Maybe the events of the past year haven’t tested your mettle enough, or perhaps too much cabin fever has you itching for an extended solo trek. Spending time in isolation has inspired poets and off-the-grid types since time immemorial. Plus, sometimes, you just want to be alone.
However, human beings are social animals, and you need to prepare yourself for what extended no-contact time will do to your psyche. Researchers at University College London are currently using recent pandemic events to investigate how to mitigate the adverse effects of going no-contact socially for a prolonged period.
In the meantime, you should take steps to protect your psychological state, whether you’re out roughing it or avoiding germ-spread. Here are 10 tips for how to maintain your mental health in isolation so you return to civilization a better version of yourself.
1. Get Your Body Moving
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to preserve brain cells when in isolation. U.K. researchers combined the results of 11 studies and determined that regular cardiovascular activity can reduce dementia risk by 30% and Alzheimer’s disease by 45%.
If you’re the off-the-grid sort, you might think life in the rough gets you sufficient movement. Still, remember that our ancestors had periods of prolonged inactivity in the winter to match their hectic, hardworking summers. They also led shorter lives on average — so find something that you love and can do all year.
Don’t let physical pain hold you back from maintaining your mental health through fitness. Aquatic workouts use water’s buoyancy to lower gravity’s effects on injured muscles and joints, letting those with arthritis and other chronic conditions move more freely. Water also works healing magic if you have PTSD. The sound of splashing alone releases dopamine and promotes peaceful feelings, leading to a calmer, happier disposition.
However, if you don’t fancy taking the polar bear plunge when winter hits the homestead, get your exercise in other ways. Chopping wood can burn nearly 300 calories per hour while getting you an incredible upper-body workout. You get a bit of legwork as you load each cord into your truck bed for transport.
If you keep your internet connection for work-from-home purposes, you can download one or more fitness apps that let you exercise without heading to a gym. The monthly fees on most ring in at far less than a membership, allowing you to double up on the activities you love.
Stock your homestead with inexpensive gear. Dumbbells cost relatively little, and resistance bands are even more affordable. You can sometimes score killer deals on treadmills and other large equipment on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
2. Focus on Career Growth
Unless you devote yourself to full-time survivalism, you probably have to work for a living. If you have the time, why not focus on your career growth?
This tip requires you to make an effort to reach out to others now that the traditional means of gathering — such as hitting happy hour — are distant memories. Join online forums and register for virtual networking events. Reconnect with your old college crew through social media and find out how they are weathering the storm.
You can also use this time to polish that resume into a sparkling gem. Ask yourself questions such as, “What is my unique value proposition? What can I deliver that no one else can to set myself apart?” Asking yourself these questions forces you to think, improving your cognitive health in isolation.
If you managed to hold onto work, you can still use this time to map out companies you think would make a good fit for future roles. Focus on businesses that support your values — check out the corporate mission statement on their websites. If you choose a minimalist lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll feel much happier working with an organization that similarly invests in protecting the environment.
3. Cultivate a Positive Social Media Network
This tip also requires minimal reaching out to others, although the internet’s anonymity can smooth interactions between introverts. Think of your social media pages as places to form your virtual tribe.
Like real life, the people you associate with can impact your mental health, even in isolation. Using it only when you feel bored or lonely or posting things intentionally to make others angry or upset is no different than teaming up with the office Negative Nancy. It won’t make you feel any better, and it can lead to unwanted consequences.
Instead, join groups that interest you — you’ll find no shortage of survivalist ones. Trading tips while meeting new friends equals a win-win.
4. Lose Yourself in a Lengthy Project
Henry David Thoreau notably wrote about his experience in simple living at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, starting in 1845. It took him two years and two months to complete the work — how long will your magnum opus take you?
Maybe you also plan to pen a memoir on off-grid life. If you plan on writing the great American novel, you follow in some heavy footsteps. Countless authors have used alone time to create their masterpieces.
Perhaps you dream of creating a winning website or a YouTube channel. It takes considerable time investment to make either one successful. Use your alone time to perfect your concept and hone your target audience. Learn everything you can about how to improve so you can fly once you get established.
Your project doesn’t necessarily need to entail producing things for others. There’s nothing wrong with throwing yourself into building the ultimate greenhouse or adding on to the homestead. You can still pass down your legacy to your children and grandchildren or share your spare cabbage with neighbors.
[Editor’s note: I would suggest you make your projects related to survivalism or homesteading. Anything that helps you get better prepared is fair game! Think about bolstering your water supply, raising chickens, growing food, or practicing your marksmanship.]
5. Enjoy the Great Outdoors
If you’ve embraced off-grid living or merely head to the forest every chance you get, why not seek some new ways to enjoy that fresh air and sunshine?
- Volcano sledding: If you call Hawaii or parts of the Pacific Northwest home, who needs snow? Just be sure to gear up and avoid cutting yourself on the rough rocks.
- Geocaching: Here’s a sport that introverts can embrace with glee. Once you join an online group and get the coordinates, you head out to seek your treasure. When you locate it, you leave it there for the next person — after snapping several selfies for your social media feeds. If you take it with you, replace it with another trinket for the next person.
- Cliff-camping: If you live for adrenaline rushes, you won’t be disappointed when you suspend yourself hundreds of feet in the air with nothing but some well-placed carabiners. Enjoy a solid night’s rest — if you can.
- Duck-herding: If raising sheep isn’t your thing, you don’t have to let Old Shep live out his life without fulfilling his purpose. Put your cattle dog to the test to see how quickly he can get that gaggle of geese in the pen.
Of course, no one says you have to get wild and wacky to enjoy nature. If you don’t care to stomach vertigo in your bedroll, pitching your tent among the trees still helps you feel less lonely. Survival in the wild does distract you from other concerns, but being among nature also eases your sense of isolation, promoting positive mental health.
6. Adopt an Interesting Hobby
It doesn’t matter where you shelter to weather the storm. The right hobby can help keep your mind sharp and prevent the cognitive decline that so often occurs in isolation.
What can you do? Here’s a short list of options to get you started:
- Knitting: If you associate this hobby with grandma, think again. Once you get the knack, knitting is a handy survival skill. It takes considerable time to spin yarn yourself, but if you have hours to fill, grab a Jenny and have at it.
- Woodworking: Far too few people remember the ancient art of carving and woodworking. You have multiple options to choose from — perhaps you enjoy building cabinets, or maybe carving a wooden pipe is more your style.
- Photography: Here’s a hobby that can make you some cash. If you love nothing more than getting out in nature, memorialize your treks on film and sell them to image sites for a commission.
- Build models: It doesn’t matter if you prefer diecast cars or ships in bottles. Choose something you love and get crafting.
- Cook or bake: Here’s another hobby that helps you survive. Everyone needs to eat, and your diet can significantly impact your health. Challenge yourself to create healthy recipes that you crave the way most folks hanker for their favorite fast food.
[Editor’s note: Here, again, I would suggest focusing on skills that might benefit you during hard times. Yes, cooking is a good hobby, but can you cook from scratch? Even making bread from scratch isn’t necessarily easy or, at least, it’s a lot more work than most people realize. The same can be said for any other skill that might prove useful, from sewing or knitting to small-scale construction projects and power generation.]
7. Make Money From Your Homestead
It doesn’t matter how small or large your plot is. If you have land, you can use it to make money — and it could become your ticket out of civilization if that’s your yen. Even if you start small by peddling things once a week at a local farmers market now, raising crops could eventually replace your day job.
Tending the back 40 isn’t the only way to generate income. If you have acreage, why not open up some of your space for campers? You can build yurts for guests or elevated platforms where they can pitch their tents. However, there’s nothing wrong with going the lazy route of offering the RV-set a place to park on the cheap.
What if you don’t fancy the idea of tourists coming and going on your land? You could do your part to address America’s housing crisis while bringing in reliable monthly cash. Consider converting sheds into tiny homes and renting them to any of the myriad folks seeking shelter amid the ongoing pandemic. You get to enjoy a steady income stream without all the upkeep of a vacation rental — and you only have to deal with one tenant or family.
[Editor’s note: Be wary of who you invite onto your property during hard times – they may not all see the world the way you do and, as shocking as it may sound, might expect YOU to take care of them if things go south! The same can be said for inviting family and friends to your homestead.]
8. Roam if You Want To
Travel restrictions remain in place, but that doesn’t stop you from hitting the open road for adventure. You can also take advantage of some sweet flight deals right now, although you may need to remain on American soil. The change of scenery can boost your mental health.
Another option is taking that long-overdue road trip. Creep yourself out along the shores of California’s Salton Sea, once a thriving tourist destination and now a ghost town featuring unique and colorful artwork. Head to Centralia, Pennsylvania, where a coal fire has burned underground for over 50 years. You can’t stay due to fumes, but you can get some stunning photos.
Seek a region vastly different from your typical landscape. If you live in a coastal area, the desert Southwest’s rock formations make you feel like you transported yourself to Mars. You can’t describe a giant redwood in words — you have to witness the majesty live.
9. Adopt a Spiritual Practice
Human beings are more than mere mind-body creations. To feel complete, you need to nurture your soul.
You don’t have to follow a religious practice, although many churches have now begun livestreaming their services during the quarantine to allow more people to attend. If organized worship leaves you feeling hollow, why not adopt a meditation practice?
Mindfulness requires nothing other than a quiet place to sit and tune everything out while you observe your thoughts free from judgment. Guided meditations can help you do anything from visualizing a goal to recovering from trauma. Transcendental meditation focuses on a single chant or syllable to clear the mind.
10. Talk to a Trained Therapist
There’s no shame in asking for help if you need it. If you notice signs of cognitive decline in isolation or merely feel off-kilter, consider talking with a professional about ways to help.
If you don’t have someone in mind, the best place to start is with your primary care provider. They can refer you to an in-network treatment specialist. You may get a care team consisting of both a psychiatrist and a counselor if you require medication.
What if you don’t have insurance coverage or live prohibitively far from the nearest couch? You can now find therapy apps that connect you with professionals via talk and text for a fraction of the price of traditional treatment.
Maintain Your Mental Health in Isolation With These 10 Tips
The past year’s events might have you reflecting on all the time you spend alone and how it affects your psyche. Use the 10 tips above to protect your mental health in isolation.
[Note: This was a guest post.]