Lockdown intensifies loneliness, anxiety and eats into social life, but here's how you can fight the blues
This pandemic has turned the world upside-down and stirred chaos, not going to lie. The lockdown that has been imposed in various nations as a preventive measure has disrupted lives. We are forced to stay indoors in order to ensure our own safety and have been adhering to the social distancing guidelines. So every time we step out of the house, we have to keep a safe six-foot distance from the other person and wear masks, gloves and whatever else we may need in order to protect ourselves. With all that's happening, it's also difficult to ignore the toll it will take on our mental health.
Human beings are social animals and we thrive on physical contact and face-to-face interactions. It is innate to every person and close proximity is essential in socializing with people. It is what stimulates growth and determines a healthy mind. Humans have evolved as interdependent species over millennia and the essence of our existence is social interaction. However, with the coronavirus pandemic raging on and the stringent measures for stemming the spread of the disease only increasing, people are forced to stay apart and this could very well affect our mental health.
Self-isolation can assure physical well-being but the lack of social interaction can have dire consequences on both physical and mental health. Research says that people who often feel lonely are prone to contract diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Those who are already vulnerable to depression, anxiety, insomnia and other mental disorders suffer even more and are potentially developing an increasing dependence on medicines that could eventually lead to substance abuse.
Most people have taken to the comfort of their homes, self-isolating with their loved ones around them and that's great. This means they can rely on each other and there is some sort of physical contact to get them through. A pet can also substitute as a great companion during isolation. For others though, especially those that live by themselves because they are independent or because bad-timing didn't allow them to go back home to their families, these could be very trying times. Staring at the ceiling and doing nothing or working at your desk in absolute silence can do your head in.
While social distancing is physical separation, it ushers in waves of loneliness — the distress feeling of being alone or separation on an emotional and psychological level. It is possible for people to feel lonely while in a crowd and on the contrary, being alone but not feeling lonely is also a possibility. However, it is essential to note that loneliness is also a biological warning that your body is seeking another person because it knows that physical contact is crucial to existence.
According to Psycom, those most at risk of being psychologically affected by social-distancing are people in the age group of 16-24, women, have a psychiatric history, have a single child, healthcare workers and the elderly. The older population is highly susceptible to disorders caused by isolation. Lack of conversation and physical contact could result in their mental-health deteriorating and could trigger diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia.
"Feelings of loneliness and social isolation, heightened by the current public health crisis, can have severe health consequences for a number of socio-economic groups," the European Public Health Alliance said in a statement. "Furthermore, limiting access to normal daily activities, not just going to work, but normal social interactions with others provoke mental health issues and weaken physical health for those who already struggle to maintain good health and wellbeing," they added.
So how do you find ways to cope through your psychological turmoil? Celebrity doctor and addiction medicine specialist, Dr Drew, shared with E! his tips on being proactive during isolation and keeping a tab on your mental health so they don't become clinically relevant.
He emphasizes the importance of being outdoors, exercising and basking in the sunlight. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to venture out to the streets, but stepping out on to your balcony or just within the compound of your home and relishing the fresh air and sunlight can help. Sunlight is a source of Vitamin D and its great for depression, panic and anxiety which are evident mental health problems that are arising out of the crisis.
Reach out to people that may need help and be of service. Since we have technology at our disposal, staying connected with our family and friends through the virtual medium can help elevate the stress that sets in. "Take advantage of your relationships. It is very important", he says. However, if you feel like you are unable to function during this time and your mental health has taken a hit for the worse, he urges you to talk to your doctor who can prescribe the right medicines. Furthermore, he stresses that although the quarantine has basically put our lives on an indefinite hiatus, we should try and set some expectations for our future for when the guideline has been lifted and anticipate it just as we would in any other scenario.
Furthermore, practicing your breathing exercises and meditation can aid in calming your mind and body and you could always look up online workout routines as well. "Rather than let that anxiety paralyze you, lean into it. Dare to come on. Bring it on. Let it come and you may find internal resources that you never thought you had," he added.
In addition to Dr Drew's anecdotes, trying to channel your creativity into leisure activities like baking, cooking or art have time and again proven to be soothing. Reading or learning a new language helps to focus your attention on something other than the factors activating your stress.