For nearly two months now, we’ve been ordered to shelter-in-place as a means of preventing COVID-19 from spreading. Though this has helped us “flatten the curve,” as was the initial purpose of this quarantine, it has also been detrimental to mental health.
Normally, spring is a time to celebrate. With sunnier days and warmer weather, seasonal depression normally begin to fade away as we embrace the coming summer. But 2020 is different. With a dangerous virus swarming the streets, it’s likely we won’t be seeing as much sunlight this year.
While it’s true many states are re-opening their economies and the summer months are bound to see less social distancing, the stay-at-home principles will remain in place. And it’s going to be highly recommended we continue to self-quarantine until we can get this virus under control.
The biggest difficulty with this is we don’t know when that control will be in our grasp.
With that said, many people out there will continue to struggle with their mental health and the constraints self-isolation is having on it. The purpose of this article is to help individuals combat this loneliness and the depression it brings along. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Why Does Quarantine Lead to Depression?
Quarantines are a common way to keep people safe during times of rampant disease. In fact, nearly 700 years ago during the Bubonic Plague, Italy was the first nation to organize self-isolation as a means of helping slow the spread. ¹
Though self-quarantine is helpful in preventing the spread of viruses, it can have devastating costs to a person’s mental health. This is particularly because we as humans are wired to socialize – we’re sure you’ve heard the saying, “humans are social animals.”
Self-isolation is not natural and, as with anything not natural, people tend to experience a list of organic symptoms. When it comes to mandatory quarantines of the past, studies have found people may experience the following: ²
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Aches and pains
- Cardiovascular stress
- Change in eating habits
- Despair and sadness
- Development of compromised immune functions
- Fatigue (physical exhaustion)
- Fears (sometimes, paranoia)
- Hopelessness and helplessness
- Increased difficulty concentration
- Increased perception of risk
- Increased stress over finances
- Inhibited executive function
- Post-traumatic stress symptoms
- Somatic experiences
- Stigma worries
One of the biggest issues of quarantine and mental health is everyone has a different reaction. Some are more susceptible to depression while others can maintain some level of placidity – in many circumstances, the latter may be experiencing high-functioning depression. Unfortunately, those who had traumatic experiences prior to quarantine are more likely to struggle during this period of self-isolation. ³
Since this self-quarantine (or, at least, a recommended self-quarantine) is going to present itself for the indefinite future, it’s important to understand what we can do in order to take care of our mental health.
Developing a Healthy Home Environment
It’s agreed upon by the majority of mental health professionals that our living environment plays a large role in causing depression. In fact, many people have developed the illness simply because their home life is filled with negativity. ⁴
How has your home life been since this quarantine began? Has it been filled with chaos or has it been relaxing? These questions are vital to answer as your living circumstances may be one of the main causes of your depression.
If you are currently struggling with your home life, you need to take this as an opportunity to work towards a healthier living environment.
What this work entails is different for everyone. For some, it may mean cleaning up a bit around the house, decluttering spaces to make them feel more welcoming, and possibly decorating areas to better suit your mentality. For others, this could mean moving out entirely and finding a place where you feel safe and comfortable.
Whichever case you find yourself in, it’s vital to take this one step at a time. Reorganizing one’s home environment to better fit their mental needs isn’t an easy task. Especially if you’re hit with the burden of having to start all over again.
However, your home life is essential to your mental health. And though this quarantine may have furthered your depressive symptoms, there’s no reason you can’t take this as a wake up call. A time to make a change and promote a positive living environment.
Don’t Be Afraid to Socialize
Of course, it’s been recommended time and time again that people stay home and avoid physical social interactions. And, in cases where these physical social interactions are necessary, we’re told to stay six feet apart. Just as with much of what this quarantine has necessitated, this is completely unnatural and not something our brains are going to become comfortable with any time soon.
With that, it’s important to stay as connected as possible to those you care about. Understandably, the risk of COVID-19 shouldn’t be undermined. We should still take precautions when socializing with others. However, circumstances differ for everyone.
For those with compromised immune systems, it’s best to keep in touch through digital means such as phone or video calls. For those who are young and healthy enough, physical social interactions won’t appear to be nearly as dangerous – though, should be taken with precaution.
A six foot distance along with wearing protective equipment (i.e. face masks) is beneficial to stopping the spread. Not to mention, avoidance of any physical contact.
It’s vital to remember that we’re all in this together. You’re not the only one struggling with social isolation and we guarantee those you love and care about will be grateful to hear from you.
Spend Time Outdoors
If you’ve been watching the news, you may be convinced that the great outdoors are dangerous and lurking with the coronavirus. But the fact is, you’re more likely to contract a virus indoors than you are outdoors as an indoor space both contains pathogens and gives easier access to surfaces. ⁵
Not to mention, though we’re all concerned about what’s going into our immune system, it’s important to remember bacteria isn’t always bad. The more the body takes in bacteria that presents harm, the more the immune system builds a tolerance to such pathogens. ⁶
While cleaning surfaces and washing our hands is important to slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s not beneficial to prevent our immune systems from reacting to all harmful pathogens.
These things are important to understand because fearing the outdoors is only going to be detrimental to both your immune system and your mental health.
Natural sunlight is an essential when battling depression. The sun gives off vitamin D which has been found to help with mood regulation. In fact, a study published by the Journal of Internal Medicine found that participants with depression who took a vitamin D supplement noticed an improvement in their depressive symptoms.
Another perk of the outdoors is it encourages exercise – another great way to help offset symptoms of depression. Even just taking a walk around the neighborhood with increase endorphins which promote positive moods and a sense of well-being. ⁷
Of course, with all this said, we do suggest you continue social distancing and taking protective precautions while outdoors.
Develop a Routine
An interesting aspect of our brains is they’re comfortable when our lives run in a routine. As you’re probably already well aware, this quarantine has thrown a large chunk of the world off of their normal routine and let many both confused and paranoid.
Now that the dust has settled, you probably already have a quarantine routine you’ve been living by for the past few months. It’s important to ask yourself whether the routine you’ve established is helping your mental health or hurting it?
If you’ve spent most of this time doing little to nothing day-by-day and simply absorbing in the sea of entertainment the internet has to offer, chances are you’re only fueling your depression.
Since the United States has plans to re-open, there is a lot of hope that our normal routines will be re-established. However, it’s important to remember that just because the country is re-opening doesn’t mean the virus is going away. And, as we’ve already mentioned, self-quarantine is most likely going to be the way-of-life for some time into the future.
With this said, it’s important to develop a healthy routine for yourself. This may including developing healthy habits (i.e. getting a full night’s sleep or stretching your body regularly) or creating new positive habits (we’ll get to these below). ⁸
Remember, even while we’re all self-isolating, every day can be looked at as an opportunity to improve and make oneself better. While this pandemic does leave us all in a state we don’t necessarily want to be in, it doesn’t have to drain us emotionally day-by-day.
Promote a Hobby
The bottom line is that as this pandemic continues, we’re going to spend a lot more time alone than we’re used to. With that, we should look at this as a way to hone in on projects we’ve always wanted to develop.
Whether it’s gardening, reading, playing an instrument, or developing a new computer code – it’s vital we keep our focuses on our passions. This is a clear way to help improve ourselves and our depression and can give your life a purpose you may not have known.
Of course, such passion projects will look different for everyone. And you may find you’re not 100% sure what you’re passionate about. That’s okay.
What’s important is you start exploring. With the advent of the internet, diving into a new hobby has never been so easy. Any information you need is at the tip of your fingers and all it takes to really get the ball rolling is a bit of will power.
COVID-19 isn’t going to go away any time soon. While this information is granted at this point, it’s vital we make sure to keep ourselves engaged – both socially and individually – as quarantine progresses. It’s important we start taking control of our quarantine rather than letting the quarantine take control of ourselves.
Of course, this will look different for everyone. Now that you’ve read through our thoughts on how to manage depression while self-isolating, it’s important to consider what you can do in order to improve your mental health. For no one knows your brain as well as you do.
Still have questions about how to manage depression while in self-quarantine?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further insight to give – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Harvard: Science in the News: Plagues of the Past
² Comprehensive Psychiatry: Depression after exposure to stressful events
³ Asian Journal of Psychiatry: COVID-19 in People with Mental Illness: Challenges and Vulnerabilities
⁴ Clinical child and family psychology review (HHS Public Access): Youth Depression in the Family Context: Familial Risk Factors and Models of Treatment
⁵ Environmental science & technology letters (HHS Public Access): Total Virus and Bacteria Concentrations in Indoor and Outdoor Air
⁶ MedlinePlus: Immune response
⁷ Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed
⁸ National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Brain Basics: Know Your Brain