Social isolation is starting to become, dare I say it, the norm in many countries.
And for good reason — the health of humanity lies in the speed of the spread of this tiny but oh so powerful coronavirus, COVID-19.
However, whilst social isolation is an essential fix if we are to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, isolation comes at a heavy cost. Not only is isolation costing many jobs, homes, relationships, education and countless dollars, but it comes at an epic cost to our mental and physical health.
Fortunately, we are still at the infancy of this isolation period, at least in Australia anyway. This gives us some time. Isolation is still new for some of us and hasn't been able to get its claws into our mental health.
If we act now to nip it in the bud, we may survive some of the mental health issues that will surface after isolation.
Act now to start putting in place the steps to help you navigate your mental and physical health. It is neither difficult nor complex. In fact, the changes are quite simple unless you tell yourself otherwise. If you can implement deliberate strategies into your daily routine, you will survive isolation and maybe even come out stronger of this unfortunate experience.
By hacking your brain and body, they will influence each other to stimulate happy feelings even in times of isolation like this. What's more, if you are able to model a life of health and resilience and adapt to what life throws at you, you will impart that on everyone around you too.
Here are 5, well 6 (but there are even more here) hacks that I guarantee will help you prevent mental illness and perhaps even get your fitter and healthier than you were before in isolation.
1. Be Grateful
Writing a gratitude diary, ideally in those precious first 30 minutes of your day, can be hugely impactful.
If you have prayer, even better, but honouring and paying thanks to what you already have can do wonders for your mental health especially in these times of isolation.
It is easy to think the world is about to end, but what if you took the lead of your focus and directed it towards the many things in your life you are grateful for, such as having your family with you, a bed, food, the use of your legs?
When we focus on the negative aspects of our lives, it is the negative aspects that become the biggest portion of our lives.
As Tony Robbins quotes, what you focus on expands. Concentrate your energies on things that you already have, not on things you have lost or are now burdened with.
A hack that I love from James Clear from Atomic Habits is to change your wording. For example, instead of saying "I have to make dinner for the family tonight", what if you replaced it with "I get to make dinner for the family"..... it makes you feel like you have a gift, which you absolutely do.
Be grateful for those things you do have.
2. Guard the first 30 minutes of your day like your life (day) depends on it
When the brain first wakes and you open your eyes, you are in a highly suggestible state. This is known as the alpha zone and it is hugely influential on the rest of your day. Whatever information you feed your brain in this moment, it will latch on to.
For that reason, I strongly suggest you only allow feel-good, positive vibes during this time of your day. This sounds more difficult than it is. For many of us, particularly mums, we are woken by an alarm — be it a kid — or otherwise belting out screams and demands. But if you swapped that to something that is actually going to power your mental state for the day, you will be amazed by how different you feel.
Get up earlier, when the rest of the house is asleep, and gift those 30 minutes to yourself and your mental wellbeing. This comes in different forms, but if you can, I would suggest some kind of gratitude. Times like this, when everything seems as though it is falling apart, are perfect to tell our brains it is not. Trick it, tell your mind you feel bloody brilliant, and whilst your words might not completely fool your brain, they will definitely make you feel better than you did before.
3. Have a Sustainable routine or schedule
Most of us have lost a large section of our routine — no work, no school, no gyms, no restaurants or cafes. These routines provide the structure for our day, and when these structures fall apart, so does our day — and worse — our mental and physical health.
Routine is of course different for everyone and no doubt will change as we navigate our new lives with corona. But that said, don't use this change as an excuse to avoid setting a new routine.
Write down all the things you and your family need to achieve every day. Then grab a timeline schedule and calendar, and plot and plan what you need to get done.
It doesn't have to be too complex, particularly at the beginning, as this will do little more than overload you. Let the new routine grow organically as you warm to your new life in isolation (admittedly it may never happen, but let's pretend).
Be sure to schedule into the routine your own time for yourself. You may be the primary carer of kids or other family members. Your mental health relies on your ability to have time to process things, to have time for you.
If you are mentally stressed or sick, who is going to run the fort if you are not able to be there? For that reason, your activities should come first. If the ship's captain doesn't have her shit together, how the hell will anyone else?
Your routine will not always go to plan, but that's not the point. The point is you have a routine to try and stick to and give you all some structure to your day.
4. Find Me-Time In The Morning
If you have read any of my articles, you will know that my key to sanity is early mornings and exercise, although wine helps too, lol.
Time is the most important commodity we have, and whilst right now we seem to be spending a lot of it at home, we can't always do our own thing. We have to do our job, schoolwork, housework, not to mention breaking up arguments with kids a hundred times a day.
When it comes to time for you in the day, there is little space both physically and mentally. Your head is just too buzzing with doing stuff.
By getting up before the rest of the family, you gain time to just be you (this ties in to the above point) before the chaos and stress of additional little characters.
I advocate getting up an hour or 2 before your family, but experiment, start small and increase in 10-minute increments. See what works for you and what is the best amount of you-time that is needed to optimise your day.
This time when the house is quiet, it's dark outside, and you can have a coffee without someone screaming round your neck, is incredible, and once you get into this routine you will never want to come back.
There has never been an easier time to remain connected and interact with one another without actually being together.
We have to be positive and look on the bright side of the crisis, the bright side being we have more opportunities and platforms to be connected than ever.
Of course there are the regular platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but I advise using more personal and less distracting mediums such as Skype or WhatsApp or the phone!
That way you are focused on the person you are interacting with. Facebook and Instagram make their money because of their incredible ability to lead our mind to where they want it to go. By using WhatsApp or Skype, you are the one who is controlling the conversation and any interactions or distractions on the screen, which makes it a bit more personal.
As an exercise write down all the actives you generally use to remain connected. It might be the school playground or a coffee at work or a happy hour with friends.
Ask yourself how you could recreate those scenarios on a virtual level? A happy hour or coffee morning with friends, even a dinner party cooking the same food and chatting about it. The sky really is the limit.
6. Be Mindful Of What Your Brain Consumes (And Your Mini-Me)
We are at a time of information overload. Wherever we look we are being bombarded with messages and advice about the coronavirus.
Whilst I agree you have to be aware of some of it, having your brain inundated with messages and sad news is mental suicide for your brain, especially when you are cooped inside listening to little else.
When watching or talking about the corona crisis, have rules or guidelines to prevent you from becoming anxious or depressed.
The worst thing is to watch the news in the morning when your brain is priming your body how to function in the day. Use your mornings, especially the first thirty minutes, to stimulate your brain with positivity so it is primed for a day of just that positivity.
Limit news to only 20 minutes or the highlights, or if your husband's mind is more adapt at dealing with it, let him pass on the info. If it is a need-to-know, life-or-death situation, he will definitely let you know.
Also be aware of children being in earshot of the news, or seeing the negative response the news is having on you, which will indirectly be picked up by them.
You are in control of your mindset; you just have to exert that control. Exercise your power.
There are hundreds more tips I can offer, but for me these are all pretty impactful if you are looking for something to take immediate effect.
Be aware that you are a role model, and everything you do or see, your children will be influenced by. If you set guidelines about keeping healthy during isolation, your children will do the same, giving them the tools to cope now and in the future.
This is not a great situation for any of us, but if we ensure our response is not irrational and is calm, we will get through it.
You can find my 100 tips to survive isolation here, or if you have your own, why not post them on social media.