Written by Step Above Stigma's co-president, Jessica Gregoire.
Many of us are uncomfortable openly talking about our mental health struggles, or even admitting to having them at all. This was a major barrier for me growing up, as conversations surrounding mental health were not common and the topic was stigmatized in my community. It wasn’t until my first year at university when I realized mental health was not something to ignore. It took me facing the depths of depression and anxiety, and turning my life upside down, to acknowledge that my struggles were real.
After my first-year experience was severely impacted by my mental illnesses, I made the choice to step back from school and focus on rehabilitating my mental wellness. This is by far the best decision I have ever made for myself, and I can gladly say taking one semester off of school helped me to form coping strategies and reframe my thoughts.
It has now been three years since I made this decision and I have been growing stronger ever since. Sometimes admitting to yourself that you are not okay is the bravest thing you can do. I have had many ups and downs throughout the years, because life is unpredictable, but I have coping strategies that have helped me navigate through challenging times.
With the current global situation, many of us are struggling and isolation can definitely amplify mental health struggles. I have been struggling specifically with the disruption of routine, lack of social interaction, and not feeling like myself. Many of you can likely relate to these struggles, and that is why I wanted to share some of the strategies that I have found work for me when dealing with my mental health in isolation. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not necessarily be effective for you, but try some of these out and see if they help.
1. Find a Routine That Makes You Feel Good
This has to be the most important, yet most challenging, tip that I have. Having a routine for your day gives you direction and purpose, which many of us feel we’re lacking in these unprecedented times.
I wouldn’t recommend planning your days down to the minute, as this may overwhelm you. Instead, have some goals for your day and hold yourself accountable to them. The goal of your day can be something as simple as doing your laundry or calling a family member. Doing things that you love and that make you feel good during your day will make all the difference as you navigate through quarantined life.
One of the fundamental aspects of routine is your sleep schedule. This is huge for mental function and overall health. Scheduling a rough time frame to go to sleep and wake up will change your experience in isolation drastically. This has been the biggest struggle for me, but I keep on trying.
2. Keep a Healthy Body For a Healthier Mind
Something that I’ve kept constant since isolation began is focusing on my physical health and nourishing my body. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way the vision of health and I’ve been eating my fair share of snacks, but I try to get at least some nutrients in daily. I have felt such a difference in my mood and mental wellness on days where I am eating whole nutritious foods, and snacks in moderation.
On top of getting in some nutrients throughout the day, I always try to move my body at least once. Physical activity does not need to be strenuous! Simply going for a walk or stretching your body can have major positive effects on your mental wellness and mood.
I’ve found that on days when I wake up and feel reality bring my mood down, all it takes is ten minutes of movement while listening to my favourite music to bring me back to myself. Little changes in your level of activity throughout the day can make isolation more tolerable.
As always, don’t forget to drink lots of water!
3. Check in With Yourself
The narrative in our minds greatly impacts our actions and our mood. This is something many people struggle with, including myself. It’s important to check in with yourself regularly to ensure you’re in a healthy state of mind. Because I struggle with an anxiety disorder, social media and news broadcastings tend to make my anxiety increase. Decreasing my intake of media about COVID-19 has helped me focus on myself and make it through the day.
Being bored at home has definitely caused an increase in my social media usage as well, and I often have to check in with myself to make sure I don’t fall into a toxic mindset from these platforms. When I feel that social media is impacting my mood, I take a break from it and stay off of my phone. This helps me focus back on my life, and off the illusions of social media.
Some of the best practices I have been loving for this are journaling and meditating. Taking the time to be alone with yourself and your thoughts is so important to ground you when there is so much going on in the world. Some people are intimidated by journaling because they don’t know where to start. When I’m stuck, I look up journal prompts online and choose one that resonates with me. An easy start is writing down five things you are grateful for, as expressing gratitude is a major mood booster.
4. Make (Socially Distant) Plans With Loved Ones
Many of us are struggling with the lack of social interaction that comes as a result of quarantine. For me, making plans with loved ones using online platforms has been something to look forward to. I’ve been having Zoom calls with my friends to catch up, and we have planned a few movie nights! Although it isn’t the same as being in person with your friends and family, making these plans can remind you that you have people who love you and who are there to support you through the challenges of isolation.
As I navigate through isolation, I learn new ways to cope with my mental health struggles. I hope these tips can help you continue your life through quarantine, and help you develop coping strategies you can use moving forward! If you are currently struggling with your mental health, just know you are not alone. Take each day as it comes, and remember that better days are coming.