Today, the world is in the middle of a global pandemic, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the influenza pandemic of the 1960s. Novel coronavirus is an altogether new experience and it has changed the lives, habits, and careers of many. With millions of Americans laid off, millions more working from home, and pressure from media and health professionals, staying mentally healthy can be as much of a risk as staying physically healthy. This is especially important if you are in a high-risk area, are vulnerable to anxiety and depression, or already have a diagnosis.
It’s crucial to take care of your mental health, to recognize when you aren’t coping, and to seek help if you need it. These 10 tips for maintaining mental health during quarantine will help you get started.
1) Create Structure with Routines
Whether you’re still going to work, working from home, or have lost your job, it’s important to maintain structure. More than 30 million Americans have lost the structure of a day job. Millions of students no longer have structured classes, with many universities switching to online courses. Many people now work from home. Maintaining a regular schedule is important for maintaining a sense of balance and control. For example, you might be able to sleep till noon and stay up till 3 but it’s likely not good for you and wont’ help you to do things you want.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day
- Make sure you’re getting a healthy amount of sleep (8-9 hours for most people)
- Engage in regular patterns of behavior. Wake up and shower and go to work. Exercise at about the same time every day. Set aside time to prepare meals every day.
- Be consistent, it will help.
2) Maintain Your Responsibilities
It’s easy to allow small things to slip up and get away from you. But, especially if you’re struggling with depression and anxiety, once they get away from you, it’s difficult to get back. Skipping dishes for a few days results in a mountain of unwashed dishes. Skipping folding laundry is depressing and may leave your space covered with clothing. Maintaining self-care, home, and career responsibilities is critical to maintaining your mental health.
- Clean spaces actively contribute to feelings of wellness and calm
- Cleaning and organizing can contribute to serotonin and dopamine production, helping you to feel better
Of course, it’s also important not to overdo your responsibilities or to set too many.
3) Don’t Set Unhealthy Expectations
Sometimes social media and social expectations can be intensely unhealthy. Some of us have gone into quarantine with huge expectations of how to use sudden free time. But, not only is it unrealistic to expect yourself to learn a new skill or to write a novel, it’s intensely bad for your mental health. A global pandemic is a period of intense stress and fear. Your family may be at risk. You may be at risk. You might have lost loved ones. You might have lost your job. It’s fine and it’s healthy if you can pour yourself into online classes, learning an instrument, or whatever else you want as an outlet and a coping mechanism, but try not to set expectations for it. Consistency and diligence are good but forcing yourself to meet unhealthy expectations is bad for your mental health and your self-esteems.
Importantly, stress negatively affects your ability to learn. People who are stressed are less able to memorize data, less able to repeat behaviors they’ve already learned, and less able to perform even high-skill tasks with precision. In short, give yourself a break and don’t add more stress related to forcing yourself to learn something new.
Begin the next step in your life.
4) Consider Journaling Your Mental Health
Keeping track of your mental health is an important way to ensure that you are healthy. It’s easy to brush aside negative feelings if you can tell yourself that you don’t normally experience them. Journaling your emotions will give you an easy way to refer back to how you’ve been feeling, what you’ve been thinking about, and for how much of that day. You can keep a journal on your phone or a word document or on paper, the format doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you consistently write down an overview of how you felt throughout the day, paying special attention to persistent, recurrent, or intrusive thoughts or moods.
5) Stay Social (Safely)
Quarantine asks us to distance ourselves from our friends and family for their safety and ours. Giving up on human connection is hard. People want and need physical intimacy. We also want and need social intimacy. It’s important to find balance so that you can maintain your health while reducing risks.
- Use digital technology to talk to friends and family every day. Consider setting up video calls while doing manual tasks like cooking
- Pick 1-3 people who will agree to see you and no one else. Keep risks in mind when visiting each other
- Stay involved with your community through social media
Social contact and lack of it are hugely impactful on mental health. Anxiety, depression, and psychotic breaks can easily occur as a reaction to simple loneliness. Make sure you maintain connections.
6) Take Time Out
Life is stressful. Life in the middle of a global pandemic is even more so. Make sure you take time out to take breaks from news, watching numbers, and stressing about work, family, or friends. Setting aside time to relax is important for everyone, but it also differs for everyone. You might consider having a few hours of planned time out with no phone or internet before bed. You might plan a hiking trip. You might spend an hour in the bath every day. Whatever you do, make sure it’s relaxing and that you don’t have to spend that time being concerned about Covid19.
7) Maintain Regular Exercise
Most people heavily benefit from 3o+ minutes of light to moderate exercise per day (walking, swimming, light cycling, etc.). Light to moderate exercise boosts the mood, increases oxygenation of the blood, and improves production of serotonin, which can help your mental health. Here, consistency is key because benefits only last for as long as you continue exercising. Consider setting aside a specific part of your day, every day, to exercise. Walking is a good idea if you live in an area with nature or parks. Walking in nature actually increases the positive effects of exercise. Yoga, tai chi, Pilates, barre, or any number of other exercises are highly suitable if you are exercising in the home.
8) Eat Well
Eating well will improve your mood, your energy levels, and your mood stability. Over the long-term, eating well also reduces your risk of mood swings, depression, and anxiety, because nutrient deficiencies can and do contribute to mental health disorders. Consider investing time in cooking food that is healthy and that you enjoy each day. What counts as healthy? Consult with your doctor or follow general guidelines such as those delivered on ChooseMyPlate.gov.
9) Practice Stress Management
Stress management, whether stress management courses, yoga, mindfulness, or mindfulness-based stress reduction, can be incredibly helpful in giving you tools with which to cope with quarantine and a pandemic. While there are many tools, most people will eventually find affinity with one or another, and there is no right answer. Mindfulness and mindfulness-based stress reduction are extremely popular, delivered in online and offline formats, and are delivered in 8-week courses. They’re also proven to improve stress management and coping skills, boosting life skills and happiness in long-term practitioners.
10) Get Professional Help
Sometimes self-management is not enough for your mental health and that’s okay. Mental health is complex, your problems might be too much for you to manage. You might not have good coping mechanisms. Whatever the reason, there’s no shame in getting help. Mental health services are still being delivered, through online therapy, through treatment centers, and through residential treatment. If you’re struggling, talk to your doctor and get advice on what might be the best solution for your needs.
Your mental health impacts every other layer of your wellbeing. Managing it is critical to your ability to live a happy, healthy, and productive life. If you do need help, there’s no shame in reaching out and asking. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you maintain your health throughout quarantine.