Due to COVID-19, we’re all practicing social distancing, and some of you may be under a 14-day quarantine to see if you develop coronavirus symptoms. It’s for our health.
So why does it feel so unhealthy?
When you’re in self-isolation, it’s easy to develop bad habits. But if you start letting these unhealthy habits take over, your physical well-being and mood are negatively affected, letting you spiral into loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Don’t miss these 15 things you shouldn’t do while in quarantine or isolation—so you can come out of this stronger than ever.
If you’re like many of us, you haven’t changed out of your sweatpants in three days. Being comfortable is just a perk of spending so much time at home. But letting your physical appearance go can have negative mental effects on your self-esteem and how you’re psychologically handing your self-isolation time.
Karen Pine from the School of Psychology at University of Hertfordshire conducted a study that analyzed the correlation between womens’ moods and the outfits they wore. After analyzing the results, she concluded, “It shows that clothes impact strongly on how we feel and may also influence how we think.”
The Rx: Nowhere to go? Who cares. Every once in a while, put on your best outfit, do your hair, and take pride in your appearance. Take a walk around the block or get on a video chat with your co-workers. Just putting on clothes that make you feel good and paying attention to your appearance can boost your mood and self-esteem while you’re stuck at home.
Social relationships have positive impacts on your behavioral, psychosocial, and physiological health. When you’re lonely and don’t have strong social connections to friends and family, you’re more likely to experience illness or depression.
According to a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, “Adults with cardiovascular disease who were socially isolated had a 2.4 time greater chance of having a cardiac death than an individual with strong social ties.” If you’re in social isolation, it’s easy to feel like you have no connection to your friends and family.
The Rx: You can’t physically visit your friends or family members but that doesn’t mean you should lose contact. Set weekly video chat dates with those who are important to you. Write letters to your loved ones or start a group text with your friends. Reaching out will continue to cultivate these relationships and remind you that even though you’re by yourself right now, you’re not alone.
We’re all idle and a little bored at home right now. All this time on your hands may make you feel pressured to do something amazing. If you’ve been watching your favorite artists and musicians on social media, you’ve probably witnessed masterpieces being created everyday. If you’re inspired by an art project or you feel the need to write a song, go for it. If you’re not feeling the inspiration or motivation, it’s easy to beat yourself up.
The Rx: You don’t have to be ultra productive or creative simply because you have time at home. Allow yourself to relax and enjoy this quiet time as well. You may simply want to sit down and read a book or watch a movie. Give yourself permission to relax in this downtime and don’t feel pressured to be creative and productive every minute of the day.
It’s easy to lose motivation and melt into the couch all day everyday when you’re stuck at home. But exercise and moving your body helps keep your mind sharp, your mood bright, and your body healthy. Exercise increases your serotonin, the chemical in your brain that regulates mood and keeps you happy. If you’re a constant couch potato, you’re less likely to feel motivated to achieve other goals you may have for the day and more likely to let the stress of social isolation bring you down.
The Rx: According to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the “Reduction of negative mood states seems to accompany most forms of aerobic exercise as well as anaerobic exercise such as weight lifting and yoga.” There are tons of free online workouts or you can go at it alone. Choose your favorite way to move your body, such as yoga, dancing, or strength training, and engage in it everyday for at least 30 minutes.
It’s important to review the guidelines that are set in your area. However, in most cases, you’re allowed to walk outside around your home and in your neighborhood as long as you stay six feet from other people and don’t congregate in groups of four or more. With these restrictions in place, you may be tempted to just say “Forget it!” and stay inside.
But your body needs fresh air, nature, and sunshine for both your mental and physical well-being. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Humans are intimately connected to nature, and our physical and mental health is influenced strongly by our environment.”
The Rx: Make it a point to hang out on your porch or walk around the block outside for at least 15 minutes everyday. The sunlight, fresh air, and change of scenery is good for your mental and physical health as we all try to navigate this strange self-isolating time.
Heading out into the world for an essential grocery store trip? If you’re feeling a little down and lonely, you may feel yourself reaching for junk food like chips, cookies, and ice cream. These “comfort foods” trick your brain into thinking they’ll boost your mood. But when you binge on unhealthy foods, the opposite happens.
A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition analyzed adults who consumed large quantities of unhealthy foods high in fat, deep fried, or high in sugar. These study participants “were more likely to report symptoms of either moderate or severe psychological distress compared to those who ate a healthier diet.”
The Rx: To stay mentally and physically healthy, stay away from processed snacks with lots of sugar and salt, says Maxine Barish-Wreden, M.D., ABIHM at Sutter Medical Foundation. Throughout this period of social isolation, follow a diet that balances complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and fatty acids so you can feel your best and keep your mood stabilized. Think vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy carbs.
Are you socially isolating with your family, roommates, or friends? It’s great to have company during this time. With other people in the house, it’s a lot easier to play board games and it’s more fun to watch a movie together. But for your mental health, it’s important to take a break from each other and experience some solitude.
Periodic bouts of alone time can “promote independence and confidence in one’s ability to cope without always depending on social support,” according to Psychology Today. Sometimes being alone is uncomfortable but experts claim, “One of the most common experiences deriving from solitude is creativity, spiritual growth, and time to explore values and goals without interference or distraction.”
The Rx: Schedule the time you spend with your household members so that everyone is one the same page and you know you’ll have some alone time each day. If you have different interests than your family members or roommates, it should be easy to break apart for a few hours each day to engage in your own hobbies alone.
No one can predict the future, so we’re all concerned about what’s to come. A little anxiety about this unknown situation is normal but self-isolation may allow you to get in your own head too much. If you let your anxiety get the best of you, it can actually negatively affect your immune system, which is the one body function you want strong and efficient right now.
The Rx: You’ll know your anxiety is taking over if you get headaches, insomnia, or muscle tension. Try a few minutes of deep breathing and meditation. Go for a walk outside or put on some music. Stop obsessing over what’s stressing you out and complete a task around the house to take your mind off it.
Before social isolation, you probably ate breakfast, went to work and ate lunch, then came home and had dinner with your family. In this new world of social isolation, everything feels a little off kilter, so it probably feels normal to maybe have breakfast, then snack for a while before you eat lunch. Maybe you add another meal in between out of boredom, then make a big pasta dinner and fresh baked cookies since there’s nothing else to do.
But messing up your eating schedule may lead to overeating, making you gain weight and feel pretty icky about your isolation status. if you let your eating schedule get out of control and you end up in the “obese” category, you have a lot of negative consequences heading your way. According to the Science Reference Services, obese people may deal with respiratory issues, insomnia, problems with the digestive system, negative effects on the reproductive system, and a taxed cardiovascular system.
The Rx: Without anything else in your life on a schedule, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and grab a snack from the fridge at all hours of the day. But it’s best to try and stick to your usual eating schedule as best as possible. Eating regular healthy meals will keep you looking and feeling your best.
With everything else in your life thrown on its head, your sleeping schedule is also bound to suffer. If you’re not heading to work like you usually do, it’s tempting to feel like everyday is a vacation. You may stay up late binging on Netflix or scrolling through Facebook just to feel connected to the outside world. But your sleep is a major factor in your immune system’s health, which is what you need to fight off this virus.
According to the Mayo Clinic, in periods of reduced sleep, your body’s infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced. The production of cytokines, the proteins that flee to help when you have an infection or inflammation, also decreases when you deprive yourself of sleep.
The Rx: The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults ages 18 to 64 get at least seven to nine hours of sleep. Having trouble catching those z’s? Turn off the TV and don’t look at your phone for at least an hour before bed. Listen to soothing music in a dark room or read a book to lull you to sleep.
Back when life was normal, maybe you loved to paint, knit, or play the guitar. Now that your days feel different, you might have left these hobbies and interests by the wayside. But the hobbies you used to love are more important now than ever to keep you mentally and physically healthy while in self-isolation.
A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine analyzed the physiological health and physical well-being of participants who engaged in leisurely activities and those who didn’t. It concluded that “Enjoyable leisure activities, taken in the aggregate, are associated with psychosocial and physical measures relevant for health and well-being.”
The Rx: Life feels uprooted right now, but it’s important to cling to the activities that you know will make you happy. If you have hobbies and interests that are easy to engage in during self-isolation, be sure you’re dedicating time to them. Set aside an hour a day to do something that brings you joy.
It’s important to know about the latest rules in your area, the spread of the virus, and what you can do to stay healthy. The news and other media outlets are vital resources for learning this information. But once you start watching, it can be hard to stop.
Negative news on repeat can really screw with your mental health, especially when you’re in self-isolation. According to the American Psychological Association, 95% of the adult population watches the news in the U.S. but 56% agree it causes them stress. Keeping that 24-hour news channel blaring in the background may heighten your anxiety and make your self-isolation feel more stressful than it already is.
The Rx: Identify the top three news sources that you find the most trustworthy, accurate, and positive. Set aside a certain amount of time each day that you check in with these news sources on the latest information. When your time is up, turn them off and do something else.
Your TV, phone, and computer may feel like the only ways you’re connected to the outside world right now. While that’s probably true, gluing yourself to your screens 24 hours a day can really affect your mental health through this difficult time.
This has been proven and the results are depressing: A study published in Preventative Medicine Reports analyzed adolescents who spent excessive time playing video games, watching TV, and browsing through their phones. The study found that “After an hour a day, increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.”
The Rx: Limit your screen time and the screen time your children engage in each day. Sometimes creating a schedule that includes screen time breaks is the best way to manage how much time you spend staring at your screens. Making yourself a to-do list that includes house chores or engaging in other hobbies and activities is also a great way to peel your eyes away from your phone.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that allows you to work from home during this time, it may be hard to shut off your work brain. Working from home bleeds your home and work environments together, which can blur boundaries between the two. Without many plans to leave the house, you may be tempted to just work all day and night. But long work hours can screw up your sleep schedule and make you miserable.
If you focus on work, you leave yourself no time for self-care and you may stop engaging in hobbies you love or trying to connect with friends and family. “Long working hours are likely to be related to less time to relax and less sleep. It is also possible that excessive working hours result in problems with close relationships, which in turn, may trigger depression,” according to Marianna Virtanen, Ph.D. from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The Rx: It’s important to continue working regular hours, even if you’re at home now. Set aside a space for your office and only allow yourself to sit in that chair when you’re working. As soon as it’s time to log off, turn your work computer off and walk away until the next morning. Since you don’t have an evening commute to help turn off your work brain, try meditating for 15 minutes when your work is complete so you can transition to family and home time.
You’re bored and you’ve been texting with a friend who’s also bored. You just want to get together and play cards, have a drink, and socialize. You’ve both been self-isolating for a week now, so what’s the harm? Don’t give into loneliness and risk your health by visiting a friend’s home, no matter what.
Some people infected with COVID-19 don’t feel symptoms at all and don’t even know they’re infected with the virus, according to Harvard Medical School. All it takes is one droplet from a cough or sneeze of your infected friend and you’ll have the virus too. Except you may get severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath or fever. If you unknowingly catch the virus, you may spread it to your household members or other friends you visit.
The Rx: Follow the orders that are in place in your area. If you’re required to shelter-in-place or if you’re under stay-at-home orders, it means you can’t visit your friends or neighbors, even if they’re feeling okay. By following these orders and being careful about exposure to other people, you’ll help stop the spread of the virus.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.