Tõnu Lehtsaar: how to cope with forced quarantine at home?

We all like to stay home – but only if it’s our own choice, not imposed confinement.

For many of us, forced home quarantine is today’s unfortunate reality. This can have negative psychological effects, which can be managed by being aware of potential stressors.

All the following are natural and likely reactions to social isolation.
1. Disruption of habitual daily routine, limited opportunities for socialisation, worrying about money and restricted access to conventional means of social interaction, such as pursuing one’s hobbies, going to church or communicating with friends.
2. Fear and anxiety triggered by worrying about one’s health and/or that of one’s relatives. Also, internal conflict about unfinished tasks.
3. Lowered mood caused by a disruption of purposeful activities. Feelings of loneliness can intensify in long-term isolation.
4. Resentment and anger towards the person from whom the virus was potentially caught or those who have imposed the quarantine.
5. Stigmatisation or subjecting an infected person to rejection by people who have otherwise been close and friendly.
6. The explanatory vacuum in which there is no satisfactory answer to why pandemics occur. In this situation, blame can be attributed to foreign intelligence services or even God.
7. The spread of rumours and prophesies to fill in the missing information.

How to cope with forced quarantine at home? It is important to remember that coping mechanisms are highly individual and vary from person to person. Here are a few general guidelines but every one of us must decide which solution suits them best.
1. Limit excessive information consumption. Avoid news overload from many different information outlets and stick to a few reliable ones. Your internal information processing, compassion and worrying do not change the outside reality.
2. Start a new daily routine. Stick to doing certain activities at a regular time, stay organised rather than chaotic.
3.  Don’t isolate yourself. Use social media platforms to actively connect with friends and family members. Make phone calls, send messages or take part in group chats. Make an effort to help others.
4. Maintain healthy habits. Exercise, eat healthy and refrain from alcohol and drugs.
5. Seek professional help if you start feeling down or struggle with eating, focusing and sleeping, or excessive use of alcohol.
6. Try to do activities you enjoy or tackle the projects you’ve been putting off. Finish a research article, systematise databases, write an application or read fiction.
7. Keep in mind that close relationships are your greatest asset in maintaining good mental health. Now is your chance to invest in these relationships.

Every life crisis tests us in some way. Every crisis is also an opportunity to learn, find and create something new. None of us wants to be in a crisis, facing uncertainty and challenges while isolated at home. But even in this situation, it is possible to move forward with your life.

Tõnu Lehtsaar
Counsellor-chaplain at the University of Tartu