• Liam Tracey

Managing isolation anxiety

Updated: Oct 7

As Kiwis are returning home to be placed in managed isolation, and the return to Levels 2 and 3 in New Zealand, health experts are expecting to see an increase in Covid-related anxiety. It is understandable too, this virus has shaken our sense of normal and put a giant spanner in the works for most. With the ebb and flow of global cases not pointing towards an end to the pandemic, the level of uncertainty is as high as ever. What Kiwis can be certain of is that the Government is holding it’s line in going hard, and early. Cases remain low, but isolation anxiety is on the up.  


The prospect of staying in a managed facility, or isolating at home may spark feelings of worry and fear, especially since it is not your choice. However, here are some ideas on how to improve your ability to cope, manage your anxiety, and may even boost your wellbeing during isolation.


Maintain a sense of structure to your days


Experts are suggesting that many people are struggling with the passing of time. Two weeks of isolation, in whatever form that may take, is 14 days of your own company with restrictions like we haven’t experienced. What may have sounded like a dream setup to relax and unwind 12 months ago now sounds like an eternity of potential boredom and loneliness. So, in order to maintain a sense of control and management, we must redefine our sense of time. What does that look like? Draw up a timetable, physical or otherwise, to build a structure to your day, which doesn’t necessarily need to be time driven. For example, consider what you might want to do or achieve after breakfast or lunch, or before dinner. 


Be social


While it may not be possible to be physically present, isolation doesn’t mean we can’t keep in touch with friends and family. Not to mention the positive effects of socialisation on beating loneliness and stress, it will also help fend off isolation anxiety. It does this when we buck the idea that “social distancing” is going to beat the virus; physical distancing will do that. So pick up the phone and chat to those who have some time to spare; send some messages back and forth to update those about your isolation set up; reach out to old friends on social media platforms. Everyone has a story to share about how things have gone for them, so share yours and hear someone else’s. 


Pick your media moment


With access to the news 24 hours a day, it is all too easy to binge on any update about Coronavirus in New Zealand and across the globe. This can be a dark hole of fear and worry inducing anxiety. Obviously keeping abreast of what is taking place is important and will have an impact on our situation, but there is nothing to be gained from listening, reading and watching the same updates. Combatting this is straightforward enough - pick one time in the day, one source, one format that you will use to access the news of the day. During Level 4, the 1pm updates broadcast on TV, radio and online provided the essential information and updates relevant to New Zealand and that was more than enough. So, why not do the same?


Avoid catastrophizing


Finding an article in the media which paints a bleak or gloomy picture of the pandemic is almost too easy. Even social media feeds are becoming clogged with people’s opinions which can influence our thinking and induce a sense of dread. It is important to maintain a sense of realism in these instances - is what you are reading really informed by experts? During the early stages of the Covid Crisis, scientific advisors were reporting to the media and answering questions by starting sentences with “We think… it’s possible... maybe... perhaps... we don’t know but…” While it is true that they may be suggesting a degree of uncertainty, it allows us to blank out all those who are spreading dramatic sound bites. The experts aren’t catastrophizing, and that in itself gives more hope than any opinionated Facebook status can. 


Finally, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have openly discussed that pandemics can cause stress and anxiety. There is no doubt that this is true. But through positive management of our mental health, they believe that coping with anxiety in a healthy way will make us, our friends and family and our communities stronger in the long run. So there’s a positive nudge to work hard for ourselves as part of that team of 5 million...even if we are feeling alone in isolation. Read more about isolation and loneliness.