Spending prolonged periods with little human contact can have a negative impact on mental health. We human beings are naturally social, at our best when communicating, collaborating and sharing thoughts or ideas with others. If that is suddenly taken away or the opportunities to do them drastically reduced, then even the most mentally resilient of us might struggle.
Such isolation might also pose risks to other factors deemed important for good mental health and well-being. If we are unable to work for example, as many are unfortunately experiencing, there may be financial concerns. Socially there is very little we can do at the present time outside of our own household, with limits imposed on the places we can go and the time we can spend outdoors.
For many this combination can represent something of a perfect storm where mental health and well-being are concerned. Recognising the early signs and caring for ourselves has never been more important.
Highlighting a Taboo
Positive progress has been made in recent times in encouraging people to talk more openly about mental health. Mental Health Awareness week, held every May in the United Kingdom and Mind.org’s Time to Change campaign both aim to end the stigma attached to mental health and rethink attitudes towards help and support.
Such campaigns have come at an important time with all of us affected to some degree by sweeping changes to our way of life. Isolation has been thrust upon all of us as an important tool to combat the spread of illness. That of course means a greater risk of mental health problems but also a greater chance that we might talk more openly about it.
Self care and the power of talking
As we live through challenging times, recognising the early signs of potential problems is important. The mental health charity Mind list some of the more common ones which include anxiety, changes in our eating or sleeping habits and particularly feelings of isolation.
Probably the single most important thing any of us can do to take care of our mental well-being is to talk about it to someone we trust, that might be a friend, a family member, a colleague, GP or counsellor. Often the simple act of talking, of sharing our thoughts and concerns are enough.
Certainly where isolation is concerned, there are other things we can do too.
Enjoy the outdoors as much as you can
It isn’t likely to be much, but even an hour a day can give you precious time to spend outdoors walking or cycling, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of your local area. It can be enough to take you out of yourself for a precious while and to focus your mind and senses with the moment, without regrets of the past or concerns for the future.
A different kind of social life
Making the most of what we have is in essence a very mindful attitude. But what little we do have can also be incredibly meaningful. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, then talking safely over the fence to neighbours or passers-by can have a real impact on feelings of isolation. New traditions are also cropping up with increasing frequency such as impromptu events in our local communities and celebrating the work of our front line care and medical staff. All are small ways to feel more involved in your local community while also respecting social distancing laws.
We also have the benefits of technology to help stay in touch with friends and loved ones, not just over the phone but in ways that we can see the people we are talking to such as video calling. This can lend a much more social feel to a simple chat that a phone call might lack.
The power of learning
Even small things can have a dramatic impact and the possibility of discovering a real interest is always around the corner. Identifying the birds and other passing fauna in your garden, or creating that perfect recipe you like can be very rewarding. Online language learning, free E-books from your local library, mindfulness classes… it can be anything at all, but the potential is there for you to learn something new. Learning, broadening our horizons can be a good way to improve confidence, mood and ultimately our mental health.