Sarah Kemp, BSc Sport Science and Personal Training & MSc Physical Activity, Nutrition and Health Promotion

Looking after yourself during self-isolation

23 March 2020

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In light of the present coronavirus crisis, self-isolation is becoming a reality for many of us. For more information about self isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, see the latest information on the NHS website.

These measures are important to protect ourselves and others but, as social beings, many of us will find isolating ourselves difficult to do. Not knowing when we may be able to return to our normal routine makes it all the more important that we stay mentally well and be kind to ourselves through these uncertain times.

Here AXA PPP healthcare Physiologist, Sarah Kemp, shares her top tips to help keep our mental wellbeing in tip top shape, and manage self-isolation as effectively as we can.

Keep in touch

We are a social species, and feeling connected to others enables us to learn, develop and thrive as human beings, so when this is comprised it can make us feel unsettled, anxious and more alone. In light of the current crisis, it’s more important than ever to make sure we keep in touch with those around us. In fact, social connectedness has been suggested to protect and promote good mental health.

If you’re self-isolating with your family, use it to your advantage. While living on top of each other may be throwing you out of sync (and making it difficult to manage home working, for example), there are some positives to be taken from the situation.  Use this time to get to your know family more - after all, we spend most of our adult lives at work so this is an opportunity to have some quality time with the most important people in our lives. If you’re self-isolating on your own, try to keep in touch with those around you in other ways.

  • Skype and video calls – Just because you’re not in the office or your usual working environment, doesn’t mean all contact with your colleagues has to stop. Schedule skype meetings and make it common practice to call in with your manager and other team members daily. And for when your working day’s done, try setting up a group chat via video call with your friends in the evening.

    Top tip: Schedule a call with a different person each day to widen your social connectedness and help  maintain valuable friendships!

  • Online communities – Various social media platforms have online communities,  dedicated to keeping people connected, inspiring others to keep on track with health and fitness activities, or helping those in the community. So, why not get involved and keep track of all the good going on around us.

    Top tip: Manage your time on social media – while it’s great to feel connected online, make sure to find a balance between online time and maintaining relationships with those closest to us. Take a break altogether on some days.

  • Keep track of what’s going on in the world – At present, the news is awash with the current coronavirus situation. It can be all too easy to become anxious and stressed amid all the uncertainty we’re witnessing. While it’s good to have an idea of what’s going on, maintain a heahealthy distance, instead choosing to widen your knowledge of other events happening in your community or in the world.

    Top tip:  Instead of checking in with the news daily, opt to have a movie night with your family, or perhaps a film night with friends and share your thoughts after on video call.

Keep on your feet

We all know the benefits of physical activity; not only does it help reduce the risk of long-term health problems, it can help us to maintain good mental and physical wellbeing. The Government guidelines recommend we complete 150 minutes of moderate activity exercise per week. However, if you aren’t able to leave the house at this time, it may be difficult to reach this amount of activity. The main focus should be to reduce sitting time as much as possible and find alternative ways to exercise in the home.

  • Start your day with some movement – Whilst trying to figure out your routine at home, start to stack exercise on top of your existing activities. This is an effective way  to create a healthy new habit. Use the time you have in the mornings that you may usually have spent on your commute!

    Top tip: Try doing 10 squats whilst brushing your teeth, 10 push ups whilst waiting for the kettle to boil or 10 sit ups whilst waiting for the laptop to start.

  • Break up your sitting time – Evidence continues to show how excessive sitting is detrimental to our health. While before, we were able to get out over our lunch break, take a walk around the building or perhaps visit a colleague across the office, our options now are limited so we need to find alternative ways of fitting movement into our day. The key is, whatever you decide to do, you do it regularly.

    Top tip: Set an alarm so that every 20 minutes, you’re reminded to stand up, walk around, stretch, squat, walk up and down the stairs… Whatever fits best with your environment and capability. There are no rules! Just aim to do something that doesn’t involve sitting all day.

  • Use what you have in your home – Few of us will have access to a fully stocked home gym, but that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise just as effectively with whatever you do have available. You may just have to be a little more creative! If you have a hidden stash of exercise equipment that you or your family have accumulated over the years, now’s the time to dust them off and start putting them to good use. Or try raiding your cupboards – tins, packets of flour, even bottles of laundry detergent make great alternative to hand weights. Just make sure they’re sealed first! And remember, it’s how we prioritise using what we have that really counts.

    Top tip: Allocate 30 minutes a day to exercise, even if it’s split up across the day. Whether it’s on a home bike, watching an online exercise video or taking part in a virtual class, there are many options available to you.

  • Finish the day off with a stretch – Stretching is important as it helps keeps our muscles and ligaments flexible, enabling us to function at our best in day-to-day life. With continued sitting, our posterior chain (the muscles on the backside of our body) becomes sluggish and can contribute to poor musculoskeletal health, so try and fit in stretching where possible throughout the day.

    Top tip: To maintain overall flexibility, hold stretches for 6-10 seconds, but for a deeper stretch to improve flexibility, hold for 20-30 seconds. Aim to stretch daily, and include major muscle groups such as your back, legs, but also your neck.

    For more information and inspiration to help you get more physically, take a look at our exercise and fitness hub. Or check out the NHS Fitness Studio for a wide variety of fitness videos you can follow at home.

Support your mental wellbeing

Research indicates that being isolated can negatively impact our mental wellbeing, so keep reading for ways to support your own and the mental wellbeing of those around you during times of isolation.

  • Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your mind on the present moment, and accepting your thoughts without judgment. Amid all the uncertainty and stress that people may be experiencing currently, it’s definitely something worth trying to help calm a busy mind. In fact, research suggests that mindfulness practice can bring about improvements to attitudes, behaviours and health.
     
    Top tip: If you’re new to mindfulness, try simple breathing or meditation techniques to get you started. Paying attention to our breath is a simple way to focus our attention, and there are plenty of guided practices online or via apps to try. Or click here for our own mindful breathing tips.

  • Take time for yourself – It’s all too easy to get consumed by what’s currently going on in the world, but taking some time for yourself can really make a difference to our mental wellbeing, so plan in something for you as you would a work meeting. Once it’s in the diary, you’re more inclined to stick to it!

    Top tip: Allocate 30 minutes each day to do something for you – this could be taking a relaxing bath, practicing some mindfulness, doing some exercise, playing with the kids, learning a new activity or simply cosying up with a book before bedtime. Take a look at our self care article for more ideas.

  • Practise daily gratitude – Practising gratitude is being able to notice the things around you, reflecting and be thankful for them. People who practise gratitude are able to experience more positive emotions, and express more compassion and kindness. In light of the current situation, practising daily gratitudes is something that may help to ease an anxious mind.

    Top tip: Invest in a journal to write down daily gratitudes. To start with, it may be something like ‘I am thankful for my family’ but over time try to write down new gratitudes to change your focus and widen your perspective on the world.

In summary, self-isolation may be challenging but there are things you can do to support your wellbeing and even make it a positive experience. Be thankful for the things you have around you, embrace the time spent with family, and reach out as much as possible to those around you.

References

Mindwise - The importance of social connection

Alexander K Saeri1, Tegan Cruwys1, Fiona Kate Barlow1,Samantha Stronge2 and Chris G Sibley. Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the NewZealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2018, Vol. 52(4) 365–374. DOI: 10.1177/0004867417723990

Benefits of mindfulness

The science behind gratitude

Further resources

Headspace.com

NHS Fitness Studio exercise videos

Exercise and fitness centre - AXA PPP healthcare

Mindful breathing tips – AXA PPP healthcare

Self care – AXA PPP healthcare

Top tips for healthy eating when working from home  - AXA PPP healthcare

Staying connected when working remotely  - AXA PPP healthcare

Staying positive during adversity  - AXA PPP healthcare

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