Life has become increasingly stressful, uncertain, and challenging as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. We are in unprecedented times, countries are in complete lockdown, people have lost jobs and the economy has been hit.

This situation creates a lot of uncertainty, the not knowing of when this will be over, and how it will affect us can make people feel highly stressed. Poor mental health has been a large focus in society at the moment and unfortunately being in isolation might make it harder for people to remain positive.

I spoke to Tessa Melkonian, Professor of organizational behavior and management, at emlyon business school about how we can manage our stress levels whilst in isolation. Below are her top four tips on dealing with stress:

Maintain a routine

It is so important that people stick to a routine whilst in containment. Professor Melkonian recommends that you stick to the same sleeping and eating patterns, have set working hours and ensure that you take regular breaks like you would when you’re in the office.

“People perform better physically and psychologically when we maintain a few habits. Maintaining a simple schedule gives us control over the organisation of our working days.”

Professor Melkonian

Professor Melkonian adds that during isolation we need to keep our minds occupied; “studies have shown that constantly thinking about the negative situation actually reinforces the negative effects of a stressful situation.”

It’s important that during this time, where all the days appear to merge into one, that we fight the urge to binge watch TV and snack at all times of the day.

Exercise as much as you can

Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress, this is because it reduces the levels of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulates the production of endorphins – which is a chemical in the brain that is the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.

However, when in isolation, we are limited in what we can do. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that people complete at least 10,000 steps as there is a minimum requirement of movements to solicit our respiratory and cardiac systems.

But gyms are shut and we are limited to one hour a day outside to exercise, and not everyone has access to a state-of-the-art home gym. Professor Melkonian recommends to ensure you are exercising as much a possible to: avoid lifts at all costs, clean up your home more frequently and exercise using muscular reinforcement, strengthening, or stretching every day for at least 10 minutes.

Talk about how you feel

Quarantine can be really tough on people of all ages, whether its because you’re on your own and lonely or because there are too many of you in one house that you feel like you’re going crazy. To help, Professor Melkonian says that talking about your feelings, whether it is to a friend over the phone, or sharing them to social media can really help.

“Regulating emotions and social links are two key factors in managing our stress, especially when in isolation. In this context, talking about our emotions with our friends and on social media is so important because it requires that we put words on how we feel, thereby allowing us to improve our ability to identify emotions.

“We need to use this slower pace in our daily routines to reinforce our links with our loved ones, as it will help combat stress.”

Set an example for your children

This is a stressful time for everyone, even children. Professor Melkonian says that parents owe it to their children to reassure them, and to set the example in terms of stress management.

“If children see their parents unable to deal with their stress, then they may doubt their own ability to do so, thereby inducing even more anxiety in an already stressful situation for them.”

Professor Melkonian

To reduce the risk of this happening, Professor Melkonian says that firstly parents should explain to their children that stress management is something we can all learn.

“Learning to deal with stress is something we can all learn, and something we can get better at as the years go by,” she says, “Individuals can be prepared to face up to stress by learning in their initial training a series of techniques to optimise potential.”

Secondly, Professor Melkonian suggests that parents should open the discussion on stress. “Parents should discuss with their children the effects stress may have on their body, on their emotions and their thoughts […] telling our children that this situation is objectively a stressful situation for all of us, will help them to accept their own stress more easily, and understand its causes.”

Professor Melkonian adds that talking about the effects of stress will help identify their stress-induced symptoms and live with them more naturally. The absence of judgement will help focus their mind towards potential solutions for adapting more efficiently.

Research has shown that stress is a reaction to non-adaption. Understandably trying to adapt to isolation is going to be very difficult as it goes against our nature, even those that are introverts still need to socialise. But keeping to a routine, exercising, discussing your feelings and setting an example for your children should help to keep stress at a minimum and help you adapt to being in isolation.