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  • What does isolation do to our mental health?

    Many of us have put much of our lives on pause as we shelter in place during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Staying home, unless engaging in essential business, is a crucial step toward slowing the rapid spread of COVID-19 and is likely saving many lives. However, remaining quarantined for long periods of time can take a psychological toll. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times discussed the impact of isolation due to quarantining on our mental health and what we can do about it.

    The Los Angeles Times interviewed David Cates, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He met weekly with the first group of Americans to be exposed to COVID-19 while they were sequestered at University of Nebraska’s national quarantine center. Dr. Cates gave the following advice to the Los Angeles Times:

    • People under quarantine benefit from being given as much control over their lives and environment as possible.
    • Coping skills such as meditation, deep breathing, and cultivating gratitude help to build resiliency.

    The Times also spoke to Steve Cole, Ph.D., a researcher at UCLA who studies the physiological effects of isolation. Dr. Cole noted that feeling isolated can trigger the immune system to increase inflammation. This can lead to increased vulnerability to contracting illnesses such as COVID-19. It is possible that our bodies evolved in this way due to the likeliness of isolation coinciding with vulnerability to physical attack or injury. Dr Cole suggested the following:

    • Actively seek social connection. Research finds people with strong social relationships to be 50% more likely to be alive at the end of a quarantine.
    • Find “purpose and meaning” in your daily life. Remember why you are quarantining. Staying connected to purpose and meaning is the best way to stay resilient.

    The Times also spoke to Larry Palinkas, Ph.D., a professor of social policy at USC. Dr. Palinkas discussed his work related to mental health issues developed by people who spent long periods of time in Antartica. He noted that individuals willing to let go of control fared better than those who were highly demanding of others. Dr. Palinkas also noted that long periods of isolation can lead to increased resiliency. In his studies in the 1980’s, he found that Navy personnel who spent long periods of time in the Arctic went on to have fewer hospital admissions and mental health issues than their counterparts who did not experience long periods of isolation in the Arctic.

    Isolation due to quarantine can be a strain on our mental health. However, their are many helpful strategies for coping and building resiliency. If you are interested in learning how CBT can help manage feelings of isolation via online therapy (telehealth), schedule a free consultation.

    Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.