Q&A: How to stay mentally well during self-isolation

Last reviewed on 5 October 2020


To help protect yourself, your family and other people, it’s vital that you follow the official advice regarding staying alert and safe (social distancing), self-isolation and shielding vulnerable people.

Of course, we recognise that self-isolating comes with its challenges. You might feel anxious about any symptoms and worried about your loved ones. You might experience feelings of frustration, boredom or loneliness. If you have an existing mental health condition, self-isolation might be particularly difficult.

We’re also speaking to people about their experiences – you can find out about Harry's self-isolation in this blog and hear how Dr Bob Levin coped with self-isolation in this podcast.

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What does self-isolation mean?

Both social distancing and self-isolation will help to reduce the transmission of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives. If you have symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus, and do not require hospital treatment, or if you live in a household with someone who shows symptoms, you must self-isolate. The introduction of the NHS Test and Trace Service and the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app means you might be told that you have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus and that you must self-isolate.

You can find full details of the official UK advice about coronavirus on the UK Government website and information about the NHS Test and Trace Service on the NHS website.


How can I stay connected to my friends and relatives while I’m at home?

It’s really important that you still talk to other people while you’re self-isolating and that you’re there to support them too. As you won’t be able to do this in person, we suggest you make the most of technology during this time.

Have regular chats on the phone or keep in touch via email. If you have a smartphone, use WhatsApp, FaceTime or Zoom to make video calls. You can also use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms to stay in touch and stay informed (although be mindful that not everything you read online about coronavirus is factually correct). There are lots of guides online that explain how to use these apps if you’re new to them.

Don’t be afraid to share your concerns about coronavirus with your loved ones – it’s important to be open about how you’re feeling. Setting up a group email or chat could be a good way to check on each other regularly and help you to feel less isolated.


How can I get essential supplies?

You might need to ask a friend or neighbour to shop for groceries and other essentials while you’re self-isolating. Of course, they won’t be able to come into your home but it’s still comforting to know that someone is looking after you. Alternatively, you can order food and medication online from supermarkets and pharmacies and ask the delivery driver to drop it off outside your door although please be aware there is high demand for these services.

You might be able to get support from NHS Volunteer Responders – call 0808 196 3646 for more details or speak to your GP or pharmacist.


I’m embarrassed / I feel guilty that I’m self-isolating – how do I tell other people?

There is no need to feel embarrassed or guilty about contracting coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorised this as a pandemic and many people will have to self-isolate. Be honest with your friends, family and colleagues so that you can help to protect them from the virus and don’t be afraid to ask them for their support.


How can I stay in touch with my counsellor / therapist / support worker or speak to another mental health professional?

If you are having treatment for an existing mental health condition, it’s vital that this continues during self-isolation. Ask your counsellor or therapist if you could do your sessions on the phone, by video or online. There are also lots of online communities and helplines available if you’d like to discuss any feelings of anxiety or stress with trained advisors or with other people in a similar position.

The Mental Health Foundation provides a useful list of helplines. You might also find Good Thinking's podcast about online communities and the Counselling Directory's tips for getting the most out of online and telephone counselling useful.


I’m stressed about the financial implications of self-isolation – where can I get more information?

If you can work from home, speak to your employer about enabling this to happen – you might need a laptop and a revised work schedule, for example. If this isn’t an option for you or you’re self-employed (e.g. a small business owner, independent contractor or gig worker), you might be worried about loss of income while you’re at home.

The Government has announced a series of measures to support employees, employers and businesses affected by coronavirus. You might also find Good Thinking's article about how to deal with job and financial uncertainty useful.


What practical steps can I take to make self-isolation easier?

There are lots of things you can do to protect your physical and mental health during this time. If you’re at home with other members of your family, it might be useful to agree a self-isolation plan so that you all know what to expect. This could include what your daily routine should look like and how you’ll give each other space.

  • Stick to a routine. If you’re well enough, get up, get showered, get dressed and treat the day as you would if you were going to work or school.
  • Keep busy. Are there any jobs around the house that need doing? Could you focus on a particular hobby or take up a new one?
  • Stimulate your mind. Try not to sit in front of the TV the whole time. Read a book, take a course online, do a crossword puzzle, help your kids with their schoolwork. The MyCognition app is clinically proven to stimulate different areas of your cognitive ability.
  • Take time to relax. Learn a dance routine, play video games, do some yoga... choose activities that help you to feel calmer and take your mind off things.
  • Focus on your health. Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated and get enough sleep. Try to minimise your use of alcohol, drugs and other substances.
  • Stay active. Do some light exercise at home if you’re feeling well enough. How about using a fitness DVD? Or taking regular walks around the garden?

Read our advice for parents and carers and advice for children and young people. Check out our article about how to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and visit the NHS Live Well and Sport England websites. Listen to our podcast about mindfulness and get free access to 20 guided meditations from our partners at Wellmind Health (Meditainment).


I’m very worried about self-isolating – how can Good Thinking help me with deal with this anxiety and stress?

Good Thinking has lots of apps and other resources – many of which are free to Londoners – to support you if you feel anxious, stressed, sad or you’re struggling to sleep. This includes a self-assessment tool that has been updated in line with Public Health England’s guidance on coronavirus.


Find out more about looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak on the Good Thinking and UK Government websites.