The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reiterated time and time again that quarantining yourself at home plays a significant role in preventing the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). However, the longer you remain isolated from the outside world, the more you may realize that coping with the changes in your “new normal” is more challenging than you initially thought. Looking after your mental health is as essential as caring for your physical health during these trying times, and more so if you have cancer.
Mental Health Effects of Quarantine
The researchers of a 2020 study published in The Lancet revealed that psychological distress is common during and after periods of quarantine. The focus group of these researchers — which included men and women who endured previous disease outbreaks such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, and influenza — experienced the following:
- Poor concentration
- Low mood
- Emotional exhaustion
- Emotional disturbance
- Post-traumatic stress symptoms
- Depressive symptoms
The same study disclosed that these mental health consequences can be long-term and that substance and alcohol dependency was more prevalent up to three years after quarantine.
On a positive note, there are many ways to protect your mental health and well-being throughout this pandemic.
How to Stay Mentally Healthy During Quarantine
Here’s how you can manage the psychological impact of coronavirus quarantine:
1. Create a Routine
The disruption in your normal everyday routine can be one of the most challenging aspects of quarantine, which can leave you feeling directionless as you attempt to fill the hours of the day. If you are working from home, it may help to structure your time similarly to a regular workday. This can be difficult and stressful, however, if other family members (e.g. your children, spouse, parents, siblings, or roommates) are home all day as well. Without the structure of a normal workday for you and the other adults in your home, or without the strict schedule of a school day for kids and teens — everyone cooped in your home can feel out of sorts.
If you are currently working from home and have children, it may help to plan out activities that will keep them entertained. On the other hand, if you are struggling to be productive due to, for example, your grandparents asking you to cook or teach them how to use FaceTime, it may help to establish “do-not-disturb hours” in order to focus on your priorities. Just remember to help your household members with their requests later in the day.
2. Be as Active as You Can
Did you know that even short periods of idleness can impact your physical and mental health? A 2019 study concluded that two weeks of inactivity was enough to cause reductions in muscle mass and metabolic effects. Luckily, going to the gym or hiring a personal trainer is no longer your only option for staying fit. There are multiple at-home workout ideas that can help keep you moving without leaving the comfort of your home. Exercising is also an all-natural treatment for depression, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
3. Communicate With Your Loved Ones
Keeping in touch with friends, family, co-workers, and other people in your life not only combats boredom, but it also minimizes the sense of isolation. Fortunately, staying in contact with those you hold near and dear has never been easier thanks to modern technology. You can utilize different forms of communication, including social media, phone, text, email, or video call. If the people you love are already right at home with you, eating regular meals together, watching movies, and playing board games are excellent ways to bond and avoid cabin fever.
4. Avoid Overwhelming Yourself With News About COVID-19
The sense of panic that stems from excessive exposure to reports that focus on negative information can cause severe anxiety. Therefore, rather than spending hours of your precious time scrolling through social media or watching television, “ideally, you want to balance your bad news consumption with some well-protected boundaries,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Sumi Raghavan in an in-depth discussion with Clean Plates, a multiplatform media company. She recommends “no more than 30 minutes spent on news stories per day, or no more than 30 minutes on social media. You can set timers for yourself and say, ‘I am allowed to fall down the rabbit hole until this timer goes off,’ as long as you can stick to that and afterwards, you go back to your life.”
5. Keep in Mind That Kids Get Stressed, Too
A 2004 study focused on the psychological effects of quarantine during the SARS pandemic found that children who had been through quarantine exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at four times the rate of children who did not experience self-isolation or quarantine.
If you are a parent or legal guardian, the CDC advises sitting your children down and discussing the COVID-19 outbreak in a manner that is age-appropriate, informative, and reassuring to them. What’s more, ensure to maintain a sense of structure in your household, and to model positive behaviors. For instance, learning to manage your own fears and anxiety may help subdue the worries of your children.
6. Remember Why You’re Doing This
If you are beginning to feel restless and frustrated, it may help to remind yourself of the reasons why you are quarantining in the first place. You may be making this sacrifice to protect your vulnerability as a cancer patient; to help your country and the world flatten the curve; to reduce the chance of unknowingly spreading the illness to those around you; or perhaps your reasons include all of the above.
7. Consider Getting Help From a Therapist
Telehealth programs allow people to communicate with medical professionals without leaving their homes. Thankfully, there are many online therapy options that help people contact licensed therapists by phone call, text, email, or video call. Please do not hesitate to seek help if you are struggling to cope with the stress of being in quarantine. If you have a preexisting mental health condition, the CDC recommends continuing with your treatment.
Protecting your mental health during quarantine is important since it can have short- and long-term detrimental effects on your psychological well-being. Establishing a routine, staying active, and trying the rest of our tips in this article can be your first step in developing a healthy coping mechanism while in quarantine.