There’s lots of talk about how to avoid contracting and spreading coronavirus including washing hands, using antibacterial gel, covering your mouth when you cough/sneeze, and, most importantly, avoiding social contact and staying home. While this is a necessity, with the request for self-isolation there hasn’t been much information or aid in regards to dealing with the anxiety, stress, and depression that may stem from this type of isolation.
For many people, staying locked up at home — with or separated from friends and family — without their usual outlets and with pandemic fear can increase current anxieties or create new ones.
Even before we were all isolated in our homes, anxiety was a pervasive mental health issue. In fact, anxiety disorders “are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1 [percent] of the population every year.”
Layer on a pandemic and self-isolation and there’s no doubt those anxiety stats are skyrocketing.
Luckily, there are a few super simple ways to help reduce isolation-derived anxiety!
What is Isolation Anxiety?
To begin, it’s important to understand what anxiety is, how it presents, and, most importantly, if you may need to contact a medical professional for additional help in managing the symptoms.
Anxiety is a completely natural human experience and is described as the “mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations,” in which you feel a “sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread” around a significant event. As predators, anxiety helped us “stay alert and aware” of potential danger and threat, yet in this day and age, this instinctual reaction is not as necessary and has evolved into a debilitating disorder for many.
When it comes to aggravators of anxiety, isolation has been found as a major cause. In fact, studies have been performed on this exact phenomenon and have found that isolation can not only aggravate current anxiety and depression, but it can cause these behaviors to manifest in those that weren’t suffering previously.
Symptoms of Anxiety
For those of us in mandated lockdown — such as California — or even those of us that are self-isolated, it’s important to know how to recognize anxiety symptoms.
While anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, there are a few physical symptoms that are very common such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, restlessness, trouble concentrating, and difficulty falling asleep. Anxiety may also present in more subversive ways including nightmares, painful thoughts or memories that you can’t subdue, a general feeling of worry, or possibly a specific fear of a place or event.
If you identify with these symptoms, it may be time to start taking action to help remedy and calm the anxiety before it gets out of control. Unchecked anxiety that’s allowed to fester and grow may lead to more serious symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, shortness of breath, dry mouth, sweating, chills or hot flashes, numbness or tingling, and outright fear. These symptoms generally mean you’re about to or are in the midst of an anxiety or panic attack.
Please contact a medical professional if you’re experiencing these symptoms! You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you feel you need immediate help with an anxiety or depression issue.
10 Tips for Reducing Self-Isolation Anxiety
If you’re diligent and aware then you can catch anxiety and implement measures to help you cope. When it comes to isolation-derived anxiety, many of the techniques and tips for management are super easy and quarantine-abiding.
Exercise has long been touted as a great way to manage both anxiety and depression. In fact, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is “considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress.” Exercise improves concentration, enhances cognition function, and reduces fatigue, all of which combat the symptoms of anxiety. Plus, exercise produces endorphins — “chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.” And, the good news? Researchers have found that it only takes “about five minutes of aerobic exercise” to being feeling “anti-anxiety effects” such as decreased tension, elevated mood, and improved self-esteem.
If you weren’t an active person previously, then it’s important to ease into any new routine. Make sure to start slow, stretch before and after your workout, and don’t push yourself too hard.
Right now there is a slew of free online resources to fit any physical level, ability, or desire!
If yoga is your jam, CorePower Yoga is currently offering free online classes through its OnDemand portal. Looking for a more grueling break in your day? Orange Theory, known for their butt-kicking workouts, are offering 30-minute online classes every day via their Orangetheory At Home. Planet Fitness is also live streaming free workout classes via their Facebook page for those isolated individuals interested in sweating a bit.
Looking for something a little more creative to get you moving? Try a free dance class! There are a variety of dance classes you can access at DanceAloneTogether.org — including ballet, contemporary, jazz, and one class called sweat fest — as well as at CLI Studios.
2. Get Sleep
In the last few years, we’ve started to hear a lot about how important sleep is for cognitive function, mental wellbeing, and our basic overall health. In fact, getting enough sleep — about 8 hours a night — has been linked to lower body weight, less overeating, improved concentration and productivity, lower risk of heart disease and stroke, healthier glucose metabolism, improved immune system function, reduced inflammation, and a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.
When it comes to getting sleep in this current state of pandemic upheaval, it may be even more important than it was before.
Not only will getting that shuteye decrease your anxiety symptoms, but it will also help bolster your immune system and reduce inflammation. And right now it’s incredibly important to maintain a healthy immune system and manage that inflammation so that your body is prepared to care for itself if you do find yourself falling ill.
Unfortunately, sleep and anxiety are on a “two-way street: stress and anxiety can cause sleeping problems, or worsen existing ones … [while] … lack of sleep can also cause an anxiety disorder.”
So, what can you do?
Let’s start with number one on this list. Exercise! Yes, being physically active every day for at least 30 minutes can help you sleep better. If that’s not cutting it, give meditation a try with some of these free online classes, and rid your bedroom of distraction (no phones, computers, television, or even books!).
Is your mind still racing when you turn off the lights? Try not to lie awake. If you’ve been staring at your ceiling for 20 minutes or more, get out of bed and take action to empty your brain. Put all those thoughts onto paper or make a to-do list. Hit the couch and try reading a book for a bit.
Think of this time as retraining your brain to sleep! It may take a bit of time, with that said, what do we have right now but time?
3. Eat Healthily
Alright, so you’re stuck at home, you’re possibly bored out of your mind, and you’re filled with anxiety and stress, maybe even teetering or plunging straight into depression.
This is a horribly toxic combination for many reasons, but when it comes to eating, it’s an especially unhappy mixture. Even without self-isolation and pandemic, this combo leads to the consumption of comfort foods — sweets and simple carbs (think pasta and cookies) — and, on top of that, overconsumption of those comfort foods.
It’s almost impossible to avoid!
It’s more important than ever to make sure you’re eating healthily. By properly managing your sugar and processed food intake, while increasing those raw, plant-based foods (as much as you can find at the store right now), you’ll increase your energy, decrease blood sugar changes, manage mood swings, and help regulate that anxiety.
When stocking up your isolation pantry, swap out those white flour (high sugar) pasta and bread for whole-grain, plant-based, protein-rich alternatives such as this bulk case of Bentilia Gluten-Free Pasta Red Lentil Rotini, this Dave’s Killer Bread Organic 21 Whole Grains and Seeds Bread, or this Food For Life Flourless 7 Grain Sprouted Grain Bread. Opt for bulk dry goods such as legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
While there’s actually no shortage of fresh foods, finding it at the store is a bit difficult. Therefore, stock up on organic, frozen veggies and fruit. It’s also a great time to fill your fridge with tofu. Tofu has a longer shelf life than other raw proteins, provides a slew of other nourishing nutrients, fills up your tummy, and is incredibly diverse in the kitchen. These are just a few tips to make sure you always have something on hand, even if you can’t find it at the grocery store!
If all else fails, splurge on a service!
Currently, meal prep services are still delivering and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that it’s still safe. This option may be one of the best on the table right now for those in mandated isolation and it’s also a smart option for those in self-isolation. Some great plant-based meal services include Purple Carrot, VegReady, and Veestro.
4. Stay Virtually Connected
Just because you’re locked up in your house doesn’t mean you have to give up socializing. In fact, remaining in constant social contact with your family and friends is one of the most effective ways to stave off anxiety and depression.
While many of us may have already been practicing this form of socializing, there are quite a few of us that have no idea what it entails!
Thanks to an in-depth article by the LA Times, we’ve got a step-by-step guide for virtual socializing!
First, you’ve gotta choose your platform! This can be a phone call, Facetime, or Skype session if you’re dealing with just one or two people. Thinking about getting a group together? Try Google Hangout, Google Duo, or Zoom. Next, get creative with your virtual socializing. It doesn’t just have to be chatting — even though this is an excellent use of virtual socializing — but, per the LA Times article, you can create virtual dinner parties, karaoke groups, happy hour “outings”, Netflix parties, book clubs, and game nights.
Staying virtually connected isn’t relegated to socializing.
Use these tools to upkeep your health in a variety of ways including maintaining your mental health, — such as telehealth in which licensed “psychologists are offering telehealth options over HIPAA-compliant video chat platforms” — and maintaining your bodily health, — such as with MDLive where you can virtually chat with a variety of medical professionals 24-hours a day.
5. Practice Distanced Outdoor Time
If you’re living in an area that has not put in place mandatory isolation, then take this opportunity to spend time outside, while also practicing social distancing (at least six feet from other peeps please!).
Turns out there’s quite a bit of research showing a link between levels of sunlight and anxiety severity. In many cases, sunlight levels are linked to increased anxiety and even panic disorder. Most of it comes down to biology. Sunlight “increases serotonin production, as well as vitamin D levels … [both of which] … play a significant role in proper health and functioning, including mental health.”
For maximum safety during this time, try to limit your outdoor time to your own backyard. If you venture further — such as on a walk or run — make sure to keep that aforementioned six foot or more distance between you and other people. This is essential for both your safety and those of the people around you.
6. Try Meditation
Meditation is not for everyone.
This may ring especially true for those that suffer from anxiety, whose brain is constantly circling from one thought to another. Generally, without distraction, these thoughts can spiral out of control simply ramping up that anxiety.
With that said, if you’ve got the time to learn proper technique, meditation can help relieve anxiety symptoms. In fact, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that “meditation does help manage anxiety, depression, and pain.” Per Dr. Madhav Goyal, author of the analysis and part of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine staff, reducing anxiety symptoms doesn’t even take that much practice to begin experiencing benefits. In his analysis, the participants were given “about 2.5 hours of meditation practice per week,” yet he still observed “consistent effects.”
Want to give meditation a try? There’s a ton of online resources to help you get on your way!
There are a few meditation apps that you can download directly onto your phone including Headspace, Calm, Glo, Inscape, and Simple Habit. You can also access free meditation sessions online right now such as Beeja Meditation (daily sessions at 12 pm), Ten Percent Happier (daily meditation “sanity breaks” at 3 pm), and the Copper Beach Institute (various livestream meditation).
7. Limit News
One of the absolute worst habits to fall into right now is obsessing over pandemic headlines.
Yes, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the situation.
It’s not important for you to constantly read headlines and articles touting the same information that you already know. This also goes for obsessing about your personal health. Keep in mind that the common cold, the flu, and allergies are all still occurring. Take a moment to become familiar with COVID-19 symptoms. If you feel like you match these symptoms do not go online but call your doctor instead.
Alright, you want to be informed but don’t want to obsess?
Choose one or two specific times of the day in which you read new headlines. Keep these chunks to about 30 minutes apiece. If you find this difficult, simply set a timer or an activity that coincides. For instance, you can only look at headlines while you eat breakfast. Once the food is gone, then you’re done. Only visit credible websites that are certified to have accurate information such as who.int or cdc.gov.
Repetitive obsessing will only cause you to dwell on the negatives and will increase your anxiety.
8. Rethink Screen Time
Yes, our computers and phones are actually essential tools for most of us right now. Whether you’re working from home, distracting your brain with reading, or socializing virtually, screens are crucial for keeping us connected.
With that said, it’s important to not overdo screentime — which can actually lead to social distancing, anxiety, and an increased risk of depression — and choose what you do on those screens with care.
Make sure to take regular screen breaks. Divulge in a book, play a game, exercise, clean the house, cook, or any other non-screen related activity. Keep screens out of the bedroom to help with sleep-related anxiety. It’s also important to tailor what happens on your screens. As mentioned, limit your news intake considerably. Stay socially connected without obsessing over Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
Instead of binging television shows or movies, consider using your screen to explore the outside world. Currently, there tons of exploratory and educational virtual tours including museums — such as the British Museum of London or the National Museum of Modern Contemporary Art in Seoul — aquariums, — such as the National Aquarium or the Monterey Bay Aquarium — and national parks — such as Carlsbad Caverns National Park or the Kenai Fjords National Park. You can even take a virtual tour of the United States Botanical Garden’s Conservatory, National Garden, and Bartholdi Park.
9. Discover New Music
It’s a scientific fact that music can help reduce anxiety.
Researchers have observed and documented “that listening to music can be effective for reducing pain in people who generally have high levels of anxiety.” At the University of Utah Pain Research Center, researchers evaluated 143 study participants — some scoring “high on general anxiety measures that suggested they lived with more anxiety than the average person” — in a study that introduced music along with pain stimuli and discovered that the “central arousal from the pain stimuli reliably decreased with the increasing music-task demand” of the study.
How does it work?
Turns out that those tunes “can be used as a distraction and [are] effective among those who can easily become absorbed in cognitive activities.” On top of that, the researchers found that “music helps reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways in the brain, stimulating emotional responses, and engaging cognitive attention.” Along with pain, music seems to have the same “distracting” technique on anxieties.
If you’ve got your favorite jams picked out already, simply hop onto one of the various online streaming platforms and fill your isolation chamber (yes, your home) with music.
With that said, now may be the perfect time to discover some new music!
You can focus solely on tunes that are devised to reduce anxiety, such as this song Weightless by Marconi Union, touted to reduce anxiety by 65 percent, or whole anxiety-reducing playlists, such as these Spotify anxiety-relieving playlists: Anxiety Relief or Soothe My Soul – Calming Music for Anxiety and Depression. Other ways to discover new music include simply streaming, — choose a pre-made radio station that you’ve never listened to — post on social media for recommendations, ask family and friends for their favorite artists, or even binge some old late night show tapings to see some live bands.
Plus, right now there are a host of artists offering up their services to help curb our isolation with their music via free streaming concerts! Check out any upcoming “shows” that you can partake in.
10. Create and Follow a Routine
Take all of these anxiety-reducing tips and create a new quarantine routine!
Keeping to a daily routine is one of the best ways to avoid anxiety. Routines give you purpose throughout the day and offer your mind an outlet from pandemic-related information.
Even though you may not be leaving the house, it’s still important to follow some semblance of a pre-self-isolation routine with a bit of self-isolation routine mixed in. For instance, a great no-think morning routine involves waking up at a reasonable hour (try not to get in the habit of sleeping till noon every day!), making your bed, showering, getting dressed (basically, don’t stay in your PJ’s all day), and eating a healthy breakfast. By implementing these super easy tasks, you’ve already taken up a good portion of the morning. Maybe on top of that, you switch things up with a few anxiety-reducing techniques such as thirty minutes of meditation or an hour of exercise before your shower or possibly a morning phone call to a family member or friend while enjoying a healthy breakfast?
It’s also helpful to keep to a normal weekly routine. If you grocery shop on Wednesdays, then continue to grocery shop (or order fresh foods) on Wednesdays. If you do laundry on Sundays, then do laundry on Sundays. If you clean the house on Thursdays, then clean the house on Thursdays. If Saturday was your day off, then take Saturday and integrate some fun activities that you don’t do any other day. This will break up the monotony of the week, while also giving you small disruptions to look forward to.
While it’s super tempting to “fall into a more lethargic lifestyle,” by doing so you may also allow your mind to begin thinking negatively. Plus, by keeping to a somewhat normal routine, when we eventually return to normal daily life, it will be much easier to readjust without added anxieties.
If you need more Support, here are some hotlines that may be helpful:
- Drug Abuse & Addiction Hotline: 1-844-289-0879
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
- Crisis Text Line: Text Support to 741-741
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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