Social distancing and quarantine are emotionally taxing situations for anyone. Spending an extended amount of time in quarantine and isolation can take a serious toll on one’s mental health, and psychologically speaking, studies have shown that being in quarantine can lead to increased levels of “confusion, anger, and post-traumatic stress symptoms” (Banschick).
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, studies found that 29 percent of those quarantined suffered from PTSD and 31 percent suffered from depressive symptoms afterward. However, unlike COVID-19, the median time in quarantine during the SARS outbreak was only ten days. As we enter our sixth week of stay at home guidelines, questions arise about the additional mental distress we will face with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
A study by the Lancet Medical Journal found “mental health concerns could be inflamed by stressors associated with quarantine, such as infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, lack of information, financial loss and stigma associated with contracting the disease” (Gilchrist). Additional concerns arise regarding those impacted by pregnancy, domestic violence, and those with pre-existing physical or mental health disorders who have to stay home for an extended period of time.
According to the American Psychological Association and other news organizations, there are some effective ways to cope and alleviate the emotional distress of self-isolation.
- Create a routine: Creating a routine is a vital action to sustain normalcy and maintain a “sense of order and purpose” during such a peculiar time (American).
- Stay connected: Being quarantined can often increase feelings of loneliness in an individual. Chatting with loved ones or friends regularly can help lessen the effects of self-isolation and provide emotional support.
- Stay healthy: Heightened levels of stress and other mental health-related ailments can lead to extremely detrimental and harmful coping habits. As a result, it is important to take care of yourself and maintain a healthy lifestyle by doing activities that bring you peace. This can include working out, going for walks, reading, listening and/or playing music, eating healthy foods, journaling, etc.
- Lessen media usage and intake: In an effort to fight boredom, media usage is a common way to pass the time. However, overconsumption of media, especially redundant news coverage and negative social media messaging, can be overwhelming for many people. Not surprisingly, studies have found that higher social media usage correlated with increased levels of anxiety and loneliness. This does not negate the benefits of media usage, but like all good things, make sure to use it in moderation.
I find this time brings forth an unusual mix of loss and gratitude. Whenever I think about how this crisis has halted our schools, canceled events, or tore us from our extended family and friends, I pause. I remember that schools will open once again when we are on the other side of this and friends and extended family will be reunited soon.
I have also been in awe of the community I see on our neighborhood walks – strangers genuinely glad to see another person and share an encouraging smile. I’m encouraged by birthday drive-by parties, virtual Netflix watch crews, and online support groups. I love that #weareinthistogether and I have great hope for our future.
American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing.
Banschick, Mark. “How to Manage the Psychological Effects of Quarantine.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Mar. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/202003/how-manage-the-psychological-effects-quarantine.
Gilchrist, Karen. “Psychology Experts Share Their Tips for Safeguarding Your Mental Health during Quarantine.” CNBC, CNBC, 20 Mar. 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-tips-for-protecting-your-mental-health-during-quarantine.html.
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