UNT professors offer 10 tips for maintaining mental health during isolation

Friday, March 27, 2020 - 08:41

DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service Rehabilitation and Health Services Associate Professor Denise Catalano, Professor Emeritus Linda Holloway and Clinical Assistant Professor Rachita Sharma offer 10 ideas for handling stress during a period of isolation.

Stress occurs when the demands of an outside situation, like required self-isolation, exceeds a person’s ability to cope. Catalano, Holloway and Sharma offer the following suggestions for maintaining good mental health in extended stressful situations:

  1. Practice purposeful breathing to help relax Feeling mentally stressed initiates a physiological response often referred to as the “flight or fight” response. A person may start breathing more shallowly from the top of the chest, which maintains the “flight or fight” response. One way to cope with stress, therefore, is to pay attention to breathing and begin taking deeper “belly” breaths which will activate a relaxation response.
    1. Try this breathing exercise: Slowly breathe in for a count of six, hold for a count of four and then release the breath slowly for a count of six. Doing this for about five minutes should decrease a person’s physical stress level.
    2. Practice meditation. There are a variety of free apps to help guide people through meditation sessions and provide useful information. Some suggestions include https://insighttimer.com/ and www.calm.com/meditate.
  2. Eat healthy – Being stressed as well as staying inside more than usual will often result in overeating, sometimes simply out of boredom. Ideas to continue healthy eating include:
    1. Meal preparation – People should look for apps that align with their preferred style of eating. Some examples include Mediterranean diet, eating well with limited ingredients and budget meals and shopping lists.
    2. Managing stress eating – Here’s a resource to help with curbing emotional eating: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/emotional-eating.htm
  3. Maintain a healthy sleep routine Giving both body and mind a chance to rejuvenate is important, so people should establish a sleep routine that prepares their body for rest.
    1. Get a good night’s sleep: Useful articles include https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/getting-better-sleep.htm and Tips to Sleep Better at Night.
    2. Maintain a sense of routine by setting and maintaining a daily schedule.
  4. Get some exercise There is a clear body-mind connection, so staying in good physical shape can help better manage stress.
    1. Going for a walk (practicing social distancing from others) or working out at home – expensive equipment not needed – can offer easy alternatives to the gym. There are exercise videos on Youtube for every fitness level.
  5. Limit sitting in front of a screen
    1. If possible, now is a great time to start a hobby that may have seemed to require too much time before. The key is to be reasonable and make sure anything needing to be purchased can be ordered online to be delivered. Reading is a great hobby, and in addition to finding a new favorite, reading offers the chance to socialize online with a book club among friends.
  6. Limit news intake about coronavirus – Get accurate information and know what symptoms to seek medical care for.
    1. Some trustworthy sources of information include Texas Health and Human Services – Coronavirus Disease 2019 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Coronavirus (COVID 19).
  7. Stay connected with family and friends – safely
    1. Although it is important for people to maintain a safe distance from others and not risk their own health or the health of others, there are ways of maintaining communication with friends and family. Consider calling rather than relying strictly on social media. Hearing someone’s voice in the moment helps people stay connected. Using video conference apps such as Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and Skype can also keep everyone connected.
  8. Maintain healthy relationships – Families isolating in place together will need patience, tolerance and compassion to maintain a positive environment. A few helpful websites include How families can cope with self-isolating together, How to ensure your relationships survive self-isolation and Surviving isolation with your roommates, your partner, your kids and yourself.
  9. Consider finances – It’s easier to lose track of spending when families are buying products and services online. Be sure to stick to a budget and keep track of virtual spending.
  10. Reach out for professional help.
    1. All UNT students have access to mental health support services through the UNT Counseling and Testing Center at UNT Counseling and Testing Center or UNT – Therapy Assistance Online.
    2. Anyone can find resources at Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anyone in the U.S. feeling overwhelmed can find confidential support by calling visiting the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or calling the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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Trista Moxley