• Robb G. Best

Mental Health in a Time of Quarantine

It will probably not come as a surprise to you that life during a pandemic can be challenging for one's mental health. Even the CDC website warns, in an act of sweeping understatement, that "The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people." The website goes on to list a variety of now all-too-familiar stressors during an outbreak, including fear for one's loved ones, difficulty concentrating, and worsening of already chronic problems.

Of course, the outbreak is one source of stress. For many, the quarantine itself is another. The disruption of normal routine, the sense of boredom and isolation can all take an incredible toll on the brain. We were evolved to be social creatures, living in community. Staying inside and largely alone goes against some of our most fundamental programming, especially in a time when worries about the virus leave us craving reassurance from the ones we care about.

So what's to be done about it? Here's a quick overview of tips for better quarantine mental health.

1. Limit your COVID-related news intake

In these uncertain times, it can be hard to not sit there refreshing your go-to news sites over and over, but the truth is, taking in too many negative news stories can feed your sense of despair and hopelessness. You want to stay informed, of course, but Psychology Today cites a study finding that a quick morning update (roughly 15 minutes) is enough to stay abreast of current developments without overloading yourself.

If you've developed a pre-quarantine habit of regularly checking the news throughout your day, try replacing some of those clicks with a quick visit to The Dodo, which compiles feel-good news stories about cute animals, with headlines like "Horse Loves Trail Rides with His Favorite Dog" and "Cat Makes Sure His Dog Friend is OK During Thunderstorm".

2. Maintain connections remotely

Without straightforward ways to visit with friends and family, quarantine can feel extremely lonely. While it's no substitute for in-person quality time, try to regularly schedule phone calls or video calls with the people you're close to. Checking in on a friend gives you something to do and a way to feel closer to people who are far away, while also making them feel better as well.

If you run out of things to say in these not-very-stimulating times, try watching the same movie or show on a streaming service and then check in with each other for your reactions, like a kind of low-effort book club.

3. Take good care of your body

While it can be a challenge in the present moment to stick to healthy habits, the better care you can take of yourself, the better you'll feel. Focus on getting enough sleep. (But not too much; 7 to 9 hours is the sweet spot for most adults.) Try taking a daily walk, while keeping a safe distance from other pedestrians. For many, just getting out of the house can bring some measure of relief. Although the focus on buying shelf-stable foods can make this difficult, aim to eat vegetables every day (frozen or canned if necessary).

4. Be realistic

You may find yourself bombarded with messages suggesting you use the time to develop a new skill or finally write that novel. While there's nothing wrong with using this time to chip away at long-term goals, it's also okay to acknowledge that the isolation, fear, and for many, utter disruption of routine, can greatly complicate self-improvement schemes. There is something reassuring in knowing that this current historical moment is hard for everyone, and remembering that you're not alone.

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