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Good advice on looking after your MH during isolation

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Clymene · 17/03/2020 11:43

I came across this on Facebook and thought it was v sensible and helpful advice


(Background: I have a lifelong disability and am a wheelchair user. After surgery I’ve basically been stuck living and sleeping in one room for three years. These are things I have learnt which may help, though with the caveat that everyone is different, and baseline mental health varies.)

  1. YOUR MENTAL HEALTH WILL PROBABLY SUFFER - and although humans are social creatures, even the most introverted will chafe against boundaries enforced upon them by circumstance. The degree to which it suffers will be related to your mental health baseline and physical health. Understand that this IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Stimuli and enrichment methods are required. It’s why animals need such things in zoos and conservation parks. This leads us on to my next point.

2. COMPREHEND WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE ACTIVE AND PASSIVE FOR YOU Spending your confinement solely doing passive things (watching TV, Netflix, browsing the internet, scrolling through the internet) will take a load off your brain and make the time pass quicker. But if that’s all you do, the sense of disconnection increases over time. Activities which require you to do something, even if it’s just engaging your motor skills via video games, or lifting some cans of beans, or actively reading - these deliberate acts foster a tiny sense of achievement which gives your brain a dose of helpful chemicals. If you want to consider your activities, look up the work of Marshall McLuhan as regards “hot media” and “cold media” (See for basic premise.) Balancing out your media intake with hot and cold activities keeps your brain active and pumping tasty neurotransmitters.

3. LIMIT YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE TO SOCIAL PURPOSES. Infinite scrolling as found on many social media platforms is a hot medium, as per McLuhan. The reason Likes exist is to give that little spike of interactivity. It’s not a conspiracy to say many platforms are designed to keep you on them so they can show you more ads. (See also which explains the brain chemistry angle) However, DM’s and other messaging faculties are supremely useful. Use them to interact with your friends, indulge your fandom theories. Person to person interaction requires and enhances deep-seated neurological and biophysical reflexes. Text your mates. Skype/Facetime or otherwise call them. Use the technology of the 21st century for genuine social ends, deliberately. Catch up with their lives one to one or in groupchats.

4. PICK TIMES TO CHECK THE NEWS AND STICK TO THEM. This relates to point 3 - unfortunately we live in a 24hr news cycle, with constant liveblogging of important issues. This means that we’re constantly streaming anxiety inducing situations into our brains JUST IN CASE. That’s not helpful, particularly when you can’t actually DO anything about those events - the urge to DO something is why people are panic-buying. It’s a very basic primordial need to grab resources for defence. By picking times of the day to check news, you are again, making a DELIBERATE CHOICE, enacting some small level of agency, while at the same time limiting anxiety-inducing stimuli. If the news gets too much, then don’t check it as much - or at all - and do something else.

5. IF YOU DO THINGS WITH FRIENDS, SEE IF YOU CAN DO THEM ONLINE. Run that game of DnD/Other TTRPG you’ve been meaning to. Hold your book club online. Have a few drinks online over voice-chat if you are missing the pub. Hold watch parties for your favourite shows. The key, as ever, is to be engaged rather than passive. It’s harder if you’re ill, yes, but it can be done.

6. USE YOUR IMAGINATION TO CREATE THINGS. Write that fanfic. Start that novel. Design that game. Doodle. Paint. Humans have been creating since the day we became human. Consider things from the perspective of a pre-modern person. Make handprints on your own personal cave wall - contact each other and tell spooky stories. Build a complex fantasy world. Write an account of your confinement for some person to find pieces of years after you’re gone from the world. Think about a problem, and learn how to solve it via taking online classes (See Write an essay on your chosen passion or hyperfixation - nobody needs to read it but you. Treat yourself to intellectual stimulation, if that’s your thing.

7. IF YOU HAVE A SPIRITUAL. RITUAL, OR MEDITATIVE PRACTICE DO IT. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, or limited in scope. This also includes atheists and those who despise woo - you have personal rituals, things you do that have Meaning to you as a person. Maybe it;s alphabetizing your music collection, or spring cleaning or cooking your favourite meal like grandma used to make. Humans have patterns they perform. When you perform them DELIBERATIVELY (or dare I say MINDFULLY) you become aware that these are the scaffolds that structure human life.

8. STRUCTURE YOUR TIME. Following on from 7, we often don’t realise the structure of our lives until it is disrupted. When that’s removed, our minds can go into freefall. If you’re isolated/in lockdown, oftentimes you won’t be able to access those structures. Rather than wait for them to to become accessible again and risk a period of feeling lost and directionless, which can enhance depression and anxiety, it’s best to develop a new structure based on the resources you have. It can be as loose or as strict as you like, but sticking to it allows us to develop a rhythm which makes time pass in recognisable fashion and gives us a sense of being-in-the-world as some sort of engaged process.

9. KEEP YOUR SLEEP PATTERN REGULAR AND LONG ENOUGH. The key here is REGULAR. Following on from 8, it’s important to keep your body well rested, as this aids your immune system and cuts down on the possibility of your body having to deal with stress . If you’re ill it’s harder to keep this regular, because sometimes your body just needs sleep to regenerate NOW. Equally in isolation, particularly if you’re feeling mentally low, it can be tempting to sleep forever, because y’know, you’re feeling low and what’s the point. (Of course the point is why we have 8 in particular, along with all the rest.)

OBVIOUSLY EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. Particularly for those with disabilities or chronic illnesses, we may be even more limited in our activities while isolated than able bodied folks. That said, the key is to remember that certainly during this pandemic, and otherwise YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE FEELING THIS WAY. Rubbish as it may be, many are in the same boat. If it pleases you to, seek them out - see what commonalities you have, what hopes and dreams and fascinations you may share. FIND THE OTHERS - it’s what humans have always done.

Be well.
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