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COVID-19 Social Distancing, Isolation, Quarantine: Emotional and Mental Health

What are the impacts of living in quarantine or isolation? During this COVID-19 Crisis, this is a reality that we are facing worldwide. What do the experts say? Are there any studies about this? What can we do to make isolation easier, if anything? These questions and more are topics that I explore with you here. Learn what to expect during your isolation period, how to make it go by easier, and natural non-toxic ways to reduce the stress of isolation.


Living in isolation can take a huge toll on anyone. As humans, we are social creatures and crave social interaction. Even the most anti-social of us still have friends and family that are interacted with on a regular basis. Now with the COVID-19 crisis, we are facing a new difficulty, one that not many had really thought about: living in isolation.

You don’t have to be suffering from a pre-existing mental or emotional health disturbance to experience difficulty with long-term isolation. This article on Mental Health Connecticut details some of the effects that have been observed and studied among the only population we really have a lot of information on regarding this topic: prison inmates in solitary confinement. Some of the possible effects that isolation can have on people are: distorted perception of time, high levels of anxiety, hallucinations, cognitive breakdown, decreased immune response, higher blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (presumably from the mental and emotional stresses of isolation), and can increase the risk of mortality by as much as 50%.

If you have a more technical mind, you will probably enjoy this article published by the medical journal The Lancet about the results of isolation and quarantine on individuals. In a nutshell, isolation and quarantine can trigger a wide array of psychological and emotional problems, even in otherwise mentally and emotionally healthy individuals. There are aggravating factors and ways to reduce the impact. One of the biggest lessons I came away with from that article is that in this crisis is there is strong evidence to support the importance of altruistic isolation versus commanded quarantine. When we undertake isolation voluntarily, the emotional and psychological impact seems to be significantly lessened.

Even those who undertake isolation voluntarily, the process can be very difficult. The emotional and psychological impacts can last long after the isolation period ends. Some have even been verified to have developed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from time spent in quarantine or isolation. 1, 2

I have experienced self-isolation for a while now and I’m here to tell you that while it isn’t always easy, it is something that we can and should do. Now, not later. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is lonely. But it is temporary. In the grand scheme of things, it is truly fleeting. Reminding ourselves that it isn’t going to last forever will actually help you make it through a little easier. Most of the emotional and psychological issues that we can develop during periods of isolation can be mitigated with mindset and patience. Sure, some people find it easier than others, but we can all benefit from an emotionally healthy isolation period during the COVID-19 Crisis. Here are some tips to help you make it through:

  • Remember, this is temporary! It won’t last forever and once it is over, that first big hug from a missed friend or family member will feel SO GOOD! It’s a great thing to look forward to.
  • Set up daily (isolated) activities and stick to them.
  • Use the time to make a positive change! Start a regular workout routine, change your dietary habits, spend more time bonding with family, take up yoga and meditation.
  • It may sound silly but trust me, it helps: when you wake up in the morning, remember that you are alive. Be thankful that you are alive, be thankful for the health you have, be thankful for any and every little thing in your life. Purposefully remembering to be thankful can have a huge impact on your emotional and psychological well-being, especially during times of isolation.
  • Try to stick to a regular routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time keeps our circadian cycles in check and helps to boost emotional well-being. Avoid naps, unless you usually take naps during the day or you are feeling ill. Napping when your body isn’t used to it can upset the delicate balance that controls your day-night cycles. Once it is upset, it can be very hard to regulate it again and it is very important to your health and well-being, so let’s protect it as much as we can.
  • Do the things you normally do throughout your day, at the same time that they are usually done. If you usually work from 8 am until 5 pm, find something to keep you as busy as possible during that time or work from home during your regular hours. Sure, it can be very challenging to do this in households where the kids are also home from school but given some time, you will find a balance that allows you to stay busy during your normal busy times.
  • Get some fresh air! Even if you just open a window for a few minutes and breathe it in, some fresh air can work wonders on your mood! If you have a yard, spend some time outside in the yard every day. Get out on the balcony or fire escape for some much-needed air.
  • Everyone needs alone time! Even though we are packed into our homes, no matter how big or small our families are, we all need some space and time where we can be alone. There’s a delicate balance in our social and emotional health between our time spent alone and with others, so try to do your best to set up space and time for each person in your household to be alone.
  • If you are stuck all by yourself, it can be especially tough. As humans, we crave social contact. Being isolated all alone is the hardest for our social natures. Try simulating as much contact as you can. Again, this might sound totally out in the left field, but get a stuffed animal or a pillow to hug. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Humans need hugs. We need to give hugs and we need to receive them. Hugs make us feel safe, secure and loved. Amazingly, the part that we can do without for the longest time is receiving! When we can wrap our arms around someone… or something… and give it a good snuggle, that act releases chemicals in our bodies that relieve stress and anxiety. In this time of social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, we are starting to feel the impact of a lack of physical contact. Ramp up the physical contact with simulated contact as much as you can, including hugging a teddy bear or pillow. You’ll be surprised how good it makes you feel.
  • Go online, get virtual! One of the biggest advantages in our modern age, other than medical advances, is the internet! We have made the world a small and connected place. While we can’t be with our friends and loved ones in person, we can Skype, Facetime, Zoom, etc. We can connect on social media. We can participate in virtual meetings, roundtables, and discussions. We can still connect with each other, we just need to do it at a distance for right now.
  • Keep the air in your home humid. Science Daily says that low humidity is the flu virus’s best friend. Live Science says that higher humidity lowers flu transmission. While these two articles reference the flu virus, SARS-CoVID-2 (the virus that causes the illness called COVID-19) has something in common with the common flu: they are both caused by different strains of coronaviruses. There is a little evidence circulating about how humidity can possibly reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 causing virus. 1, 2, 3, 4 The reason behind it is pretty simple: humidity causes airborne particles of the flu virus that are bound to other particles, like dust or aerosolized saliva, to collect moisture and become heavy. They are then more likely to fall out of the air where they can be cleaned off of surfaces during normal cleaning routines. Personally, I do this with the use of aromatherapy diffusers, which I will discuss below. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can order one and have it fairly soon. You can also use a humidifier while you wait for your shipment, or even simmer a pot of water on the stove.
  • Use aromatherapy. It works! There are many studies out there about the benefits of aromatherapy, so I am not going to repeat them all here or link to them all, just one google search will provide you with a wealth of information! The theory is pretty easy to explain, so I will do that instead. Do you have anything in particular that brings to mind a certain situation, memory or feeling when you smell it? Think of the smell of your favorite place. Perhaps the beach, or the forest, or the opera? Almost everything and every place have a distinctive scent. When you smell a scent that reminds you of that item or place, you also experience a bit of emotion associated with the place. That is the basis of aromatherapy, using a scent to create an emotional response. That emotional response has a direct effect on your brain and emotions. You can use scents to trigger a peaceful feeling, a happy feeling, or to help you feel sleepy. Using scents to trigger a flow of positive emotions, like peace or happiness, can actually boost your immune system! Here is an article from Scientific American about how happiness increases your immune system. This paper published on The National Center for Biotechnology Information (maintained by NIH – National Institutes of Health) explains more in-depth how aromatherapy and emotion affect the immune system. You can find some tips from me on using aromatherapy for your emotional mood and health during quarantine or isolation. For my aromatherapy tips, you will need an essential oil diffuser. These are like humidifiers, but made to use with water and essential oils and use an ultra-fine ultrasonic mist to deliver the moisture and essential oils to the air. Be sure to read doTERRA’s E-Book, “Emotional Benefits of Aromatherapy”.
  • Use the Emotional Aromatherapy wheel chart below to help you determine which blend would help you the most:
    • Identify the emotion you are experiencing in the inner wheel
    • Use a few drops of the oil blend on the outer wheel in the corresponding area that you identified on the inside of the wheel.
    • You can also identify the base for the type of scent that could benefit you using the mid-section of the wheel if you are feeling up for a DIY aromatherapy project.
Emotional Aromatherapy Wheel

In closing, just because we must be isolated doesn’t mean that we are alone. We are all in this together. You are not alone. This is temporary, only a fleeting pause in our normal lives. We can do this, together. We can do this, for each other. We can do this for each and every one of our elders, our children, our vulnerable. I will do it for you. Will you do it for me? Let’s socially distance ourselves, for each other. Let’s voluntarily quarantine ourselves, for each other. Let’s live, for each other.