Here in the UK, we’re officially in the midst of a nation-wide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus (COVID-19). In the space of a few weeks, society has transformed beyond recognition, and with it, our personal lives.
So as our daily lives move into our homes – with many of us living alone – it’s never been more important to look after your mind and body.
Without further ado, here’s your comprehensive guide to keeping your mind and body healthy in self-isolation.
What is COVID-19?
According to the NHS, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, which can affect your lungs and airways. Some symptoms mimic other illnesses such as the common cold and flu, however there are some key distinguishing features:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- A persistent and dry cough
- A fever
If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you stay at home until you recover and check your country’s specific guidance on how to inform your local health service. Here in the UK, you can use the NHS’s online 111 coronavirus service.
Basic guidelines for good hygiene
You can protect yourself against contracting and spreading coronavirus by following these measures:
- Limit your activities outside your home to only essential travel and solo exercise, and maintain social distancing from other people
- Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds
- Limit touching your face, especially before or after touching surfaces
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow
- Regularly disinfect high-contact surfaces that are touched by other people
As we prepare to spend an indefinite amount of time in self-isolation, it’s essential to take care of your mental health. Time and again, studies have proved there’s a direct correlation between depression and inflammation; when your mental health is poor, your physical health is likely to follow, and vice versa.
Your mind and body are intricately connected, and it’s crucial to nourish your mental wellbeing to stay physically healthy. Here are a few ways you can look after your mental health.
1. Establish a routine
Human beings are creatures of habit; we derive meaning from structure and routine. Establishing a routine that works for you is a simple but effective way of focusing your mind and boosting motivation. Not only does it help you work through the things you have to do, but it also allows you to make time for the things you want to do.
Working from home inevitably blurs the lines between ‘you time’ and work time, but you can control the extent to which it does through setting clear boundaries. Wake up at the same time every day, pencil in a set time for lunch and exercise, don’t work past your contracted hours, and be strict with yourself on following your own rules.
Knowing you have to complete something in a set time frame is likely to increase your productivity, whilst simultaneously safeguarding your precious personal time.
2. Try yoga and meditation
Traditionally speaking, your home should be a place of escapism; a sanctuary of sorts. So, as our homes transform into our workspaces, it’s important to carve out a psychological (if not physical) space in which you can escape, reflect and recharge.
This is where meditation and yoga come into the picture. These small rituals interrupt the daily noise (which hasn’t gone away just because you’re at home all day), taking you into a different headspace where you can give your mind that much-needed rest.
Understandably, you might feel a little uncertain if you’re adopting these practices for the first time – but thankfully, there are plenty of excellent apps to help you get started. Balance, Headspace, Muse and Just Breathe are all worth a look.
3. Limit your news intake
It’s a widely-quoted maxim that we’re living in unprecedented times. What makes this situation particularly unique compared to past crises is that the ongoing impact of the virus is live-streamed to our devices every second of every day. The temptation to check the news obsessively is understandable – we’re all guilty of it – but that doesn’t make it healthy.
For the most part, checking the news compulsively exposes you to a wave of depressing news that you’re powerless to change. Whilst it’s good to stay informed in such rapidly changing times, it’s also important to establish some distance from the stream of constant updates to protect your own mental health.
Limiting your news intake to a set time window, whether it’s first thing in the morning or just after you eat dinner, allows you to stay informed on any updates, without drowning in the sea of news.
4. Get creative at home
One of the best ways to boost your wellbeing is through engaging your mind in new challenges. When you absorb new experiences, your brain enters what psychologists call ‘the liminal space’.
This phenomenon is often sparked by dramatic life changes; as you adjust to new circumstances, your normal patterns of behaviour are uprooted and broken, allowing you to form new habits.
But you don’t need to wait for something dramatic to happen. You can enter your liminal space by redefining your routine and introducing new behaviours to your daily life. This ultimately allows you to pave a new route of growth and learning – one that may even surprise you.
Here are a few ways you can introduce small changes and keep your mind active during self-isolation:
- Re-organise your home. You’ll be spending a lot of time there for the unforeseeable future, so now’s the time to declutter your old junk and clear out the cobwebs. Be brutal. Ask yourself: if I never saw that thing again, would I notice it had gone?
- Spruce up your garden. If you’re lucky enough to have one, there’s a big psychological benefit to be had from tending your flowerbed and watching new seeds take root – especially if you can grow your own food.
- Cultivate terrarium plants. If you don’t have a garden, you can introduce some green space into your home by cultivating your own little Eden in a jar. And you don’t even need to leave your house to get started; through Yodomo, you can order a terrarium-making kit straight to your home, complete with a starter course.
- Start a course on Linkedin Learning. With a one month free trial, you can get a taste for a range of new skills, from life drawing and graphic design to HTML coding, or even, piano lessons.
- Dig out an old cookbook and practice some new recipes. If you’ve ever watched Netflix’s Chef’s Table and dreamt of being the next big Michelin chef, there’s never been a better time to hone your skills.
- Set up your own website. Been toying with the idea of going freelance? What better opportunity to get your website up and running and curate your portfolio.
Having said all that, the most important thing is to give your mind the rest it needs. Relaxation is just as valuable as keeping active, especially during these high pressure times. Don’t push yourself to be a superhuman and tick off all your aspirations when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa and watch TV. It’s all about balance.
1. Support your immune system
The condition of your immune system plays a factor in how susceptible you are to catching a virus. Here are a few simple ways you can give your immune system a boost:
- Maintain a balanced diet. Yes, it’s important to eat your greens and nutrient-rich food, but it’s equally important to make sure you’re eating enough and not going hungry.
- Get plenty of sleep. Maintain a healthy and regular sleeping pattern, and don’t let your work time bleed into your designated sleeping hours.
- Exercise, but don’t over-exercise. Extreme physical exertion puts your immune system under strain.
2. Exercise once a day
Exercise nourishes both your mind and body, giving you the escapism you need from work life and dreary news. If you’re feeling mentally weary, keeping your body active will re-energise you and restore your vitality. Scheduling some time to exercise every day will give shape to your daily routines, and it’s likely to increase your focus and productivity, too.
If you have access to outdoor space, you could go for a walk on your own, run around your local park or go for a solo cycle.
But you don’t necessarily need outdoor space to keep active. Take a look at a few simple exercises you can do in your living room here.
3. Eat well - and wisely
Now that you’re spending most of your time indoors, you’ll inevitably be cooking more, too – which is why it’s important to make sure you’re eating well.
Firstly, whilst it’s good to have a reasonably stocked pantry, there’s no need to stockpile goods whatsoever. Supermarkets will remain open throughout the crisis, and stockpiling only makes it harder for vulnerable groups to get hold of essential items. Do you really need five packets of pasta, when someone else can’t even find one?
Instead of panic-buying, try instead to shop wisely. Consider ingredients that can be adapted to any meal, combined with spices and seasoning that will last for months. Here are a few long-life pantry essentials that can form the basis of any meal:
- Garlic and onions
- Lemon and lime
- Olive oil and vegetable oil
- Canned tomatoes
- Chickpeas, lentils and white beans
Combine any of these pantry essentials with your choice of fresh vegetables, fish or meat, and you’ll have a wide range of recipes to play with. Fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent for your immune system – full of the nutrients you need to fight off a virus – whilst also adding richness and texture to your food. Leafy green veg, broccoli, bell peppers and mushrooms are all worthy kitchen companions.
Looking for more inspiration? Jamie Oliver has just launched his new show Keep Cooking and Carry on, all about cooking in these challenging times. And there are plenty of recipes out there which teach you how to cook with just three ingredients.
If all that healthy eating sounds like a chore to you, the good news is that it’s just as healthy to indulge in a guilty pleasure every now and then. Ice cream, chocolate, the occasional takeaway… Gifting yourself a treat every once in a while gives you the psychological boost to keep going; a little burst of energy that makes everything a bit easier.
You’re in quarantine. Treat yourself.