Protect Mental Health During Isolation


by Terry Rogers

For many people, the biggest issue they face during the COVID-19 virus is the need to distance themselves from friends and family. Grandparents are not able to visit with grandchildren while health professionals warn against any type of social gathering. People who are extroverts may find the need to social distance beyond challenging and behavior specialists are concerned that there will be an increase in depression, anxiety and even suicide as the crisis continues. There are things people can do to help avoid depression and anxiety, even during this time of social isolation.

“It is important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Dr. Duane Shubert said. “By nature, people are social beings who love structure and routine. When that structure or routine is disrupted, it can be difficult to manage. People get anxious when their routine is upset, even those who think they do not have a routine. We are used to getting up, showering, putting on work clothes and heading out the door. Right now, for many people, that routine has been disrupted.”

One of the ways Dr. Shubert suggested that could help people keep their mental balance during the crisis was by continuing the routine as much as possible. He suggested getting up at the same time you do when you must work outside the home and planning to be at your “desk” when you would be on a regular workday. Take the same breaks you would regularly and end the day at the same time you normally would in order to maintain a routine. You can also do this with your children, getting them up like they would for school and, if your child’s school has started distance learning, require them to do school work for an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon.

“Another issue is people who are isolated from their loved ones,” Dr. Shubert said. “In today’s world of technology, that is no longer necessary. Zoom is a wonderful tool that allows you to talk to and see your family. Many people are using the app to have virtual happy hours, family dinners and to just connect with those they love. FaceTime and other apps make it easier than ever to keep in touch with everyone. With many of the apps, you can connect with more than one family member at a time, giving you the sense that you are not cut off from everyone else.”

Because social distancing is still fairly new, Dr. Shubert explained that there are not really any statistics regarding how prevalent depression and anxiety may be. Based on social media posts, however, he is seeing signs that people are starting to struggle with isolation. He suggested that people reach out to family members, especially older members and those who are known as the “social butterflies” as they may have the most difficulty with isolation.

“If they tell you they are not sleeping well, are not eating, that could be a red flag,” Dr. Shubert said. “One thing that happens when someone slips into depression, especially older people, is that they neglect their personal hygiene. If you reach out to someone who seems isolated and they mention they have not showered in days, that could be a sign they are slipping into depression.” Dr. Shubert suggested that anyone who is feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal could reach out to crisis hotlines or behavioral health lines in order to talk to someone who can guide them.

In addition to crisis lines, there are apps available that can be used to calm someone with severe anxiety or depression.

“There is an app called “Calm” that I recommend to many of my patients,” Dr. Shubert said. “It provides deep muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises and other non-medical methods for dealing with stress and anxiety. Make sure you continue to eat healthy meals and take advantage of the many online or televised workout programs that are cropping up right now.”

Walking in your yard or neighborhood is acceptable during this time of social distancing, Dr. Shubert explained. When someone begins feeling cooped up or closed in, they should take a walk, even if it is just around their yard. He suggested planting flower beds, pulling weeds, raking the yard or picking up limbs in order to simply get out of the house. Enjoy a meal on the patio, deck or balcony if the weather is nice.

“When this lifts, there will still be measures in place to avoid flare-ups,” Dr. Shubert said. “This virus is not going away. We are just getting a better handle on it in order to treat and prevent the spread of it. It will still be here even after the social distancing measures are lifted. It is important that if you have anxiety, you get help to deal with the unknowns. If you are depressed, reach out to someone, whether it is a family member, a friend or a crisis hotline.”

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. This line can be used by those who are feeling suicidal as well as those who are concerned about a loved one. In Kent and Sussex County, you can call the Mobile Crisis Unit at 800-345-6785.