Mental health in the time of quarantines

I have never seen the world so scared.

Every news channel is covering the reach of CoVID-19. What started as a virus in Wuhan, China, is now a global pandemic. Cities are in lockdown, with millions of people forced into quarantine.

Many of these news channels have highlighted the impact CoVID-19 will have on the global economy. But news channels haven’t even begun to look at the impact self-isolation is having on individuals.

Self-isolation does not only mean missing work. It means not visiting friends and family, cancelling weddings and restricted interaction with the outside world. This unexpected separation can cause an increase in anxiety, made worse by all the misinformation shared on the virus.

Namibia’s president declared a lockdown of the Erongo and Khomas regions as of March 28th. I write this on day four of the lockdown and I will be honest: I am struggling. I am in the process of moving, so all my belongings are in boxes. That means there’s nothing to do apart from Netflix and TV. And I hate watching TV. I hardly sleep as I can constantly hear sirens outside. It feels like we’re at war and I’m terrified.

From what I’ve seen on TV (it can be useful at times), I’ve found and tried some ways to cope mentally during this time:

1. Create a routine

All the experts agree that routine creates a sense of normalcy and reduces the stress and anxiety that might come with staying indoors. I wake up at the same time every day. (Granted, it’s only day four.) On my first working day of the lockdown, I showered and got dressed like I would had I been going to the office. Except this time, I sat crossed-legged on my bedroom floor reading work emails.

2. Exercise

For those used to going to a gym or studio, it’s easy to fall off the wagon while in quarantine. Staying active is important as it boosts the immune system and gives us some much-needed endorphins. Before the lockdown, I exercised at 7pm, four days a week. I hope to keep to that schedule and fight the temptation to exercise during working hours. My yoga teacher started offering classes on Zoom. I love this because it makes me feel like I’m still in studio surrounded by my fitness family.  Many fitness apps are also giving free online classes to help people stay fit while staying indoors. Check out Down Dog and Nike Training Club, they’re my favourites.

3. Eat well

Remember that recipe you always wanted to try but took too long? This is your time! See this as an opportunity to experiment with your cooking and baking skills. I might be sounding like my mother when I say this but strive to make nutrient-dense food as it will strengthen your immune system.

4. Stock up on medical supplies

Please do not do shop runs focused on stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitisers. Rather use this time to stock up on groceries and prescription drugs. Where possible, ask your doctor to give you an extended prescription. If you’re on chronic medication like me, try asking your medical aid if you can collect threemonths’ worth of pills to minimise the times you have to leave your house. And please don’t go lose half of your prescription like I did. Keep the medication in one place so you always know where to find it.

5. Stay connected

Let’s be honest, over the years many of us have decreased the amount of physical interaction we have with family and friends because of social media. What many vilified as anti-social behaviour might save us during these times. I know that I can easily FaceTime my friend in the US because technology made provision for it long before COVID-19. Text, call, Skype or FaceTime those you love regularly. Human connection gives us a sense of belonging and reduces anxiety.

6. Limit the amount of news you watch

Staying informed during these times is important, but watching news 24/7 is not a good idea. All news channels are constantly reporting on the growing number of cases. It makes the future look grim and not worth living for. Social media is not any better. WhatsApp groups are flooded with unverified news reports, YouTube has evolved into a COVID-19 conspiracy site and Twitter is characters away from making you believe that you have the virus.

I deleted my WhatsApp and logged off many of my social media sites. I want to control the news that reaches me at any given time, that way I won’t get overwhelmed. I know that there are many cases where people are recovering fully, but the news seems to always skip over that. I choose to consume positive news during this time because anything else is destructive.

7. Don’t get bored

Once you realise how much of your time is spent outside of the house, it’s easy to become bored. With books lost in boxes and avoiding TV, I now spend a lot of my time writing, playing games on my phone and practicing French on Duolingo. When not working, use your free time to do things you enjoy.

Fill your days with things that bring you joy and peace. Remember to stay indoors and take the necessary precautions. It may not feel like it right now, but it’s all going to be okay.