Discover how to improve your well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic so you can cope with the negative impacts.
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It is quite well-known by now that the pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on people’s mental health. Valentina Dragomir, a psychotherapist, tells us what these impacts are and how to improve your well-being.
Valentina Dragomir is a psychotherapist practicing in Bucharest, Romania, accredited by the European Association of Integrative Psychotherapy. She was featured in Psychologies.ro and other Romanian psychology sites (Depresiv.ro and Motivonti.ro).
What are the negative impacts of isolation and how to improve your well-being
The Covid-19 safety measures makes most of the people spend their time in isolation or quarantine. The most common restrictions are:
- avoiding traveling and therefore working from home,
- avoiding spending time outside your home except for doing groceries or other strictly important and necessary things such as going to the doctor, and
- avoiding meeting with people.
Another safety measure is that if you go out keep a minimum distance of 6 feet between you and another person. This is called physical distancing and I will refer to it later in this article.
In other words, you cannot go to work but you may work from home. Some people still go to work because the type of work they do cannot be done remotely. If you go to work you are bound to follow strict safety measures during the work schedule, such as physical distancing, wearing a protective face mask and gloves.
Another thing you cannot do is seeing your friends in a café or spend Friday nights dancing and drinking in the club. Also, you cannot go on vacation even if you had it already planned since last year.
What you are left with is spending much of your time at home, in isolation.
For many, this is not a pleasant experience and has a profoundly negative impact on mental health and the state of your relationships.
Spending a lot of time in isolation has taken a toll on many people. For example, you can start feeling anxious.
Anxiety is a product of uncertainties and lack of control that many people experience because of the pandemic.
What if you lose your job? What if you aren’t able to pay your bills? What if your loved ones get the virus and get severely sick? What if you get sick? Wouldn’t it be better to physically distance yourself and reduce contact with other people?
Physical distancing is good because it allowed many countries managed to slow down the spread of the virus. However, because physical distancing means staying mostly inside, many people may experience social distancing.
Physical distancing and social distancing are not the same.
Social distancing means not engaging in social contact.
The World Health Organization advises that you keep the physical distance between you and others but you stay connected socially.
Reducing the social interactions has many negative effects on us because we are social beings and we like to be in contact with people.
Without social connection with our families and friends we may start to feel lonely, and loneliness can lead to depression. This is worse for people who don’t have a family or a partner. They are more vulnerable to feeling loneliness.
Impact on relationships
At the opposite pole, there are many people for whom loneliness is not a part of being in isolation or quarantine. For example, you may feel that isolation is an opportunity to spend more quality time with your family, children or life partner.
While many people enjoy spending quality time with their family members, it may not be the same for everyone. In fact, isolation brings challenges in their relationships.
Sometimes, too much time spent with family or with children can make us feel frustrated or angry, lack patience and understanding – ending in conflicts with our loved ones.
Unfortunately, this can result in couples or marriages breaking apart because they cannot seem to find solutions for their problems.
Other people can have even worse experiences of abuse or domestic violence. Because of the isolation, physical abuse or domestic violence problems have dramatically risen. These experiences are severely traumatic for the victims.
Working too much or procrastinating
Another impact isolation has on our well-being is that when it comes to working from home, we may find ourselves between two extremes. One extreme is working all day and having no time for ourselves or anything or anybody else.
The other extreme is procrastinating and having difficulty keeping up with job tasks. We may do this because we lack the work environment and the framework that comes with it. Therefore we can find that we don’t have time for anything else, or we have too much time that we don’t know how to spend.
Boredom and unhealthy coping mechanisms
If being in isolation means too much free time for some people, they may experience boredom.
“Boredom is the root of all evil” said Søren Kierkegaard and I think he was right.
If you don’t direct your energy towards developing yourself when you feel bored, you can start or deepen unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Such unhealthy coping mechanisms can be eating or drinking too much, spend more time on the internet or using drugs.
How to identify if your well-being is affected
All the above are negative effects on your well-being that you can feel during isolation or quarantine. You know that your well-being has been affected by isolation or quarantine if you also experience the following:
- persistent low mood
- low energy
- loss of interest in activities and social interactions
- feeling anxious or irritable
- often starting conflicts with people around you
- feeling bad about yourself
How to improve your well-being during the pandemic
You can dramatically improve your well-being when you have a relaxed mind, an optimistic perspective, are doing activities that gives you a proud and confident feeling, connecting with people, and taking good care of your sleep, diet, and exercise.
If you notice that your well-being has been affected by isolation, here is what you can do.
Manage your anxiety
One of the best ways to look after your well-being is by managing your anxiety.
Anxiety can be very bothersome because you may not be able to sleep or eat well, or you may not be able to silence the chatter in your mind. Having a train of thoughts in your mind can make you unable to focus on what is important.
You cannot learn something new or find good solutions to our problems if you feel anxiety. Therefore, managing your anxiety is a good first step towards your well-being.
To change how you feel you must change what you think. First you must relax to send signals to your brain that you are safe and are not in a dangerous situation. Breathing exercises work very well for this purpose. Breathing deeply helps to calm down the body and then you can proceed to balancing the mind in order to address the anxiety.
Second, balancing the mind can relieve and prevent anxiety from stepping in and does wonders for your well-being. In a stressful situation that you can encounter in isolation, your mind can make errors by producing what we call cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking common to all the people. They show you a distorted view about oneself, the world and others. These errors in thinking usually trigger negative emotions, such as anxiety, which is why it is important that you focus on changing these patterns of thinking. Changing the thoughts will change how you feel.
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Practice an optimistic perspective
Balancing your thinking can help keep your optimism levels high. Realistic optimism is good for our well-being. It helps you look forward to the good things in life.
At some point the pandemic restrictions will start to lift gradually and things will be back to normal.
It is very important to find balanced ways to look at the problems you encounter and focus on what exactly you can do and what is in your power to control. Accepting and letting go the things you cannot directly control is another aspect that can help you regulate the anxiety level.
Do activities that make you feel good
During isolation your well-being can also benefit from doing something that makes you feel good, proud or confident. Or a combination of these.
Helping your family members is a good start to achieve these feelings. Spending time practicing a hobby, learning something new or making something with your hands can bring positive feelings as well.
Keep in contact with the people you love
Socializing is another very important element for your well-being. It helps diminish the feelings of loneliness and helps us feeling in contact with the people we love. Even if we are not meeting our friends in a café, we can still keep in touch with them. We can do this mostly by video-calling.
Take good care of your diet, sleep and active levels
Keeping a balanced diet, regular exercise and a healthy sleep schedule are powerful tools that can help tremendously during isolation.
We could think that being mostly at home it is not important to maintain healthy routines such as eating 3 meals per day, 8 hours of sleep and at least 30 minutes of activity per day.
Diet, sleep and exercise are very important for our harmonious functioning. This is how we get the energy that we need and we keep a strong and healthy body during this time of crisis.
Final thoughts on how to improve your well-being
These are powerful actions we can take today to improve our well-being during this pandemic. However, these may not be helpful enough for some people. Seeking professional help from a counselor or psychologist by telehealth can make the difference if you have difficulties during isolation or quarantine.