mental health isolation

How to improve your mental health during isolation

These are uncertain times. As we all try to adapt to this crazy new world we find ourselves in, it’s important to recognise how crucial mental health is during this time. So, let’s look at how you can look after your mental health in isolation (oh yes, and how exercise can help!).

Social isolation doesn’t discriminate when it comes to affecting someone’s mental health. The loneliness and lack of normality that comes along with it can be enough to cripple almost anyone. Like when you start getting jealous of the bins being out on bin night, you know it’s getting bad.

In attempt to try and shed some hope during these dark moments, know that with the correct routines and habits put into place, you can still manage to be happy (yes, even in isolation).

BUT HOW? I’m so glad you asked! Here are a few habits you can add to your day that’ll make you happier:

Habit 1 – Exercise (Iso style)

The first method I’ll address is exercise. Although we know how good exercise is for our bodies, many people forget just how amazing exercise is for the mind. Here are some fun facts to prove my point:

  • According to a study led by the Black Dog Institution in 2017, as little as one hour of exercise per week would be enough to have prevented 12% depression cases.
  • A short, 10-minute brisk walk can increase mental alertness, energy and positive mood states.
  • Exercise has been shown to improve self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety.

No one type exercise is better than another for your mental health, so just find something that you enjoy! This can be as simple as walking or running outside (just remember to practice physical distancing), or even finding a home-workout to do. As mentioned above, something as small as 10 minutes is all you need to better your mood.

If you have a chronic condition, it’s a good idea to chat to your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist to find out what exercises are safe for you.

Read more: Learn how to stay active safely at home.

exercise isolation

Habit 2 – Meditation

Another method is meditation. According to the black dog institution, meditation has the following benefits for your mental health:

  • Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
  • Improves concentration, learning and memory
  • Assists with finding emotional balance

Our minds are designed to think. On average, we think up to 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day. Unfortunately, the majority of those thoughts are often negative. Meditation allows us to be more mindful of these thoughts and as a result, we can observe and shift where our focus goes.

According to Black Dog Institution, recent studies indicate that through meditation, the brain literally develops through neuroplasticity. This means it builds neural pathways and grey matter, effectively re-wiring the brain to become better.  Might as well work on this while you’re in isolation, right?

mental health isolation

Habit 3 – Practice Gratitude

As “guru” as practising gratitude might sound, it has been clinically proven to help individuals with low mental health or stress. It can also help you to simply be more positive and improve your mindset.  It works like this: every morning and every night, you write three things your grateful for that day. This simple practice works by teaching the mind to notice valuable parts of your day and to hold some gratitude towards them.  Here are some fun facts about gratitude practice:

  • It’s been shown to be effective in reducing depression and stress.
  • It can help to increase resilience.
  • Gratitude practices can improve quality of sleep and build emotional awareness.

gratitude isolation

How to make these habits part of your day

Building habits is a slow process, and it’s about frequency and NOT duration. So, in other words, it’s not how about how long I exercised for, but how many times I’ve exercised that week. Let’s break it down into four simple steps to make these habits last:

Make it obvious: Making it obvious means you’re simply reminded of it frequently. For example, someone quitting smoking shouldn’t place cigarettes in front of themselves all day. Alternatively, if you’re trying to exercise, strategically placing your gym clothes nearby so that you see them frequently can be a good method.

Make it attractive: This means thinking outcome based. If you’re exercising, think about how good it will feel to be in better shape. Try and associate that image and feeling with exercise.

Make it easy: This means making it easily accessible. For example, I might not eat the salad if it’s hidden at the top of the fridge, however, if it’s at the right height then I am more likely to eat it.

Make it satisfying: Aim to make it as enjoyable as possible. This can be done by rewarding yourself afterwards and associating something positive. For example, try putting music on during a run.

My last tip is this… Remember that it’s PHYSICAL distancing, not SOCIAL distancing. Now that we are all at home with plenty of free time (some more than others), there has never been a better time to call your loved ones. Make time to chat to family and old friends that you’ve been meaning to talk too. Simply making a call to a friend is enough to remind us that we are loved.

We are all in this alone, together!

Read more: Learn how to stay active safely at home.

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Written by Zak Kharoofa. Zak is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Rehab Management and is passionate about helping others with a biopsychosocial approach to mental health.