As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues its grip on the world, many countries are encouraging people to stay in to avoid catching the virus or self-isolate when they start to show symptoms. However, this can have an effect on our mental health.
Social support is important for our mental health. Loneliness has also been found to affect our mental health. Having friends, family and colleagues around us to listen to us, to support and help us can improve our mental health. Being alone or feeling lonely can actually have the opposite effect. Humans are social animals and crave the contact of others.
Loneliness can have a range of negative physical and mental effects, such as feelings of depression, suicide and stress. It can lead to antisocial behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse, increased levels of smoking and decreased memory and learning. Physical effects can include increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Being lonely can also affect our brain function.
Older people are among the groups most at risk of coronavirus and the ones being encouraged to self-isolate, but they are already at more risk of being lonely. For example, if they live alone or do not see their family and friends so often. They may struggle to go out. So, add this on top of being encouraged to stay in due to the coronavirus, and we can see that older people (and others) may struggle mentally and physically.
How can we avoid this?
The news is currently constantly reporting the number of cases of people with coronavirus, how many are dying and what we should do. The news changes almost by the hour and there are many conflicting and sensationalist reports. This can increase the anxiety levels of many of us, which again can lead to negative physical and emotional effects. It can particularly cause problems for people who are already experiencing anxiety.
Being stuck in can also reduce our levels of physical exercise. Here we are focussing on mental health, but physical exercise has been well linked to our psychological state. Exercise can increase our levels of serotonin, which improves our mood. Being outdoors in greenery has also been found to improve our mood, focus and attention. So staying indoors can make us feel sluggish and depress our mood.
Being at home with your family nearly 24 hours a day may be a luxury that many of us do not often experience, but this luxury can start to lead to tension if not handled well. Adults and children who are not with each other all day normally may suddenly be in close contact 24 hours a day.
Working at home, self-isolating or avoiding going out can mean we are not socialising with others in the same way as normal. Our lives can feel very different, working from home, not going out, spending more time with your family than normal and so on. But the most important thing is to try and maintain a healthy routine and keep life as normal as possible.