For many Americans, life as we know it has dramatically changed in the last 48 hours. On Monday, California announced a full lockdown of the Bay Area, and other parts of the U.S. are shutting down schools, bars, movie theaters, and restaurants. Social distancing and staying home have become necessary measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, but self-isolating can potentially damage your mental health, especially if—as some experts predict—this new way of life stretches for weeks or even months.
“Loneliness is a real problem, and it leads to negative thoughts, aggression, reactive behavior, losing touch with reality, cardiovascular disease, depression, and so on,” says psychologist Matt Grzesiak, Ph.D., the creator of the Mixed Mental Arts model.
Some people experience as much anxiety from being alone as those with social anxiety experience when in a crowded room. But whether or not you’re an introvert or extrovert, self-isolating can have insidious effects on your well-being. “It doesn’t really matter if someone enjoys being alone or not,” Grzesiak explains. “They’re still going to get the negative effects of loneliness.”
“Also, the coronavirus has created what’s known as ‘anticipatory fear,’ which means we’re afraid that something bad is going to happen, but we don’t really know what,” he says. “And it’s been proven that people suffer more being afraid of the unknown than when they know what’s going to happen.”
But the worst thing we can do, according to Grzesiak, is “just waking up at 2 p.m. every day in our pajamas not knowing what we’re doing or what’s going to happen and falling into the trap of being passive and reactive and just waiting for this to be over or for our lives to be taken.”
To make sure you avoid falling into that trap, here are some tips from experts on how to maintain your mental well-being while self-isolating and quarantining.
“Humans are habitual creatures, so being pulled out of a routine automatically pulls us out of our comfort zone and creates anxiety,” Grzesiak says. As such, it’s crucial to not just wake up every morning and wing it or hope for the best, because a lot of anxiety comes from feeling a lack of control over your life.
To maintain a sense of control, it’s important to create a new routine. You can even potentially turn your anxiety into excitement by seeing it as an opportunity to make some long-awaited changes.
You can also modify your old routine. Perhaps doing a yoga class at noon every day was a crucial part of managing your anxiety or stress levels, and losing that by self-isolating is panic-inducing. Many instructors are doing online classes now via Zoom, so talk to your instructor about that possibility.