip top shape:
1. Keep to your routine
Working from home might sound like a great opportunity for working in your pyjamas, and skiving off to watch Netflix but unlike the common saying, too much of a good thing isn't always wonderful
Instead of giving in to temptation, try to treat your days at home as you would any other - shower and dress for work, keep to your usual working hours, and try to create a dedicated work space so that you can still switch off at the end of the day.
Whilst holding onto your routine might initially seem boring when you no longer have to, a lack of routine can lead us down a dangerous path of impulsiveness, and straight into the arms of unhealthy coping strategies such as excessive drinking, eating and thinking. Without the chance for a sanity check our thoughts can overtake us and quickly become anxiety.
2. Get outside
Ok, I know that isolation doesn't sound like it should involve outside, but fresh air is vital to good mental (and physical) health.
If you have a garden then use it! But if you don't there are still plenty of ways to get fresh air into your day - sit next to an open window, take a break to sit on your front step, or go for a walk. Social isolation doesn't mean not leaving your home at all, it means staying a few meters away from other people to avoid the spread of the virus. You can therefore take a walk, go for a run, or head to the shops to stock up any time you need to.
A change of scenery is vital if you're having to live and work within the same four walls. When we're static in one place it's the same as being static in our minds - we get stuck. So offer yourself as much variety as you can.
Being outdoors also boosts our Vitamin D levels which is strongly connected to mood, with those people who spend more time indoors much more prone to receiving a diagnosis of depression.
Being outdoors also boosts the oxygen we can breathe in (even in a city). Oxygen in our lungs keeps our bodies going, and oxygen in the blood powers our brains. So more time outside = more oxygen = more brain power.
3. Enjoy the perks of being at home
Let's not forget that there can be perks of being at home too, so take the time to enjoy these unexpected benefits:
If you're not having to commute into work then you can get up later! Many of us are sleep deprived in our usual routines, so take this opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep.
At work we might not have time for more than a sandwich at our desk, but at home you have access to a fully stocked kitchen, so use it! Enjoy the ability to eat a home cooked meal in the middle of the day for a change.
For those of us with pets or children, we can often feel a pang of sadness at being away from them whilst we work. During this temporary phase of home working, enjoy the dog laying at your feet, the cat across your keyboard, or the child sitting across from you - you'll miss them once you're back in the office!
Everyone has something they wish they could get back home for, so now that you're there it's time to take advantage and enjoy it.
4. Get social
Whilst you may not be able to see people face to face, that doesn't mean you can't keep the contact going. In this age of technology we have a lot of opportunities to remain connected, so use them.
Face to face contact may be out of the question, but we can still see our friends faces thanks to Skype, FaceTime, and many other platforms. If you would normally have lunch with a friend then why not keep that tradition going over video chat?
Whilst seeing faces on screen is likely the closest we can get to seeing them in person, it's not everyone's favourite medium. Instead of video calling you could make a telephone call, have a text conversation, or email them about your day instead. Or if you're a gamer then why not set up a battle or gathering in your favourite game? - whatever you feel comfortable with that helps you to stay in contact, use it.
And we won't only be missing our friends and family at this time - on any given day we are used to having a lot of contact with strangers too and we'll feel this loss even if we think we're not very sociable! Thanks to social media though we can still hear the chatter around us. Whilst social media does have the ability to antagonise, it can be a great way to know that you're not alone. Be aware of what feels right for you.
5. Keep moving
One thing that can feel hard to do in a confined space is to keep moving. But with a few tweaks you can find a new routine that works for you.
If your usual fitness routine involves group sport, gym classes, or your walk to work then you might feel a bit stumped about what you can do if you're stuck at home. Luckily the internet is already full of great ideas for ways to exercise in the comfort of your own home.
If you usually enjoy a walk into work then keep doing that - leave the house at your normal time and take a walk around your local neighbourhood instead ending up back at home in time to begin work. It might feel a bit odd to begin with, but you'll soon find a favourite route, and beginning work with the same windswept feeling will help keep things feeling normal. Bonus!
If you're more of a gym goer then YouTube is your friend - it's full of loads of different exercise videos to suit everyone. Whilst it will feel different to exercise alone in your living room instead of an exercise studio, the onscreen teacher will help you to feel connected, and if that isn't enough then perhaps you could arrange for your usual gym buddies to all do the class at the same time!
Whilst contact sports like football and rugby are a bad idea when we need to avoid touching, others like tennis, running, or even football (dribbling / scoring practice) can keep you connected to the exercise you crave.
It's difficult living in times of uncertainty. The human brain is hardwired to worry about the unknown, but in focusing on the things that you can control, and adapting as much of what you can't as possible, you can safeguard your mental health.