COVID-19: Managing the Stress Of Isolation

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We are living thru a new reality of life: social distancing. Isolation is slowing the spread of COVID-19, but it will undoubtedly have negative consequences on our mental health and well-being for both the short- and long-term.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence.

A recent national survey showed that COVID-19 is seriously affecting Americans’ mental health, with 50% of U.S. adults reporting high levels of anxiety.

What can we do to minimize this problem?

It is very important not to catastrophize or watch the news media 24/7. Constant monitoring of the news will keep your anxiety levels high. The news doesn’t change much from minute to minute. Limit time spent watching the news on TV or a computer to 1 hour in the morning only. Do not watch the news in the evening; this will prevent being overwhelmed at night and ruin your sleep. Remember you need at least 7 to 8 hours of good refreshing sleep. Stress and lack of sleep will weaken your immune system.

Distract yourself with other work or recreational activities, read a good novel, play a board game, do a puzzle, start a household project you’ve been putting off, sit in the sunshine, or go for a walk – even if it’s just in your backyard. 

Fight loneliness and its consequences by using digital technology. Contact your friends and relatives, especially the most vulnerable and the elderly by calling them regularly and, if possible, by using virtual technologies to improve their perception. Have a dinner or fun family time together using video conferencing thru Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and others.

The use of digital technologies can bridge social distance, even while physical distancing measures are in place. Look for typical structures where people congregate, whether places of worship, gyms, and yoga studios that conduct online activities, and join them.

Keep moving. Take a walk in your neighborhood, ride a bike around the block, or exercise at home following YouTube videos, DVD instruction, or gym classes via Zoom. If nothing else, walk up and down your stairs for several minutes. Remember mild to moderate exercise will boost your immune system and increase your endorphins to fight the stress.

Keep your pre-COVID-19 daily routine. The new, erratic schedule that your body is not used to, especially sleeping pattern will unbalance your nervous system and contribute to more stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi can be really helpful in calming your nerves and manage your mental or emotional strain. Don’t know how to do either, try just deep slow breathing in a quiet place. You can use free guided meditations, or use apps like Calm and Headspace, the latter of which is currently offering free subscriptions, and Daylio, which helps you track your mood and daily activity so you can keep a mental-health promoting schedule. Set time to reflect at least once a day for 15 minutes, even better to do it twice a day, after watching the news in morning, and again to relax in the evening.

Try to focus on what you are grateful for, things that did not change or go away. Rather than ruminating in worries that you’ll get the Coronavirus, the stock market is crashing, your job is not safe, your graduation will be cancelled, or your kids will be out of school until Fall, focus on what you value and what you are thankful for, like enjoying time with your family, more time to exercise, learn new skills, and take care of yourself.

Never forget to laugh. It’s easy to get dragged down into the gloom with the 24-hour COVID-19 news cycle. Find something funny each day to share with your family, friends or co-workers – a joke, a funny video, or a meme. Check out The Comedy Channel instead of CNN. There are also some pretty funny memes and videos online. Here are some examples:

And of course stay with a healthy nutrition. Avoid too much sweets and simple carbohydrates, as blood sugar fluctuations will make anxiety worse. Stay away from highly processed and fried food, as these contain advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which have a powerful negative effect on emotional health and your immune system.

Adopt a pet, he/she will be your instant support animal – at least within the walls of your home. Cuddling with your cat, dog, or other furry friend is therapeutic and they always make you laugh.

The effects of isolation and stress from the Coronavirus pandemic can have an extremely profound effect on people’s physical and mental health – now and in the future. We need to address it now , before it becomes a serious disease!

If you feel overwhelmed and in need of help, please do not hesitate to call your doctor, psychologist, or health-coach. We are here to help you!

If you need more information or you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Val Koganski, please call 215-750-7000 or go online: https://www.NewtownInternalMedicine.com