How to deal with the mental health effects of the new life staying indoors

Staying indoors
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Due to the infamous covid-19 pandemic, people are staying at home. If you’re not under constant lockdown(New Zealand you lucky devils!), it may not seem like a big deal but at its least, it is a major lifestyle change. Before the pandemic, you had a clear distinction between work, personal life, childcare (if you have kids), and house chores. Now, you’re suddenly at home all the time and lines get blurred which isn’t exactly the best option. 

We understand the mental toll something like that takes on people. We feel it too. 

Your whole life has changed in literally 2 weeks and now you’re sitting on the floor in your living room, having a business meeting on Zoom with a blazer on but your pants are nowhere to be seen. You’re writing reports while simultaneously having your pet press random keys on your laptop and accidentally deleting your page. And if this sounds like a disaster, think about those who were not fortunate enough to still have their jobs. 

The pandemic has seriously shaken everything up and people are trying to adapt to this new lifestyle while still maintaining sanity and mental health. As a person in quarantine, you probably know what it’s like to constantly battle the fear of losing your job, getting sick, and generally the fear of what’s going to happen. You have parents, friends, pets, maybe even kids to worry about as well. And on top of that, you don’t even know when it is going to end. Nobody does. We just sit around at home and wait. 

Some of you are concerned. You are concerned for your health, you are concerned for the future, you are afraid, you are angry. Things are not the best right now. 

Your mind is occupied with negativity and the worst part is that you’re going through these stressful times in isolation. If you have a family, you are constantly together which in itself can create some tension but there are single people out there who are completely alone all day. 

But what long-term mental health effects will this have on people? 

 While it’s still early to speculate about long-term effects, an indoor lifestyle is not that good for mental health. Isolation is extremely harmful to any mind. Humans were not created to be loner wolves – we are social creatures – we need other people. We also need a diverse everyday life – something to keep our brains going. Let’s look at some of the possible effects of indoor culture and what happens to your body when you stay inside for too long. 

Staying indoors on mental health
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 1. Mood swings

 

 Being inside deprives you of access to the natural world and means you’re more likely to experience the same things day in and day out. And that can be a recipe for feeling stagnant — and ultimately, pretty sad.

Even if it’s just feeling the sun or wind on your face or hearing the birds sing, time spent outdoors is a serious mood-booster. One June 2010 study published in the ​Journal of Environmental Psychology​ found that exposure to natural environments enhanced vitality by as much as 40 percent while spending time indoors had the opposite effect.

And those feelings can quickly start to snowball, especially when you’re dealing with added stressors (like a pandemic). During the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown in China, a ​Psychiatry Investigation​ study found that the vast majority of adults spent almost all of their time at home, inside. As a result, 60 percent of subjects reported feeling depressed, while 46 percent reported feeling irritable.

 

2. Device exploitation

 

Chances are, endless time in the house means you’re spending more hours scrolling through your phone. Of course, texting and seeing what your circle is up to on Instagram can help you feel more connected when you can’t physically be with others. But spend too much time thumbing through Twitter or your news feed and it can have the opposite effect.

Case in point? A review of 290 studies published November 2018 in the ​International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health​ concluded that frequent mobile phone use is tied to a rise of mental health issues, including stress and depression. And even more: Spending time on your phone usually takes time away from other activities that can improve mental health — like exercising, focusing on work or school, or positive social interactions.

 

3. Sleep problems

 

Depression and stress alone can interfere with your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. So if being inside for a long time affects your mood during the day, you’ll likely find yourself tossing and turning at night.

And that’s not the only factor. Even if you’re feeling fine emotionally, lack of time outdoors can mess with your snooze time. Natural light plays a key role in helping the body maintain its normal sleep-wake rhythms, and a lack of sunlight can throw those off and make it harder to sleep well, according to an August 2013 study in ​Current Biology.

 

 4. Vitamin D deficiency

 

 Our bodies make at least some of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. So depending on your diet, not leaving the house could mean you’re missing out on the sun vitamin. That’s especially true for older adults and people with dark skin, who aren’t able to produce vitamin D from sunlight as efficiently, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Over time, spending less outdoor time could create a vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to a loss of bone density and up the risk for osteoporosis. Low D levels might also be tied to chronic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

 

The good news? While being inside can affect your vitamin D levels, there are easy ways to ensure you’re still getting the recommended 600 IU per day. Eat vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms or fortified milk, or cereal. Another thing that might help is talking with your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements. 

 

What can you do about it? 

 

 Going through isolation is tough. We get it, believe us. However, this is the safest option for everyone which means we will need to go through it. It’s important to make sure that we go about it in the healthiest way possible – both physically and mentally. As mental aspects of isolation are more noticeable and challenging – we’re going to focus on them and their solutions. Here are our tips for coping with isolation during the pandemic. 

 

 1. Follow your schedule (Be realistic)

 

 Having a daily schedule is important, especially if you’re currently raising children, and you should make one and stick to it. However, don’t get too ambitious. Keep the bar low. The situation is already stressful enough to be too hard on yourself. 

 Just make sure you’re staying on track with your chores and responsibilities. And ensure that you have a designated time for all spheres of life. Don’t mix work and pleasure and don’t prolong work for the sake of pleasure. Balance is key so make it a priority that there is time for everything. 

 

2. Schedule self-care

 

Self-care is important at all times but during a pandemic, you have the chance (and need) to spare some more time for yourself. Take advantage of it. Try out a new skincare routine, read self-help books, watch your favorite movies. Do things that you like and that are good for you. 

 

3. Schedule fun

 

 If you’re stuck at home all day, you might as well enjoy it. That means getting a free slot in your schedule for something fun. You can try and include your friends as well. Due to the pandemic, there are many options for remote fun with your friends. You can watch Netflix together, play virtual board games or simply plan some time to chat with each other. Friends and loved ones are your main channel of emotional support and you should make sure you’re socializing enough. It’s at the core of human nature to have the desire to exchange information and experiences with other human beings and while during a pandemic that might look a little different, it is still possible. Be deliberate about social life. 

 

4. Get enough sleep 

 

Needless to say, sleep is crucial for both your mind and body. When you’re sleepy you’re grumpy and irritable. You can easily avoid following a regular sleep schedule. You probably won’t notice how it benefits you but sleep can help so much with many mental health issues. It makes you calmer and more likely to engage in positive interactions and activities. Sleep is important. Don’t scroll Instagram until 3 am. 

 

5. Make exercise a priority

 

 It is true that when you’re home all day your physical activity is significantly lower than when you go out and do work outside of the home. That’s why you need to maintain muscle tonus in other ways. Some of you cringe at just the thought of exercising but it’s very important for you. Other than the obvious physical benefits such as energy, there are mental health benefits as well. 

Physical activity is one of the easiest ways to produce dopamine – aka the happiness hormone. It can clear your thoughts and make you instantly feel better. 

And the best part is that if you don’t like certain exercises, you don’t have to do them. Do what makes you feel good. Go for a walk, dance in your living room, do squat, whatever will make your blood pumping. 

 

6. Connect with people

 

 Set time aside every day to call or FaceTime people — maybe some friends and family you have lost contact with over the years (more people are home now!). Set up virtual dates and spend time with actual people. 

 

7. Go on a media diet

 

Many people are suffering from anxiety and during the pandemic, it has only gotten worse. News is bombarding you with pain to hear statistics and numbers and that doesn’t help anxiety. If you experience intense fear and feelings of uneasiness, it is probably a good idea to restrict your media use. It’s important to know what’s going on but checking the news every 5 minutes is only going to make you more anxious. Focus on more positive things. 

 

8. Be kind and patient

 

We all get cranky and mean when we are anxious and sad. The situation is likely to bring out our bad sides. Have house rules on how you treat each other. Take a breath and try to redirect yourself before you yell at the people you live with. Your loved ones don’t deserve your projection of negativity towards them. They are dealing with the same stuff and likely it’s not easy on them either. Be mindful of how you treat others. Before saying something hurtful, count to 10 so you have some time to cool off. Patience and kindness are key. 

 

9. Usual stress management techniques might not work 

 

These are extraordinary times, and the things that you usually do to help yourself or the people around you may not be enough. Call your doctor or your child’s doctor; they know you and your situation best and can help. Don’t be afraid to reach for help when you need it. Professionals can be your biggest help in these difficult times.

 

10. Be easy on yourself

 

The most important thing is being easy on yourself. You have to understand that you can’t always be as patient, kind, and productive as you’d maybe like to be. You are a human being and mistakes are okay. You are allowed to be wrong. However, it’s important to hold yourself accountable and work on things you feel are not good about your attitude and mindset. This time is all about how we deal with our inner worlds and to move forward you need to be in touch with your inner self. 

 

Some final thoughts….

I am sure that this stressful situation is bringing many negative emotions your way and sometimes it gets overwhelming. As a person who is probably working from home and constantly staying indoors, you try hard to battle fear, anxiety, and confusion but it can be difficult at times. You can’t be perfect when it comes to coping but there are ways to help yourself and the people around you to get through this. 

 

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, with the development of a vaccine, we will be able to go back to normal soon. And until that happens, take care of yourself. Get out there – even if it’s just for a stroll down the street. 

And in case you want to read a little bit more then check out How to stay positive even in difficult times.

 

 

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Hi! I'm Dr Jessica

I share my expertise as a Family Physician to provide you with the support and tools to a holistic lifestyle.

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