- The most devastating side effects of long-term isolation
- How to hotwire your happiness circuits
- Try these lockdown brain hacks
Looks like we’re in for the long haul.
It could be 30, 60, 90 days… or even more… until the lockdown rules relax.
We just don’t know.
One of the most devastating side effects will be the impact on the mental health of millions of people in this country.
Not only people who have major issues already…
But those who experience regular bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, over-eating, and stress.
And many people who might develop problems over the coming weeks as the crisis rolls on without sign of stopping.
Our brains haven’t changed much since we were hunter gatherers, living in small, close-knit communities, doing huge amounts of physical activity outdoors…
So this isolation is not something we’re designed for.
We may have computers, TVs and smartphones…
But they don’t really take the place of proper human contact.
There isn’t much we can do about that, of course.
However if you can Skype or Facetime friends and relatives, I’d highly recommend you do so.
You could even try and replicate a social gathering by using one of the video conferencing apps that are getting popular during this crisis.
The two most popular seem to be House Party (for Macs and iPhones) or Zoom (a meeting app).
Try and organise some online get-togethers with friends and family. Crack open a bottle of wine, or brew up some tea, then have yourself a party.
I did this on Saturday night and it worked pretty well – although you have to get used to some time lapse issues and people freezing for a few seconds mid-sentence.
Of course it’s not just about social contact…
Don’t let isolation steal your purpose in life
Another negative for our mental health is not being able to do those things we really enjoy – holidays, dining out, going to the pub, bingo, football… whatever it is that makes you look forward to the weekend.
These hobbies, interests and passions are often what define us, giving us purpose in life, and when we don’t have them it can be devastating.
So again, think of ways you can engage in these interests online. It’s so important.
Seek out forums, Facebook groups, social media feeds and other places you can share links and gossip, swap stories, and upload videos.
Find that version of your community which exists online, it will do you the world of good.
On top of that, you should think about ways to activate your natural ‘feel good’ chemicals.
How to hotwire your happiness circuits
In 2017, three British neuroscientists won a prize of one million Euros for their research into the human brain’s ‘feel good’ system.
They showed that when we carry out an action that gets a rewarding result, we get a big fat dose of the chemical ‘dopamine’.
Dopamine triggers a specific set of brain cells (found by the award-winning scientists), which make you feel pleasure and also desire for more of that pleasure.
In turn, this drives you to seek out more reward…
Even just the idea of getting a future reward can get that same feelgood reaction.
In other words, happiness can be the expectation of something as much as the thing itself.
So during lockdown, try and set yourself challenges that have an outcome which feels rewarding.
If you have a garden and you’ve never tried to grow food or cultivate flowers, then perhaps it’s time to try.
If you’ve never baked your own bread or cakes, this could be a wonderful way to cut down on supermarket trips and develop a new skill.
If you’ve always fancied trying Pilates, yoga, or daily workouts, then there are plenty of YouTube videos, online courses and books that will give you the info you need to get started.
Or think about art and literature…
You could try and watch all the films made by a great director like David Lean or Stanley Kubrick… learn as much as possible about a specific period in history, like The English Civil War or the reign of Elizabeth I… read a great novel like Moby Dick, David Copperfield or Middlemarch… or plough through the entire works of Shakespeare.
You’ll get mood-enhancing pleasure from achieving these goals, and knowing that you are expanding your mind during lockdown, not losing it!
In fact, a few weeks before this coronavirus mayhem really kicked off, I wrote about how scientists believe that reading fiction could extend your life.
This is because reading a book takes you on a journey deep into another world, introducing you to fascinating characters and new ideas.
It increases your powers of concentration and helps develop new neural networks in your brain.
Maybe even write your own book – it doesn’t have to be a poetic masterpiece. It could be a diary, a memoir, a silly story, ‘how to’ advice, recipes, or something to read to your kids or grandkids.
Whatever it is, try something that’s new and challenging. It will engage your mind, keeping those neural pathways open, and giving you a sense that you’re still moving ahead in life, even if you’re stuck indoors.
Oh, and if you have any tips that you’d like to share on keeping healthy, active and happy during lockdown, do send them in!