In a blink of an eye, life as we know it has changed. Words such as “self quarantine” and “social distancing” have become a normal topic of conversation as we barricade ourselves within the confines of our own homes. Is it a necessary course of action at this moment in time? Absolutely. It appears to be the quickest and most effective way to keep ourselves protected and physically healthy.
The concern however, lies in how this separation from each other will impact our mental health. Social isolation has been known to be a key trigger for mental illness, and can become the catalyst for a wide variety of negative thoughts and paranoia. We as humans are inherently social beings; it is in our nature to seek the comfort and camaraderie of others. It’s a biological truth – studies show that face to face interaction and physical touch impact the release of neurotransmitters in our brain; with the increase of oxytocin, which is known to improve feelings of trust, love and connection, and the decrease of cortisol, which helps to lower stress and anxiety.
Without this daily dose of social interaction, many otherwise healthy individuals are going to experience an increase in symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. For those who are predisposed to these symptoms, the impact is going to be even more severe.
While we can’t change the situation we are currently in, we can work to find ways to protect ourselves from the residual affect of social isolation:
Maintain Structure & Routine:
With all the uncertainty that is occurring around us, it is essential that we establish a routine in order to provide some semblance of predictability and normalcy. When we maintain structure, we work to train our minds to stay focused in the present moment. Our attention remains on the activity at hand, and upon completion, we simply move to the next task.
It’s important to remember not to overdo the routine; the focus is more on keeping up with certain tasks at specific times throughout the day. This can include morning and bedtime rituals, meals being served at the same time each day and a few household or occupational tasks being completed within a certain time frame. This consistency will not only help to eliminate the unease associated with idle and unstructured time, but it will also work to emphasize the importance of self care.
Take Moments To Self Reflect & Regulate
For many of us, adverse feelings seem to just “come out of nowhere.” However that isn’t necessarily the case. The truth of the matter is that subtle feelings of anxiety or depression may be present without us even being consciously aware of them. We are usually so distracted with what’s occurring around us that we tend to ignore the signs our body is giving to us. So by the time we gain this awareness, the symptoms are severe and harder to control.
During this vulnerable time, it is going to be essential to be aware of the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations you are experiencing throughout the day. Make sure to allot the time to self reflect – jot it down, take a mental note, whatever you are most comfortable with. But regardless, if anything seems off or slightly imbalanced, afford yourself a moment to self regulate – push pause, take a deep breath, grab a cold drink of water and let the moment pass. This may need to happen several times throughout the day – make it a priority to allow for this time. It will be what helps to keep your behaviors and emotions in check.
Get Some Fresh Air
Research has shown that Vitamin D triggers the release of serotonin, which works to improve mood, regulate sleep, and help establish a sense of calm. Even if it is only for several minutes a day, make sure to take the time to get outside, breathe in the fresh air deeply and soak up the beauty that is around you. Not only will it awaken your senses, but it will re-energize both your mind and body.
If you are physically able, take a walk or go for a run. The increase in endorphins will improve mood and allow for a release of any pent-up, anxious energy.
Make Time To Connect Virtually With Friends & Family
One of the many benefits of technology has been our ability to maintain contact with our loved ones through virtual platforms. Being that face-to-face contact helps to improve our mood, sense of connection and validation, its essential to prioritize communication during this time. Being aware of your own needs, work to determine how often you require this social interaction. Make sure to carve out time each day, or several times a week, to connect visually with the people in your life that bring joy and comfort.
If you have family members who live alone, take the time to reach out to them. Even if it’s a simple phone call to say hello, chances are it will bring some much needed joy and sunshine into their day.
Be Mindful Of Your Food Consumption
Being stuck inside for extended periods of time can ultimately impact the nutritional decisions we make for ourselves. According to Thérèse Bonanni, MS, RDN, a clinical dietitian at Navesink Wellness Center, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate your food choices and create a healthier routine. “Social distancing can breed boredom and anxiety, which ultimately leads to mindless eating. This is why hydration is key. Sometimes we assume we are hungry simply because we are in close proximity to the kitchen. With more time to scroll through social media, we also leave ourselves vulnerable since research has shown that scrolling through pictures of food can contribute to overconsumption.”
When asked about specific food choices, Thérèse explained, “consuming too many simple carbohydrates (think sugar), or meals that are unbalanced, can drain your energy too quickly or leave you feeling tired and / or irritable, which ultimately leads to more stress. This is why meal planning is so important, especially during life changing transitions.”
Create Boundaries With Media
With all the uncertainty going on in the world around us, there are many unsubstantiated stories being passed around both locally and globally. Each time we turn on the television or log onto social media, we leave ourselves vulnerable to this information. It is essential that each of us make sure to do a self check-in every time we are tempted to tune in. Unless you feel equipped to handle the uncertainty of what may be posted, take preventative measures and put the remote or telephone down. Instead, take that time to self regulate, focus your energy on what’s around you and remove yourself from potential triggers.
Now more than ever, we must take the time for self care – gaining greater insight and understanding into what we personally must do to maintain stability as well as who in our lives help provide additional support, comfort and validation.
Nikki P. Woods, MSW, LCSW
Nikki Woods is a highly-sought after licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of the Navesink Wellness Center in Rumson, New Jersey. After earning her Masters Degree at New York University, Nikki dedicated her career to studying the intricacies of the developing female mind. In her practice (both locally and globally), she empowers mothers to better support their daughters’ development, and assists young women in channeling their own voice – one built on self awareness, acceptance and love.
Her intuitive and insightful approach helps clients gain a greater sense of self worth, pursue life goals, improve relationship dysfunction, establish a more defined identity, and celebrate their own unique assets and capabilities. Her work has been featured in top publications such as Forbes and Inc. She works with patients both locally in Rumson, New Jersey as well as globally via her remote psychotherapy offerings.
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