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By all indications, we’re going to be spending April physically distant, mostly at home, as the tide of coronavirus washes over Maine and America. The mandate to remain apart could last longer, depending on the illness’ progression.
During this month of isolation, it will be important to periodically take stock of your wellbeing, as well as that of loved ones, neighbors and coworkers.
[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]
Keeping apart from other people is essential to slow the spread of coronavirus, but it can also have negative consequences that we all must work hard to minimize or overcome.
“Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality,” psychology researchers wrote in a 2015 paper. They found that adults with heart disease were more than twice as likely to die from a cardiac event if they were socially isolated.
We may not be able to visit with family members and friends for weeks, but we can stay connected. Use video services, such as Zoom and FaceTime, to connect. Phone calls, texts and emails also help maintain important connections.
Families are holding virtual birthday parties, car parades and visits through windows to lift spirits and maintain connections.
Exercise is also important for maintaining physical and mental health. Research has shown that being outside is beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing. It also gives us a needed break from the electronic devices that keep us connected and able to work, but can also take us away from personal engagement.
So, go for a walk, run or bike ride, preferably in your neighborhood. It is great that so many Mainers want to get outside and enjoy the state’s many public parks and lands. But too many of these places have been overrun with people, making it hard to maintain physical distancing. The state has closed several parks that were crowded and towns and land trusts have also shuttered overused beaches and public lands. Bangor has closed city playgrounds at parks and schools.
You can also exercise at home using workouts that are posted online. Yoga is a great way to clear your mind and build strength.
We know it is hard when we need to minimize trips to the grocery store and restaurants have appropriately switched to take out and delivery, but eating healthy remains important. Although we often crave comfort foods, which are typically high in fat and sugar, when we are stressed, these types of food can actually depress our mood — as well as add to our waistline. Try to eat fruits, vegetables and lean meats. And maintain your regular meal and sleep schedule.
While social interactions are essential for our good health, spending time alone is necessary too, especially as many of us are sharing limited space with the same people, day after day.
“[E]ngaging in solitude affords an opportunity for self-reflection regarding problems and decision-making. It can also promote self-healing and its maintenance,” psychologists Shoba Sreenivasan and Linda E. Weinberger wrote in a 2018 Psychology Today blog post.
In these uncertain and unpredictable times, it is also imperative to keep an eye out for signs that you or someone you know needs help coping with the stress and anxiety that comes with coronavirus and the precautions taken to slow its spread.
If you or someone you’re concerned about is lashing out, having trouble sleeping, isolating themselves or increasing substance use, professional help may be needed.
Behavioral health providers in Maine remain available via telemedicine, meaning you don’t have to go to an office to meet with a provider or to get medication. An emergency bill, approved by lawmakers in March, allows MaineCare to reimburse providers for virtual case management services.
In addition, many resources are available online and by phone.
A national disaster distress hotline is available 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. You will be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
There is some evidence that Maine is flattening the curve as people here follow physical distancing restrictions. However, coronavirus is still prevalent in the state and the restrictions need to remain in place. Taking care of yourself and checking on friends, neighbors and relatives will help us get through this pandemic.
Watch: How to stop the spread of germs