Trapped in Your Home - The Effects of Isolation on Your Mental and Physical Health and How to Deal With Them

Silhouette of a person in front of a window
Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Tips for staying happy and healthy during the crisis

The longest-running story on adult development — The Harvard Study of Adult development — concluded that, of all things, good relationships and social interactions have the greatest impact on our health and happiness. But how do we stay happy and healthy in the isolation of our homes when social interactions are scarce? Here are a few tips to help you deal with the effects of the quarantine.


Understanding loneliness

Before we start we need to make one thing clear here: There’s are two kinds of loneliness: subjective and objective.

While objective loneliness means what most would expect it to mean — namely physical distancing to other people — subjective loneliness plays an important part in this quarantine.

Subjective loneliness, compared to objective, means the “feeling” of loneliness, the perception of it.

If we understand this difference, we can quite easily see, why some people will be more affected than others by the lockdown measures taken by several governments.

If someone is an introverted person who tends not to go out too much anyway, this lockdown will probably not change his/her life too drastically compared to the person who constantly hangs out with others, likes to go for a drink after work or simply meets up at the park on weekends.

Therefore the impact of the quarantine is going to be different for people who often socialize with others compared to those, who don’t have the same need for social interactions.

Health effects of loneliness

You don’t need to be an expert on the field to know that loneliness is not a good feeling. In fact, it’s much worse than that.

Loneliness is proven to be linked to depression and increases the risks of premature death. A study has shown that the perceived feeling of loneliness reduces your life expectancy approximately by as much as if you were to smoke 15 cigarettes a day.

While the mental health aspect of isolation is probably easier to see and understand, it impacts our physical health just as much. Objective, as well as subjective loneliness, also takes a toll on our bodies just as much as on our minds.

Loneliness causes an increased inflammatory response in our bodies. A few thousand years ago, living alone meant that you were more likely to be attacked by a wild animal. Therefore inflammation made sense to help you survive the dangers.

Unfortunately, subconscious effects such as this nowadays tend to cause more harm than good in our modern society, where the wildest animal you could get attacked by is the Chihuahua of aunt Mary.

While inflammation is needed for the healing of injuries or fighting off infections, elevated levels over a longer period of time can lead to serious illnesses such as cancer, stroke or coronary heart disease.

Other issues caused by the quarantine

There are more problems we are facing and will be facing in the coming weeks and probably months that I want to tackle here as well:

  • The lack of physical activities
  • Bad eating habits
  • Stress from the constant perceived threat

There are different ways you can deal with the lack of physical activities you will get during the lockdown and this also strongly depends on where you live and how severe the lockdown is there.

There are countries where you are not allowed to leave your home except for when you have to get groceries, go to the doctor or to the drug store, as is the case in Italy for example.

In other regions of the world, you are still allowed outside to walk, jog or go for a bike ride, which makes things a lot easier already.

Staying at home can lead some people to eat less healthily, something that is especially important in this crisis as having a proper diet influences your immune system. The lack of cooking skills plays a role in western countries. More on that later.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it: The news is a bad influence on your health and happiness.

If you sit in front of your TV or at the computer and constantly stare at the news and how bad everything is, your stress levels will rise significantly. Bombarding yourself with this constant negativity will not help you in having a positive mindset.

How to stay happy and healthy

Alright, now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s what you can do to fight these problems.

Loneliness

We are incredibly fortunate to live in the age of connected everything. Calling your friends and your family and actually seeing them on the screen in front of you is an incredible help in the fight against loneliness.

If you often went out for dinner with friends, arrange dinner just like you always did with them. The only difference: You both cook dinner at home and sit down on your own tables. Put up your laptop or tablet in front of you and it’s almost the same as going out.

Arrange those kinds of meetings with your friends. “Go” for a coffee, for dinner or for a beer with your buddies.

My partner and I recently played a board game with friends who live in a different country. It worked remarkably well. Exciting times we are living in. Be creative and use the technology we are so fortunate to have.

If you are seriously experiencing trouble and feel like you have no one to talk to, there’s also the option to call a hotline for emotional support. Remember that you are not alone in this.

“Help will always be given to those, who ask for it.” is true not only in Hogwarts.

Connect. And do it often.

Physical activities

This depends very much on where you live. As stated above there are different measures taken by the different governments.

If you can go out and can do so without having contact with other people, this is a great way of dealing with the problem in general. Go for a walk, for a run or hop on the bike.

Physical activity reduces stress, you will feel less trapped in your own home and you will burn calories that you normally burn when you are not just lying on the couch.

If you have to stay inside, there’s also the option of doing a workout at home. You don’t need to have tons of weights lying around to get started. There are a lot of body-weight workouts around that you can do.

If you have a look on Youtube you will find a lot of channels that are especially geared toward that.

You will also find yoga classes there if that’s your thing. Give it a try, see what you like and go for it. Make use of the time you’ve got now and get in shape. Didn’t you want to do that for a while now?

If you are someone who likes to ride the bike a lot, there’s also the option of biking indoors. No, I’m not saying you should ride around your home with your bike but you could pick up a turbo trainer to prop your bike on or even buy a dedicated home trainer if you’re willing to spend the money.

Bad eating habits

It’s no secret that most of us aren’t eating very healthily. Many people hardly ever cook their meals themselves, which also plays a big role in our society’s problem with increasing obesity.

How about instead of ordering food, you make a meal plan for the week and go shopping accordingly? Buy everything you need once a week and then get going.

What is it you normally eat? Why don’t you try cooking it yourself? There are a lot of meals that we often eat that are incredibly easy to cook. Once again, you can use Youtube here to get inspired and find recipes.

If you are someone who tends to drink a lot of alcohol, you should think about limiting yourself. Being at home, bored and lonely can cause some people to reach for the bottle.

If you feel like you’ve been drinking more since the isolation began, try to reduce the amount of alcohol you buy. Set yourself a limit. Maybe even challenge yourself to a week or month without alcohol.

Also, try to cut down on the sweets. Especially now, that we are sitting in front of the TV more than usual, chances are that our intake increases.

Once again, if you have a hard time limiting yourself when you have it at home, buy less when you head for groceries.

Pro tip here: If you go and buy food after you’ve just had a big meal, you will be way less tempted to buy more than you set your limit too than if you were to go hungry.

Stress from the perceived threat

It’s hard no to feel threatened by the constant bombarding of news on the topic of the pandemic.

While I highly suggest avoiding news in general, the CDC actually issued a statement on their homepage in regards to coping with the current situation that you should stop obsessing over the news:

Avoid too much exposure to news– Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks. — The CDC

An easy fix would be bookmarking your news homepage of choice or better even the homepage of your government or the WHO and checking it once every evening or morning for updates.

If there’s nothing new, just close the window and forget about it until the next day. You will get the relevant facts that you need to know and you won’t be stressed all the time.

Use the time instead to read that book that’s been lying on your shelf, waiting to be read for a while now.

Home office

Two little tips for those that are not used to working from home to round things up:

Find a space at home that you use for work and work alone, if that’s possible. It will make it easier for you to find that separation between work and leisure if you do it that way.

Furthermore, if you are having a hard time getting things done working from home, it might help you to get dressed as you’d normally do when you go to work.

Those sweatpants might be comfy but some people actually benefit from getting dressed and putting on the clothes they usually go to work with, as it furthers this separation between work and leisure, even if you work from home.


So there you have it. A few quick tips to help you get through this madness.

Try to stay connected with others and use technology to keep your normal rate of social interactions as close as possible. If you are having serious problems coping with the situation, there’s help for you available. Have a look at your government’s homepage, you will find information there.

If you are living in the U.S., this is the CDC’s website, where you can also find a number to call if you need help:

Try to take some time for physical activity each day, as it has a beneficial effect not only on your physical but just as much on your mental health. There’s a lot of information available online. Especially Youtube comes to mind.

Try to eat healthily. Start cooking your meals yourself. A healthy diet is beneficial for a good immune system and learning to cook will be time well spent.

And last but not least: Please keep in mind to practice #socialdistancing wherever possible.

Take it from someone who has worked countless hours in an ER and at the ICU: Ressources are extremely limited and it’s up to every single one of us to save lives now.

Stay safe and healthy, my friends.


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