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How to Take Care of Your Mental Health During Isolation

And how to adjust in a time of uncertainty

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) reclassified the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from an international public health emergency to a global pandemic. With community quarantine in place in the hopes of flattening the curve, social distancing has become the new normal until further notice.

In Metro Manila, in particular, the government-mandated lockdown is set for a month (ending April 14).

Apart from temporarily postponing land, domestic air and domestic sea travels in and out of the metro, city dwellers are also required to stay at home for the entire duration. But how does this social scenario ultimately affect individuals exactly?

Studies have shown that isolation over an extended period of time comes with a handful of side effects, impacting a person’s physical health and mental wellbeing. “For all the history of humanity, people have been in family structures, people have been in groups, we’re evolved to kind of crave and rely on that interaction with other human beings,” said Dhruv Khullar, a physician and researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, in an interview with The Guardian. “When we don’t have that it’s a huge void in the way that we go about being human. This is something that has been kind of hard-wired into who we are as beings.”

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Feeling cutoff from society with limited contact with the rest of one’s social circles, colleagues and family can take its toll in a number of ways. As evidenced by the medical journal The Lancet, quarantine can trigger a slew of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

So how can you keep your mental health in tip-top shape during social isolation? Key pointers to live by right ahead.

Stick to a routine that mirrors your typical workday.

If you used to wake up at 7AM, start the day off with quick cardio, follow it up with a shower and then have breakfast, keep at it. Now is not the time to stray away from your regular workday routine just because you are working from home. What’s important during this period of adjustment is to get ahold of a sense of structure and stick to the old habits that carried you through your days at work.

It’s easy to fall into traps like skipping the shower or forgoing brushing your teeth in the morning following the logic that “I’m just at home anyway.” But this is precisely the reason it’s important to adhere to what you’ve done before. Stay on top of your game to stay sharp and focused.

This is also the perfect time to reestablish work boundaries and set new ones within your own space. Set limits for work-related tasks; for example, if you used to clock out at 6PM at the office, do so, too, when working from home. Just as well, get out of your bedroom and stay out of your bedroom until it’s time to hit the sack at the end of the day. Be clear with yourself about which zones of your home are designated for your work and which ones are no-work-allowed spaces.

RELATED: 5 Tips to Stay Productive When Working From Home

Plan your meals and always go for a healthy, balanced diet.

This falls under reining in and taking control over what you can control, a crucial aspect of keeping your mental health in check. In times of uncertainty, what contributes to anxiety is the fear of not knowing and the feeling of helplessness in the wake of a global pandemic.

A way to keep yourself in check is to refocus your energy and attention to self-nourishment. Now is the time to raid your fridge and pantry, plan your meals around the available items in your kitchen, build a weekly menu and make sure you have your bases covered: vegetables, fruits, grains and a source of protein.

It’s important that this balanced diet is coupled with enough sleep, enough water and daily exercise.

RELATED: 7 Home Workouts to Do While on Self-Quarantine

Limit scrolling through social media and checking out news headlines to the start and end of the day.

The World Health Organization recommends that people on community quarantine “minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed.” In addition, it’s important that people turn to trusted sources like official news outlets and media websites for information.

“The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO explained. “Get the facts; not the rumors and misinformation. Gather information at regular intervals, from WHO website and local health authorities’ platforms, in order to help you distinguish facts from rumors. Facts can help to minimize fears.”

That said, stay connected.

There is no need to eliminate social media use entirely. In fact, staying connected with loved ones, friends and family with the help of social apps. Interaction could be made possible through other modes of communication such as video conferencing, e-mailing and, call it the old school way, making a phone call.

Engage digitally for the time being and check in regularly on your friends and family––specially to disseminate accurate and crucial information regarding the pandemic.

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Find ways to reach out and foster a sense of community.

Apart from participating in a worthwhile cause, giving back comes with a handful of mental health benefits proving that “doing good does you good.” Studies have shown that giving back to a community generates happiness, serves as a mood booster and gives a person a sense of person and meaning.

Should you be in a position to lend a hand, extend financial support or provide for those in need, now is the time to do so. There are plenty of non-government organizations accepting donations for front liners and other health workers, impoverished communities and working-class groups that cannot earn to feed their families given the community quarantine. Tap here to find out where you can donate and learn about more ways you can help.

RELATED: How to Keep Up with Someone Dealing with Anxiety

Extend a hand to the Philippine General Hospital by donating your Globe Rewards points. Here’s how:

  1. Download the Globe Rewards app on Google Play for Android or the App Store for Apple.

  2. Launch the app and tap “Donate” on the main dashboard.

  3. Select “PGH100” and tap “Redeem.”

Your donation will help provide much-needed test kits, alcohol and complete sets of personal protective equipment to our health workers and front liners.

Words Nicole Blanco Ramos

Art Matthew Fetalver

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