Introduction

Self-isolation at home may be required to minimise our chance of getting COVID-19, or to prevent others in the community from catching COVID-19 from us.  

This blogpost contains some ideas on how you can look after your mental health during this period of self-isolation.

Reasons for self-isolation

You may choose to self-isolate if you have chronic health conditions, are in a high risk group, or care for someone in these groups. You may even have to self-isolate, e.g., if you have returned from overseas within 14 days, have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or have COVID-19 symptoms.

Effect of self-isolation

A review of the psychological impact of previous periods of quarantine (2) , showed that it CAN make people more susceptible to depression, irritability, uncertainty, confusion, anger, PTSD, and increased alcohol and cigarette consumption.

The effects were found to be worse with longer quarantine periods, if there were fears of infection, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, health anxiety and stigma (2).

On the plus side, effects were found to be lessened if the quarantine was voluntary, I.e., you have decided to self-isolate to protect your health or the health of your family (2).

How to look after yourself

Professor Mike Kyrios from Flinders University (3) suggests 6 strategies to use if in self-isolation, summarised by the acronym STREAM:-

  1. S is for Social networking. We can still keep in contact with relatives and friends via phone, online (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.), or social media. If you are not sure how to use online or social media technologies, why not ask someone to assist you? In many cases the videoconferencing link can be set up by the person you wish to network with, and they can show you how it is done. You may even improve your IT skills!
  2. T is for Time out from each other if sharing your home with others. This can be scheduled, and can help if all members of your household are not normally present during the day (e.g. if two parents are working from home when previously one worked outside the home). 
  3. R is for Relaxation. This can include mindfulness, hypnosis or yoga. There are multiple strategies for relaxation and mindfulness and breathing exercises. I have covered some in a previous blogpost. It is also important to get sufficient sleep, and keep to a regular sleep routine.
  4. E is for Exercise and Entertainment. If you are used to exercising, there are plenty of opportunities to continue this in your house or yard. Even if you do not have hand weights at home, you may be able to find alternatives to use (cans of food can substitute for small hand weights, and water-filled plastic milk bottles for larger weights).  There are plenty of home exercises available for download from the internet. Perhaps you can play sport in your back yard. You can also entertain yourself by listening to music, watching TV and movies, reading a book, maybe playing a board game or internet game.
  5. A is for Alternative thinking. Realise that some aspects of self-isolation that are new, and that this can be challenging and may cause stress. Use techniques that have worked previously for you when you need to calm your thinking. You may be able to ‘mentally step back’ from a situation that is bothering you, and consider various actions that you could take. 
  6. M is for being Mindful of others. Remember that self-isolation is not only helping you to keep healthy, it is also helping the community. This can make it easier to get through. Remember that it won’t be forever – it is just short-term and we are all in it together. Although we can’t call at neighbours’ houses to check that they are OK, we can call them on the phone, and offer to check regularly on them. This can also give us some social contact.

Some other suggestions are as follows:-

  1. Listen to reputable news sources. Knowledge is power! But you may like to ration yourself to watching the news for a set period, e.g., 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Reputable sources include the major TV channels (e.g. ABC, Channel 7, Channel 9, SBS) and newspapers. There is a useful article from the Guardian which gives tips on how to judge the reliability of an information source.(4)
  2. Follow government advice. This can be found on the World Health Organization (6), the Australian Department of Health (7), and the website of your state or local health authority.
  3. Watch or read about non-COVID-19 topics. It can be tempting to watch the almost constant coverage of COVID-19 in various programs, but there are plenty of programmes on TV and radio about other topics.
  4. Get advice about any physical or mental health symptoms. Many GPs are now offering telehealth appointments by video or telephone, so you can avoid prolonging anxiety about any symptoms you may have.
  5. Eat a healthy diet. It can be easy to slip into habits of having quick microwave meals, especially if you are isolating on your own. However, cooking most meals from fresh or frozen ingredients is recommended for health. Watch alcohol and tobacco consumption as well to ensure that it doesn’t increase.

Surprisingly, we can also get ideas on how to thrive in isolation from the Middle Ages.

  • At this time, some people (particularly women) would choose to live walled in, alone in a room attached to a church. Author Godelinde Perk, Postdoctoral Researcher in Medieval Literature, University of Oxford, (9) states that the reasons for this were often service to the community through prayer, but some of these ‘anchorites’ became religious celebrities. Their cells would also face busy roads, and could act as a bank, teacher’s cubicle, and centre of local gossip.
  • Guides for the anchorites included advice to remember that they were enclosed in their room for the benefit of others (i.e. prayer), and not just for their own benefit. This can apply to those of us who are isolating ourselves now to avoid spreading COVID-19. 
  • One anchorite, Julian of Norwich (c.1343–c.1416), states that anchorites can expect some emotional turmoil, to organise their time wisely and also to guard against idleness. This advice could also apply to present-day self-isolators, who can develop a routine for each day, and use hobbies, physical exercise to keep busy. There is also acknowledgement of the part that pets can play in mental health as one guide, Ancrene Wisse, advises anchorites to keep a cat.

Finally, realise that we are all in this situation together. Government scientists and medical staff are working on looking after their communities, and researching how best to treat and minimise COVID-19.

Most importantly, remember that at a time in the future, the COVID-19 restrictions that we have at present will no longer be necessary.


If you are experiencing anxiety or stress, and would like to have a chat about how hypnotherapy (including self-hypnosis) could help, please give me a ring on 0403 932311 or arrange a call-back at a time to suit you by clicking the button below.

Get help now


References

  1. Australian Academy of Science. (2020). Isolation and anxiety: strategies to cope during COVID-19. Australian Academy of Science. https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/isolation-and-anxiety-strategies-cope-during-covid-19
  2. Brooks, S.K., Webster, R.K., Smith, L.E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., Rubin, G.J. (2020), The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet, 395 (10227), 912-920.  DOI 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8
  3. Kyrios, M. (2020. March 16) Mental health advice amid COVID-19 concerns. Flinders University News. https://news.flinders.edu.au/blog/2020/03/16/mental-health-advice-amid-covid-19-concerns/ 
  4. Readfearn, G. (2020, March 22). Coronavirus overload: five ways to fight misinformation and fear. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/22/coronavirus-overload-five-ways-to-fight-misinformation-and-fear 
  5. World Health Organisation. (2020, March 18). World Health Organisation. Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_2
  6. World Health Organisation. (2020). World Health Organisation. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  7. Australian Government Department of Health. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources. Australian Government Department of Health. https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-resources
  8. Australian Academy of Science. (2020). COVID-19: the facts. Australian Academy of Science. https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/covid-19-facts
  9. Perk, G.G. (2020, March 28). Coronavirus: advice from the Middle Ages for how to cope with self-isolation. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-advice-from-the-middle-ages-for-how-to-cope-with-self-isolation-134585

© 2020 Lisa Billingham
Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy
Perth, Western Australia

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