Self-Care During Self-Isolation

With so much out of your control, it’s critical to focus on your mental health.

Published: Mar 24, 2020

For the last 18 days, Jayson had woken up in a fog of anxiety. Plowing through work was almost impossible—he couldn’t focus on anything except news alerts and tweets about the spread of the coronavirus. He felt unproductive and helpless, and spent most nights struggling to fall asleep.

Indeed, in the days and weeks since COVID-19 began its rapid spread, many people have found themselves feeling lonely, disengaged, and unsure about how to go about their daily lives. According to an Axios poll of more than 1,000 people taken March 13 through March 16, the time when many states across the US began enacting strict measures to contain the spread of the virus, 22% of Americans said their mental health had gotten worse in the last week.

“The stress is there for an appropriate reason,” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “You’re not going to make it go away, but there are ways to manage it.”

The goal is to reflect on what’s good so that you can retain hope that more good will come.

Here’s how to practice self-care during the coronavirus crisis.

Give yourself a break.
Maybe you’re used to working for eight hours straight and cutting through a massive part of your to-do list each day. But when your day-to-day reality shifts so dramatically, as it has for many people right now, your ability to get as much done will shift as well. And that’s OK. “Set yourself up for success by giving yourself reasonable expectations,” says Carney. “If you can only work for an hour at a time before needing a break? That’s OK. Make it a productive hour.” In your breaks, do what you love. “That could include breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, spending some time on a humor site, cuddling with a pet, or baking cookies,” says Hamaria Crockett, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Move, even if you don’t feel like it.
Physical movement is important, especially during these tough times. While your gym is closed, you may find it easier to do a run around the block (staying at a distance from others), doing floor exercises, or downloading a guided fitness app to make you feel like you’re part of a class. The mental-health benefits of moving around can be huge: a 2018 study shows that all types of exercise appear to influence how often people report poor mental health; even household chores were tied to at least a 9.7% reduction in poor mental-health days compared to being inactive.

Engage, but disengage.
The constant barrage of news alerts about the crisis can take a toll on your mental health. Limit yourself to checking the news only at certain intervals of the day—perhaps once in the morning, and then again at around 3 or 4 p.m. Experts say it’s better to not check the news close to bedtime; it can disrupt the peace you need to fall asleep. As for friends and family who might send news updates and articles to you, you may find that you have to mute those notifications or even politely express that you’re struggling and would appreciate more uplifting communication at the moment.

Talk about it.
We’re all in this together. While you may not be able to physically see people at the moment, be sure to stay connected over the phone and on video chat. It’s important for our health: research shows that rates of loneliness are high among workers who work remotely. Don’t just stop at family and friends; be sure to check in on your coworkers as well. “We all have a role to play where we can reach out to others,” says Fayruz Kirtzman, a senior principal at Korn Ferry. “That helps make sure people are not alone.” If you were already seeing a therapist, increasing the frequency of your (virtual) appointments can also help.

Focus on gratitude.
These are uncertain times. But in the uncertainty, there are things in all of our lives that we can be thankful for. Jotting down some thoughts in a journal or making an effort to say thank you to the people you love can help put you in a better mindset. “The key here is to be forward-focused,” says Carney. “Maybe you’re a journaler, maybe you’re not. The goal is to reflect on what’s good so that you can retain hope that more good will come.”

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