That’s what we’ve all essentially been confined to, except for those that are still working. What could possibly be so hard about staying at home all day, with absolutely nothing to do, no responsibilities to attend to, and no events to prepare for? For some people, this might seem like an ideal holiday. But for many others, this is the start of a prolonged nightmare.
We as humans need purpose. We need structure. Routine. We need a reason to wake up every morning. And for the millions of people who are now jobless, they’ve lost all of that. In addition to people losing their jobs, gyms and sporting teams have also been closed down. For many people, exercising at the gym is their outlet. It’s their coping mechanism. For those on sporting teams, it’s their sense of community. Their tribe. It’s where they feel valued. Safe. Home.
So what does it mean to have lost all of that, and all of a sudden? It means that we’re at risk. At risk of falling into situational depression. This is all also compounded by the fact that we can’t see other people in the same capacity that we previously were. It means that people living alone might go entire days without speaking to anyone, let alone seeing anyone else. And the worst part? No one knows when any of this is going to end. So the effects of these deprivations could become costly to many people’s mental health and livelihoods.
So what can we do to overcome these risks? The first suggestion I have is to keep moving. For those of you able and most at risk of developing depressive symptoms, I highly recommend you look for another job. And fast. Things in motion tend to stay in motion, whereas things at rest tend to stay at rest. If you spend too long at home, getting used to not having a job or reason to wake up every morning, you’ll feel less motivated to suddenly change that trajectory.
For those not interested or unable to obtain an alternative job, I recommend creating some sense of structure or routine to your life. Set your alarm at an appropriate time to go for a walk, or go to the beach, or commence an early morning workout, or organise an early morning phone call to a friend in another country, to your grandparents you can’t see. Give yourself a reason to wake up every morning and stay up – make your bed, have a shower, keep moving.
As far as exercising, it’s imperative to keep receiving endorphin releases. But it can be extremely challenging to stay motivated when it’s just you – a lot of motivation around exercise is associated with other benefits, the social or community aspect, or the competitive aspect, or the sense of feeling like you’re making a difference or achieving something collectively. So how can you still receive these benefits whilst also abiding by the government regulations of social distancing? Perhaps you can contact a friend or family member to accompany you on a run, or to kick a ball around, or perhaps you can Facetime someone whilst you both complete an at-home-workout, competing with each other. Whatever you do, try to do it with someone else, either virtually or in person. Not only does this aid in social interaction, but it aids in accountability and commitment too.
In my post yesterday, I mentioned how this pandemic is an opportunity for all of us to reconnect. But I failed to offer suggestions as to how. In previous posts, I’ve alluded to the negative effects of technology – to the superficial, convenient interactions that ensue. And to the fact that technology is making us more accessible, but less connected. Now, however, we’re essentially relying on technology to provide us with the latter – to be the primary source of our connection. So how can we achieve this? By being intentional with our connections. Instead of texting friends and family, call them. Skype them. Facetime them. Hear and see other humans as much as possible, and as safely as possible.
If you’re able, and coffee shops remain open, grab a takeaway coffee and go for a walk along the beach. Not only are you supporting local cafes and getting a healthy dose of oxytocin and serotonin from the social interaction, but you’re also chucking in some endorphins through exercise. Simon Sinek posted something on his page today that I thought was a great idea – it was essentially a virtual book club. So perhaps connect with friends who are into reading and suggest a book for you all to read with discussions to occur weekly. Or if you’re into writing, painting, any sort of craft work, connect with others online and share your work.
This could also be a chance for people to reset and reflect. To spend time reassessing what they want in life, what’s important to them, and what is their why. My recent trip to Hamilton Island allowed me the space, time, and freedom to explore these questions. This time now allows me even more time to potentially crack down on writing a book. But the point is, we as humans need to have goals. We need to have purpose. We need to have routine. From a conditioning perspective, I would recommend dedicating a room or space specifically to exercising or getting “work” (reflective or leisurely) done. This space, if you only use it for the aforementioned reasons, will subconsciously cue you to engage in those desired behaviours.
I would also recommend to-do lists with dedicated time constraints. When we have unlimited time on our hands, we’re not very productive because we can procrastinate and “do it tomorrow”. In regards to looking after your mental health, now is an opportune time to invest in some house plants. Not only do plants look aesthetically pleasing, but they give you a sense of responsibility – they give you a sense of satisfaction every time they grow. Likewise with pets. They offer a sense of comfort and connection during this isolating time, whilst also giving you a sense of responsibility each day.
The last point I want to make is about hope. One of the hardest things about what we’re going through is the fact that we don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know how long it will take before life, as we once knew it, will return to normal. And that isn’t comforting. Because it makes it more difficult to have hope. That’s one of the primary reasons many people are suggesting we go onto lockdown for 2-3 months. As devastating as it might be for our economy, it gives everyone the lifeline they need: hope. Hope of returning to normalcy in a reasonable time, not the prolonged forecast that is to be expected from “flattening the curve”. Nevertheless, whatever the government decides, we all have a responsibility in doing our part. Of abiding by the social distancing rules. And hopefully now, a few more tools to combat the potentially damaging social and mental effects of self-isolation. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share. Look after yourselves, but also look after each other.