Mental health during quarantine: healthy, happy minds come first

What a year 2020 has been- we started off with breaking news of the Australian bushfires, followed by the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, only to be displaced with the coronavirus pandemic. It’s certainly been a tumultuous few months, and we’re not even a quarter of the way through the year yet. 

Government lock-down was enforced on 22nd March but it definitely feels like we’ve been inside for a lot longer than 2 weeks, and it only takes 2 weeks of social distancing in a full house to feel the strains of everyday life, especially on our mental health. Psychological well-being is a huge component of our general health, and has become more recognised over the last decade but is still arguably placed on the back-foot in society in comparison to physical health. However, during times of social distancing and isolation, it is more likely we experience just that- isolation. 

Not long after the start of quarantine did I realise how simple things like taking a walk outside and chatting with friends seemed so out of reach all of a sudden, and how the things we once called “everyday life” became luxuries. Being inside and the lack of social interaction started to take a toll on my mental health.

I read many research articles about maintaining a healthy mind, and ventured through many lifestyle blogs on the things we can do, but I noticed they were merely time-fillers rather than solutions for a positive mind-set. I reflected on what I’d done in the past when I was going through bouts of mental negativity, and what I’d perhaps already subconsciously done to try to maintain a healthy and happy mind.

  1. Keep your friendship circle tight…

Scrolling through Instagram, I came across a post that read “I can’t wait to hug you when this is all over”. I thought about when I’d be able to see or talk to my friends again before I realised how much easier social interaction is for us than previous generations. We always seem to attribute lack of time and distance to our failed relationships but truthfully, distance doesn’t separate people- we determine the efforts we invest to maintain relationships. If you’re feeling down during this time, chances are your friends are feeling the same. I’m a big believer in deep chats, but staying connected to close friends, sharing feelings and supporting each other is such a positive reinforcement. Social engagement is associated with better mental health as it bolsters feelings of well-being and decreases depressive symptoms as well as strengthening the immune system. Reach out to your friends- make sure they’re okay and make sure you’re okay.

  1. Put something on in the background…

Some work well in silence, others work well with background noise. Those working from home may have to adjust from office hubbub and loud typing to screaming kids or nothing at all, which can either be a distraction or end up with you being stuck with the thoughts in your head which is very overpowering. Most of the music I listen to is distracting but there are certain things I can play in the background if I need to be productive. Classical or piano music helps me to relax and focus, and the absence of lyrics means it doesn’t overpower what i’m writing. Coffee shop and rain noise are also hugely soothing and satisfying, which sounds strange but is well-received, perhaps because we can’t focus on continuous noise so it all fades into the background and we become accustomed to it just like office hubbub and loud typing. 

  1. Fresh air is your best friend…

Our outings have been restricted to one form of exercise a day, and despite not being a fitness enthusiast, I do enjoy a good long walk or hike. Getting fresh air and physical activity is normal in a daily schedule, but very underrated in terms of achieving a healthy mind. Even if we can’t venture very far, it’s important to allow your eyes to relax seeing different views to what you’ve seen cooped up inside all day and breathe some fresh oxygen which helps brain function. Especially with Spring’s much-anticipated arrival; getting out, producing endorphins and soaking up rays of vitamin D (correlated with decreased depressive symptoms) will do you the world of good, and the difference is insane.

  1. Take some time out…

It’s so easy to sit and stare at a screen for hours on end, days at a time. Normally we would go on holiday or spend time with friends to unwind, refresh and detox from emotional strains. These emotional strains are understandably more pronounced when we are restricted to walking around the same places and socialising with the same people, increasing the likelihood of a negative state of mind which only worsens if nothing is done to address it. Establish the narrative in your mind, trace its origins and attribute reasons towards it. Is it because you’re over-exerting? Is it because you’re under pressure? Cognitive restructuring in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) reframes maladaptive thoughts into more useful ones for a more positive outlook going forwards. It may seem daunting but most don’t realise that simply stepping away from work to read a book, listen to music, talk to friends or getting some fresh air- giving your head a break- is all that’s needed. So, trust your mind to tell you when it’s time to get some mental TLC.

  1. One little step at a time…

Someone once told me the first thing to get your day started is make your bed because albeit small and seemingly insignificant, it starts you off feeling productive and all the small things add up. Working from home doesn’t mean we have less work to get through but staring at a screen and pressuring yourself to complete it all only results in a negative mentality. Break your tasks up into chunks and work through them slowly- take some time out in between if need be. It took me many small ideas and an entire week to finish this article. It will take me many hundreds of ideas and another 30 days to finish my dissertation but I need to remind myself that it comes a couple of hundred words at a time. 

This period of time is difficult. We worry about ourselves, our loved ones, our friends; but we need healthy and happy minds to keep going. When it’s most difficult, we need to adjust our perspective: getting to have family dinners together, spending more time with your children, connecting with family members. Make the most of these opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have. When it’s most difficult, we have to remember the purpose and motivation behind social distancing; but we also need to reinforce that this doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our mental health. Mental health is a necessity, not a luxury.


Published by katiecai

Katie. 21. Psychology. Healthy, happy minds come first.

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