For many working from home can be a struggle. The lack of social interaction with the outside world and separation from your daily routine can leave people feeling down and disconnected, so we’ve spoken to sports psychologist Daniel Abrahams to give you five top tips to staying mentally healthy during isolation.
Tip Number One - Make A Schedule To Keep Cortisol At Bay
“When you increase your certainty you increase your feel good hormones”
A lack of routine in your daily life can not only knock you off track productively but also affect you hormonally. With glowing recommendations from both Eddie Jones and Eddie Howe, Dan was keen to point out the effect the hormones can have on an individual.
“Any kind of routine is underpinned hormonally,” he began. “So when you leave a routine when things become routine-less, there is a great deal of uncertainty there and that feeling of uncertainty triggers your stress response. When you experience a stress response, you release a hormone called cortisol. It is your stress level hormone that makes you feel angry or frustrated, down or despondent. When things are uncertain and you don't have that routine, you are releasing cortisol and feeling stressed and that causes a vicious cycle.”
However, doing something as simple as planning out your day can relieve some of the stress and build up good habits that can become a positive daily routine. “I would say that when you do have a routine and you do stick to a routine that you're releasing your feel good chemicals, endorphins, dopamine especially, as I said that makes you feel good,” he continued.
“It is then pretty imperative that you strive to stick to a routine. Stick to normal habits that you do on a daily basis. I suppose to enable you to do that when you're stuck at home, sit down with a blank bit of paper, pen in your hand and write down what a routine could look like for you. Schedule out your day and that can be done in as much or little detail as you want, do something increases your certainty. When you increase your certainty you increase your feel good hormones.”
Tip Number Two: Add A Variety Of Activities
“Allot some periods for chilling out, watching TV or Netflix.”
As William Cowper wrote in his 1785 poem ‘The Task’, “Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.” A mere 245 years on, that saying still rings true. As tempting as it can be to take Nantwich Town to the Championship in Football Manager, make sure your daily schedule offers some variety.
“If we are looking at diarising then try to create some variety. Allot some periods for chilling out, watching TV or Netflix,” The founder of the Sports Psych Show podcast explains.
“The majority of people have kids so spend time with them, look after them and then look after yourself. In terms of your own mindset, mentality and your own intellect, explore some new things, look at new projects or read new books or even try to start a new hobby from home as best you can.”
“I would say that it is important but requires discipline to diarise something, then to add some variety into that diary so you keep yourself interested.”
Tip Number Three: Engage Socially
“Even the deepest of introverts enjoys some form of company.”
This may be a time for isolation but that does not mean you have to cope with it alone. Thanks to the benefits of modern technology you are never more than a couple of seconds away from being face-to-face with your loved ones, friends or even those work colleagues you hate to admit you miss!
“I think that it is important to say here that there are going to be individual differences,” Dan explains. “Everybody has a personality for a reason, it helps us get along and helps us get ahead in life. People who have introverted tendencies don't get their energy from socialising and are not that gregarious, so they don't require people around. They deal with this scenario easier than others who enjoy the company of others more. So there are definitely individual differences here.
“However, even the deepest of introvert enjoys some form of company, just as extroverts enjoy their own company at times. So it is important for everybody to have some sort of social connection, if if that is simply through video or phone calls.”
Dan also referred to the hormonal changes social contact can have on the brain. “There is a hormone called oxytocin which is our - to put it basically - social hormone. We can relate this to sport, when we do team activities, social bonding, what we are trying to do is release oxytocin, when you feel together with your teammates, you are releasing oxytocin.
"That is what is released when you go on Facetime or Whatsapp or whatever it is. The hits of oxytocin during the day can help you feel good. Just finding ways like that not to withdraw and again that can abate the cortisol release as well.”
Tip Number Four: Healthy Diet Of News Watching
“Having a sensible diet of news watching and news listening, without going overboard.”
Everywhere you look the coronavirus news is there. You cannot turn on the TV or listen to the radio without hearing the latest update and this is something that can negatively affect someone psychologically. However, amongst all the uncertainty, there are positive news stories, something Dan was keen to point out.
“What I would say to people is use your time wisely,” the sports psychologist advised. “I think we are all curious to find out what is happening and what advances are happening. I woke up to read the UCL and Mercedes Formula One had combined to create a form of oxygen mask or ventilator that could be really useful for keeping people alive. So I think there is good news as well to be had, when you are reading the news we all want to keep up with it. I think diet is a good word here, I think having a sensible diet of news watching and news listening, without going overboard.”
Tip Number Five: Rationalise The Situation And Your Language
“It is just trying to rationalise the situation as best you can for yourself.”
At a time like this, it can sometimes be easy to catastrophise the situation you are in and make things worse than they are in reality. Keeping a sensible head on your shoulders is vital to maintaining your mental health in testing circumstances.
“I’ll come back to that stress response, it is easy to have a stress response when you are looking at bad news all the time,” Dan continues. “From a psychological perspective a lot of my work within sport is about helping players and coaches manage the language they have around their performance. Manage the language they have around a game. It is useful for people to watch their language and manage it as this is a very uncomfortable position for people to be in. There are some challenging days. It is devastating for those who have a death in their family, I’m not belittling it at all.”
“Until that happens then it is important for people to not use the world ‘devastating’ but obviously people are losing businesses as well. It is just trying to rationalise the situation as best you can for yourself.”
If you feel you are struggling with your mental health in this difficult time please contact one of the many helplines listed on the NHS website, here.