• Stephen Warneke

The Psychology of Isolation


Steve Warneke interviewed Dr. Jarett Watnick, a psychiatrist at Compass Health Systems about the mental effects the nationwide quarantine has on the human psyche and gains advice for our listeners on how to combat depression and anxiety due to the isolation.

What are some practical, easy things we can do to combat the natural anxiety and depression that many people experience when isolated?

"That's probably the most common issue that I think I'm running into on a day-to-day basis in the psychiatric field right now. So many are experiencing the fear of spreading this highly contagious virus to loved ones- it's creating a sense of heightened worry and also self-awareness of people's behaviors.
Isolation in itself we already knew can lead to depression and worsening anxiety even before this whole crisis even happened, and you know I've always been warning against insensitive social isolation as that's only going to contribute to worsening mood.
I think that the most essential piece in really maintaining our sanity through this is creating structure in our day. Many of us were really used to waking up to an alarm clock each morning having a structured workday..."

And although many people are temporarily laid off, or forced to work from home, Dr. Watnick advised the importance of sticking to your old routine.

"It's very easy to kind of push that alarm clock to later [and] wake up at noon to start your day. Some people are playing video games, watching movies all night, and if we keep these poor habits going for weeks, that's just going to begin to wear on our mental health.
I've been telling all my patients, 'Continue to wake up at your usual time of day- don't work from bed.'"

Dr. Watnick emphasized the use of a work zone, that was not a bed. Use a desk, the kitchen table, the couch... The bedroom usually zaps people's motivation since it's the place you rest, and you want to get your mind and body going. Dr. Watnick also advised utilizing your backyard, getting some fresh air and sunlight.

"Studies have actually shown that a half hour of exposure to sunlight each day can improve depressive symptoms and we also can get our daily dose of vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in boosting our immune system and fighting off disease which, as you know, right now would be essential."
"[In order] to implement some more into our day, I always tell people to try to incorporate a pleasurable activity into their daily routine, because having a pleasurable activity has actually shown to increase dopamine levels in our brain- that's our feel-good neurotransmitter.

For fun activities, Dr. Watnick suggested a favorite TV show, an exercise video, calling a friend, and taking time to meditate.

So, how much news is too much?

"Yeah, right now it's so easy, with breaking news happening daily, to find ourselves kind of sitting in front of our television all day long. People want to know what's gonna happen to their jobs, their income, how many tested positive locally in our area...
I recommend to my patients limiting our news watching to an hour per day at most. Don't sit in front of the news all day, listening to the same headlines being repeated by a different newscaster. It's going to drive anybody into the state of severe anxiety or even paranoia. It's important to stick to reliable news sources."

Captain Kelley, a social media guru, was also curious about Dr. Watnick's professional perception of what part social media is playing in this crisis.

"Social media is running our generation... I think it's worth it if it's used appropriately and in moderation. [It's] so many people's news source or their outlet or relaxation or social connection, but since we're social distancing physically, we're now seeing a spike in social media usage as we would expect...
There's tremendously useful information and also some very motivating stories kind of laced all over social media, but...we need to be socially sensitive of what others are experiencing. Not everyone is experiencing this crisis [in] the same exact way. Some are experiencing extreme financial hardship, job loss, having to relocate to care for their families, [etc.].
I've seen countless memes, you know jokes, to lighten the mood on the situation, which I think that's how some people cope with their anxiety in this situation."

What's it like on the front lines of this thing?

"What I'm witnessing is absolute teamwork at its finest. I mean, I can't commend my fellow colleagues, the nurses and staff enough for taking the fearless initiative. I'm treating as many patients as we [sic] could...I mean it takes bravery and also courage, to expose yourself to this.
It's bitterly becoming the norm for a lot of my colleagues in the ER...we're witnessing a shortage of the personal protective equipment, the gloves, the face shields, the gowns... I'm seeing staff manufacture their own masks or even utilizing scarves or clothing to cover their face, which is definitely not a foolproof method in any regard. But it's my understanding that the federal government is working on supplying millions of what we call PPE to our staff on the ground. Think of it like a soldier walking onto a battlefield without a weapon."

But medical professionals like Dr. Watnick are doing their best to reduce the risk to themselves.

"At] my outpatient clinic over at www.compasshealthsystems.com we've transitioned slowly over to telemedicine with virtual medicine that we're completing through video conferencing or phone sessions.
The important message is you know we're gonna make it through this, we're gonna come out stronger."

For our listeners who are interested in mental health services, you can schedule an appointment online at www.compasshealthsystems.com, or follow Dr. Watnick on Instagram @DrJWat.

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Until next time...