Preservation in Isolation
An Anvil Opinion Article by Daniel Hunt
The world is currently experiencing a once in a life-time event - with COVID-19 affecting people either directly with illness, or indirectly through new government mandated precautions to combat the spread of the virus. No one at Anvil T&D will be giving their opinion on the virus itself, or the methods being used to limit its spread. Like most people, we aren’t medical professionals. But I do want to address some of the challenges that many face during their current isolation from others. Throughout this article, I also want to discuss potential methods for coping with these challenges - relating to both physical and mental experience. Some may be thriving in the current situation, while others are stuck in a line at Centrelink all day hoping they can pay the rent this week. Whatever the effect to you, everyone’s had to make some adjustments to their lifestyle - unless of course you’re a full-time recluse all year round. My basic message is this - having some kind of outlet for the emotional or physical strains you may currently be experiencing can help with your overall well-being until this threat to public health has been overcome.
I will quickly add, when it comes to your day-to-day living and any precautions you may be taking - please refer to the advice of medical experts. There’s a lot of people who think they know better, such as the guy from the gym supplement store who told my friends and I that “It’s just a flu” and “It’ll blow over”. At Anvil, we recognise there are designated experts for situations such as this, and we encourage everyone to follow the recommended medical advice where necessary.
By physical challenges, I refer to those caused by isolation, not those caused by the virus.
With gyms and many other recreation clubs closing their doors - ironically in the name of health - most fitness enthusiasts or casual goers have been left without specific locations to exercise. While it may seem trivial in the face of an epidemic, that kind of lifestyle disruption can be stressful, especially those who make their living from gyms as a trainer or athlete. Given there is no definite end to this closure period at present, it is worth considering the longer term consequences of no access to conventional training facilities. A week or two of little to no physical exercise isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme, it just means some slightly more intense DOMS and maybe a small decrease in strength or cardio fitness. As that stretches out though, the less obvious benefits to physical activity will be impacted - such as energy levels, mood and motivation. It’s also important to consider the context, as most people aren’t just stopping physical exercise while they otherwise continue their regular schedule. The vast majority of us aren’t able to go to our usual social and vocational meeting points - we’re trapped at home. So exercise-wise, unless you’re a home gym owner - there’s no equipment to train with and no one else to train with us. While there is some degree of solution to that,- our homes are generally seen as a place for relaxation and rest, not exercise. I’ll come back to this in the next segment of the article, but for now - I want to segue into the other important part of physical health, namely food intake.
Personally, I find controlling my diet the most difficult part of maintaining and improving health. I love going to the gym, but I also love pizzas with cheesy crust. So, at the best of times, my discipline isn’t that great. Add in being isolated in your house, bored and cut off from your usual activities - even the most disciplined among us may falter with our food. Like physical exercise, a small period of being less consistent won’t be a big deal in the grand scheme. However, if your daily intake is abruptly changed or maintains less than ideal nutrition for a longer period of time, you will begin to feel the physical and psychological effects (Ref.1 & 2). Beyond our own choices with food intake, we’re seeing some shortages on particular foods, as people store up on things like rice, pasta and for some reason minced meat - something we can’t control. The consequence of this is we might make different dietary decisions based on what is ‘easy’, what we can afford, and what is available. For the most part, getting groceries is still possible, but personally - I’ve had to start buying the more expensive steaks at my usual store, because all the cheaper alternatives are sold out.
Finally, isolation and minimal exposure to other people can make delivered food all the more appealing. This is great for the people who make a living delivering meals, but the downside is that the majority of food available for delivery has less than ideal nutritional value. So, assuming you can even afford to get take-out food for every meal, you are still likely to be negatively affecting your diet.
If you know of a restaurant with healthy food and that delivers, let me know - my Domino’s app could use a break.
Many of us don’t enjoy being stuck by ourselves for extended periods of time. It gets lonely, boring, and we lose track of what’s going on in the world. With social distancing being the current strategy strongly pushed by officials and the public, a lot of people are experiencing involuntary isolation. Hanging out at home watching TV, on your computer or working remotely is generally seen as desirable - but with the line between recreation and isolation blurring, extended periods of only wearing your pajamas starts to lose its novelty. The reality of what’s happening is that many workplaces, educational institutes, sports facilities and recreational areas are being shut down. Most of us have some kind of emotional investment in these places in which we spend so much of our time - whether that investment is in the place itself or the people there, and we can’t help but be affected by the negative experiences of things we invest in. This is also coupled with the current uncertainty of when these changes will end, as uncertainty compounds with already existing anxiety created by recent lifestyle adjustments.
Individual adversity is an everyday occurrence, however, the very nature of isolation is to be separated from others - including your social groups and support networks. While we have the modern convenience of the internet to overcome geographical restraints, we feel the absence of those we go to for support and enjoyment. It is entirely valid to feel challenged by ongoing social distance, and normal to feel overwhelmed by the uncertain nature of how long it’s going to last. I’m personally in a distance relationship, so whilst I’m used to seeing my partner only for a short period every few months, current health precautions mean that I don’t get to see them again until travel bans are lifted - which could be months away. My point is - whether you see the people you care about everyday or every few months, knowing that you’re unable to see them as frequently or at all has a negative impact on your overall mental health.
Every gym influencer and their dog (literally for some) are now posting workouts from home for others to use and learn from. There’s no shortage of inspiration for anyone looking to get in some exercise while practising social distancing - whether that’s calisthenics, kettlebells, or booty band workouts. What to do to stay active from home is obvious, but most struggle with the separation of work and relaxation when home. Putting yourself through a 30-minute HIIT session makes sense at the gym, but when your couch and TV have been next to you all day, the choice between comfort and commitment to training tends to lean towards comfort. To support yourself in this struggle - creating and enforcing a routine is important. If you’re someone who already has a consistent and effective schedule, you should be aiming to replicate that when confined to your home. You may not be able to get a coffee from your local cafe on your way to work, or head straight to the gym on your way home. What you can do, however, is plan your day in a way that mimics a ‘regular’ day. Make a coffee around the time you would normally have one, and start work when you normally would. Schedule your lunch break at the same time as always, and plan for that workout straight after you finish work for the day.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have a very consistent schedule, I can only recommend planning one out. Wake up at the same time each day, and set a ‘start’ point for any work you have to do - work can mean many things, such as cleaning, studying, or errands. I would strongly recommend separating your work areas from your relaxation areas within your house. Don’t sit on your laptop in bed while trying to do something for work - your brain associates certain places with certain activities, and if you get into bed to do work, you’ll most likely just want to sleep, rather than be productive.
For most people, exercise done from home during isolation is likely going to act as a maintenance method, and few of us will see the results we would have otherwise. You may not be able to get your squat or bench press stronger, but you can keep yourself active and healthy. Conducting some kind of physical training will assist in burning off excess energy, which everyone will have given these unpredictable changes to daily routine. Mitigating restlessness while you're inside all day is going to make life that little bit easier as isolation drags on over the coming weeks and potentially months. Remember that any activity you do doesn’t need to be at the same intensity level at which you would aim for during training, it should simply act as a way to keep yourself physically engaged - stretching is a good example of a low intensity way to exercise (and requires no equipment).
In regards to diet, maintaining discipline remains the greatest challenge. Groceries are still readily available, though you may have trouble finding some particular items - we haven’t quite hit famine level. Eat according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines (Ref. 3) while taking current individual goals and limitations into account. While at home, avoid snacking unnecessarily, as free reign on your own fridge and cupboards can mean more than one moment of weakness when it comes to snacks.
A couple of Anvil T&D’s affiliates have been posting regular workouts from their homes since the recent gym closures. If you’re interested in seeing what kind of exercises they’re using, check them out here:
- Instagram: @lilydixon
- Instagram: @naomi_zeemckillop
- Website: http://www.evolvedhealthandfitness.com.au/
- Instagram: @kobes_pft
- Facebook: Performance Functional Training
- YouTube: Performance Functional Training
My main concern for people currently experiencing involuntary isolation would be the sudden severance of support networks. Everyone has a person or people to go to, whether that’s for standard socialising or deeper support when needed. A lot of us wouldn’t even realise that we use our social groups for support, so the term ‘support network’ may not resonate as much as it will for others. It’s important though to remember to maintain contact with these groups, even though you may talk to them regularly anyway - try asking about how they’re coping and what kind of issues they’ve faced. Not just for their sake, but for the sake of beginning an open conversation about a shared experience. You’d be surprised what a simple message out of the blue can mean to someone.
In addition, take time to get some of the exposure to outside that you normally would. Even if your regular daily exposure is just walking from the train to work, going outside and getting some sunlight in the front or backyard helps minimize that stifling feeling of being stuck inside all day. This suggestion may seem over the top, as most people are still travelling to the shops for food, others are going to work, and we haven't hit a house-arrest level lockdown. It can be easy, however, to have those days at home and forget to do these little things which benefit our overall well-being. There are ways to include fresh air time in your constructed schedule during isolation time - even if it’s simply sitting outside - so, make the effort to include this when planning your day. Increased stress levels will be experienced by the majority, especially as health precautions continue or become stricter. Fresh air is important for the brain as it increases positive things like endorphins, and decreases stress hormone activity - and these can have an impact on our mental wellbeing. As such, I’ll be including some mental health resources below, for anyone who would like some options on managing their mental maintenance.
Stress and anxiety states are associated with a series of functional changes in the body - such as increased heart rate (which can feel like palpitations), shortness of breath, a ‘tight chest’ and a general feeling of being ‘wired’. It can make it much harder to focus, stay motivated or even wind down and sleep. An option available to anyone wishing to manage their stress is breathing exercises. They’re simple, require no equipment, and can be done while laying in bed. For anyone who doesn’t believe that breathing can help with mental and emotional health, I would simply recommend trying it out once. The breathing exercise I’ll be suggesting takes roughly six minutes, so there’s no large time investment. This breathing exercise is called ‘Box Breathing’ - it involves breathing in for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, releasing that breath over four seconds, and finally holding your breath once again for four seconds. This is repeated for as long as desired. Slower, deeper diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve (part of our parasympathetic nervous system) - and tells the brain that it's okay to switch the body’s activity from fight or flight, to rest and digest. This kind of breathing encourages what is known as a parasympathetic state - which is essential for lowering stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as lowering heart rate, BP, and reducing the effects of anxiety (Ref. 4).
Below is a link to a convenient video guide on Box Breathing, which lasts around six minutes.
Box Breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJJazKtH_9I
Mental Health Resources Page: https://anviltd.com/pages/ves-australian-mental-health-resources
Everyone is navigating current events as best they can, and this isn’t something with which anyone is familiar. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, or stressed by the ongoing changes to the world in general, but also the way in which these changes affect your day to day life. Those in the medical field are doing their best to fight the damage caused by the pandemic, and service workers are doing everything they can to keep everyone supplied with the essentials. As individuals, all we can do is our small part - maintaining good hygiene, practising social distancing, and avoiding misinformation from unreliable sources(those not supported by medical experts). Remember that it is okay to reach out to your friends and family, that you have the discipline to maintain a routine, and utilize support networks and health resources if the stress is getting to you.
Train Smart. Train Hard.
1.Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on foodhttps://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
2. Morbidly obese people
Anvil Training and Development is a group of Australian veterans who care about the physical and mental health of veterans and emergency service workers. We’re passionate about ongoing education and working with others to implement positive change.
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(Article Edited, Proof Read, and Fact-Checked by Charlotte Officer)
VES Mental Health Resources: https://anviltd.com/pages/ves-australian-mental-health-resources
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