By Dr. Bill Howatt and Louise Bradley
Blog Question: How will I mentally prepare for self-isolation?
Many may skip this question because when we think of self-isolating our minds automatically go to physical preparation. Survival basics of food, water and shelter have naturally been the focus as we’ve responded to instructions to self-isolate.
The fact that it is involuntary is perhaps at the core of why some people are struggling with self-isolation requests by employers and government. Social isolation isn’t a choice we are making for ourselves, so it can feel like we’re losing control of our free will. Free will, freedom and social connection are among our most basic needs - and rights. When they’re challenged, it’s normal to feel stressed and concerned.
COVID-19 is creating a massive, rapid change in our society. The national response of social distancing is meant to help, not do harm. By each of us doing our best to reduce the spread of this virus, we’re reducing the numbers of people who become ill and we’re mitigating the risk of too many people being admitted into the hospital system at one time. We all want to ensure that we have adequate resources to treat those who become ill. And, if we don’t self-isolate the medical system could become overwhelmed, which would be an even bigger tragedy.
Social distancing also ensures that those who are infected, but don’t yet know it, have an opportunity to get well before spreading the virus further.
This is a new concept for most, but it has become a reality overnight, and it is up to the health authorities who are tracking and monitoring this pandemic to determine how long it will last.
As is the case in any crisis, the wrong time to prepare is when you are in it. So, since we are still in the early stage, we have an opportunity to pause and consider our mental readiness plan for dealing with this new reality. By focusing on our mental health, we are in a better position to positively influence our mood, habits and daily routine.
Preparing mentally for a task like self-isolation enables us to focus on what is within our control. Gaining perspective and a healthy outlook on what we can and cannot control can assist in mitigating fear, anxiety and worry.
Social distancing can create a perceived barrier for social connections. However, a healthy mental plan can help gain perspective and acknowledge that though this may be inconvenient it shall pass and soon when it’s safe we’ll be able to get back to normal movement patterns.
I will share my personal mental fitness plan to provide some context on what a mental fitness plan is. To get started, I needed to evaluate what I did for my mental health with intention. I have always found reading and writing good for my mental health as well physical exercise. At times, I am anxious - a by-product of being ADHD - so I wanted to include a few activities to help me monitor anxiety and help me when I am feeling anxious. I journal daily, use a daily emotional log, practice self-compassion, three-minute mediation, and practice daily gratitude and appreciation for others. When I feel anxiety building, I use deep breathing exercises, as well as a cognitive trick I learned from cognitive behavioural therapy.
Now here is the rub, there are literally hundreds of things you can do with intention that are good for your mental health. But each person’s plan will be different. My plan is my plan; it most likely wouldn’t be exactly right for someone else. My belief is that every employee would benefit from having their own mental fitness plan and practice it daily. My plan takes me less than ten minutes a day, but that ten minutes, where I am being intentional about my mental health, is probably more than most people dedicate to this critically important practice.
I created a program to help individuals develop a plan with the University of New Brunswick. It’s called Mental Fitness Practice and is designed so that, within a few hours, users have a framework for building their own mental fitness plan.
- Article 4: How employers and employees should manage self-quarantine (180 KB PDF)