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As the global viral curve increases and more countries begin to take drastic measures in response to the situation, the world seems to have come to be coming to a shocking standstill. Schools have closed, many business activities have been suspended and travel has plummeted to an all-time low - the likes of which have likely not been seen since before the first automobile existed. Many have taken social media by storm with equal amounts of horror and humor about the situation, while others are revisiting old hobbies of theirs to cope with the weeks of social isolation ahead.
Judging by the way the viral curve has taken a few months to flatten in some of the first countries that were affected, it may be a while before life returns back to normal for the rest of us.
Even on a temporary basis, these changes are difficult enough to contend with, however, the worst may well be the impact of extended social isolation combined with COVID-19-related anxiety. It is very important to maintain close connections with those we love, especially during a time of hardship - something that may not be possible for many people due to the lockdown. Additionally, it's vital to remain calm so that one can act accordingly and get through this time without detracting from one's state of health, especially with regard to mental health.
In order to best cope through the times ahead, it's a good idea to know how these unusual circumstances affect our health and what can be done about it. Below we have outlined the facts as well as provided actionable solutions that are aimed at improving the quality of life as we wait for the coronavirus pandemic to pass.
Lockdown Blues: Long Term Side Effects of Social Distancing
It might be news to you that social isolation and loneliness can be as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes on a daily basis. Even though some are isolated to their homes with a group of other individuals and are not technically alone, the mindset of social distancing inspired by the current pandemic is enough to cause all of us to experience some degree of perceived social isolation.
In general, social isolation has the effect of doing away with activities that would have otherwise made us more physically active. In many elderly individuals, for instance, a large amount of social interaction with friends and neighbors is one of the few things that keeps them physically active and getting fresh air.
Being social is not just important for this age group, but for all age groups as a motivator for living life to the fullest and warding off depression.
Research has also revealed that even perceived isolation - the feeling or perception of being alone in spite of being in the company of other people - can have dramatic impacts that are not only limited to our mental health but affect our physiology as a whole.
It turns out that social isolation, whether real or perceptual, is associated with an increased risk of contracting chronic illnesses, including:
This is hardly surprising considering that perceived isolation triggers the release of stress. On a chemical level, this means that cortisol (the stress hormone) is released and the part of the immune system that regulates inflammation becomes suppressed. Immune suppression and heightened levels of bodily inflammation are both known to contribute towards the above conditions. The stress that many are feeling as a result of this global isolation is unusually high due to the close of businesses and the fear of either catching or carrying a particularly virulent virus.
Luckily, there is quite a bit one can do to combat the above effects and make the most of quarantine at the same time!
8 Ways to Keep Our Mental Health in Shape During Lockdown
As the world waits with anticipation for the day that the viral curve flattens completely and things go back to normal; it's not difficult to see that lockdowns in many countries are not going to be over anytime too soon, with plans for extensions currently underway until the spread of COVID-19 is under control. Understanding this, it's important to know how to care for yourself and your mental well-being, as this is bound to be a trying time for most.
1. Perspective is Everything
As mentioned above, the mere idea of being socially isolated was enough to trigger physiological stress in the body. This highlights the way in which our brains cannot tell the difference between a thought and the reality. Further research has highlighted this principle, revealing that athletes who underwent strength training using mental imagery or visualization practices managed to enhance their performance outcomes. Our bodies are the same when we are asleep, with muscles responding in accordance with our actions in dreams.
Thus, our minds and how we perceive reality has a measurable impact on our biology. Through changing how we perceive the situation, we can work wonders toward preserving a mental state of harmony and lowering our anxiety levels.
2. Focus on the Positives
Speaking of perspective, the near-global lockdown has had some positive outcomes for the planet and life as a whole. 
Since travel has come to a standstill, much of the pollution all around the globe has decreased dramatically. Flights have decreased by as much as two thirds in some areas of the world with a 25% decrease emerging in global statistics. In large cities, drops in pollution due to cars and other modes of transport has been the most dramatic, with a 90% decrease on average. Even areas that are not in lockdown seem to be joining the global effort and reducing unnecessary travel from their homes.
The reduction in pollution may give the environment a break and a chance to regenerate. The break may also allow for humanity to come up with and institute new green solutions in the future.
Many people are also using this time to truly connect to their loved ones and repair their close relationships. In Italy and many other countries, music is being made to lighten the mood and in spite of social distancing, people are doing their best to support one another through.
We tend to focus on the negative side of something, but the reality is that there tends to always be a silver lining to a cloud. By focusing on the positive side and helping others to also do so, everyone can make it through with less stress and more clarity on the situation.
3. Practice Mindfulness
One of the best ways to moderate our perception of stress and isolation would be through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is close to meditation or prayer in that we are placing a direct awareness on our minds and how we use them. When one observes one's thoughts and feelings, one can objectively look at them and decide if they are useful or not. In this way, one can become mindful of the negative thoughts that inform our biology and intervene with positive thoughts, which inform our biology in a positive way. Studies have revealed that mindfulness has been associated with lowering the symptoms of clinical depression.
One of the key secrets to being able to practice mindfulness is starting to actively calm and still the mind. When your mind is clear, just as in a body of water, you can easily observe your thoughts as though they were something clearly floating on the water's surface. This is why it can be useful to practice meditation, yoga or prayer.
Another form of mindfulness can be practiced through making use of a diary. Emotional transference has been shown to lower stress levels in adolescents who were about to write an exam. Learners who let off steam by writing down their emotions before the exam did better on average than those who didn't. Having like-minded people to talk to freely can also help in this regard.
4. Take Up a New Hobby
Keeping yourself busy is an important part of not stressing. This is especially difficult for those who are not working from home during this time. It is highly advisable that you take up one or several new hobbies to keep yourself busy, active and rewarded during this time.
Learning new information or a new skill is associated with strengthening more neural connections in the brain and improving overall mental health in general. For example, learning how to play a musical instrument or making more progress on one have been shown to help people de-stress and lower symptoms of depression. Even listening to music has been shown to improve outcomes. The more positive stimulation you give yourself, the healthier your brain will be!
If you are not working from home and have been suspended, consider finding a job online in the interim to help and also to expand upon your repertoire of skills.
5. Place Extra Attention On Your Diet
Nutrition is critical for optimal mental health and keeping ourselves from stressing. You need only ever have gone through a single day surviving purely off caffeine and building stress to realize that all you needed was a decent meal and a fresh perspective!
One group of scientists ran a survey through scientific data to create a top list of foods that can help with uplifting your mood include . ·
- Spinach and other leafy green vegetables
- Fresh herbs
- Fish and other seafood
- Organ meats
The research also concluded that the specific nutrients associated with positive outcomes were follows: Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.
Consuming an all-rounded diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and probiotic foods is important for staving off nutritional deficiencies and helping to keep our body's in a state of balance. Make sure that you keep your blood sugar levels constant throughout the day too.
6. Get Sunlight!
Sunlight is vital to the functioning of all life on the planet and we are no exception. Studies have shown that sun exposure is directly linked to our mental state of health and well-being, able to improve cognitive function in those who are depressed. A lack of sun is also known to cause cognitive impairment and contribute toward depression. It's not news that people who experience less sunlight in Winter are more susceptible to depression and other symptoms related to sunlight's effects on overall health.
In patients with multiple sclerosis, higher levels of sunlight exposure were associated with less symptoms of depression irrespective of Vitamin D status. This means that those who think they can avoid sunlight by taking a Vitamin D supplement will not benefit as much as those who actively get their daily dose of sunshine.
Getting some sun everyday is important for keeping ourselves happy and healthy. In spite of the lockdown, don't forget to breathe and enjoy the sun from time to time!
7. Exercise and Stick to a Routine
Sticking to a routine helps, especially if you are the kind of person who is used to a 9 to 5 office job that has recently been suspended. If routine is usual in your day, as it is for most, then establishing a lockdown routine will be important to making sure you remain calm.
Exercise should be a part of your routine too as the shutdown has forced most people to stop the activities that would otherwise normally keep them physically active. Inactivity is detrimental to your health and is only compounded in the context of anxiety and social isolation.
Check out our article on some of our favorite home work out channels on Youtube and Instagram
8. Seek Professional Help
If you find your health starting to slip or you need some more professional guidelines for how to survive through social isolation and the lockdown, then consider consulting with a doctor for advice. Frequent checkups with the right professionals can help to detect for any irregularities early on and to keep your mental health in tact.
Check out our article to see what healthcare providers around the world are doing during COVID-19 as many telehealth options exist.
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