Coronavirus: how to keep your mental health in check if self-isolating or working from home

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Young woman working at home, typing on laptop. (Getty Images)
More and more of the UK are expected to work from home or self-isolate over the coming weeks. (Getty Images)

With the coronavirus outbreak making headlines all over the world, an increasing number of businesses are asking their employees to work from home.

Google’s parent company Alphabet “requested” its tens of thousands of workers across North America set up office elsewhere until at least 10 April.

Social-media giant Twitter has made it “mandatory” for all staff in its 35 offices worldwide to work remotely.

Such measures have not been enforced in the UK, however, employees at HSBC were sent home after a member of staff in its Canary Wharf office tested positive for the circulating Covid-19 coronavirus strain.

While working from home may be commonplace for many freelancers, those used to a bustling open-place office could find the experience isolating and unnerving.

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

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Fact-checker: The number of Covid-19 cases in your local area

Explained: Symptoms, latest advice and how it compares to the flu

People wearing protective face masks watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace, London, the day after the Prime Minister said that Covid-19 "is the worst public health crisis for a generation", and the government's top scientist warned that up to 10,000 people in the UK are already infected. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 13, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
People are pictured wearing masks during the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace in London on 13 March. The UK has had 593 confirmed cases. (Getty Images)
Colds, flu and the coronavirus all cause fever, but only the latter leads to shortness of breath. (Yahoo UK)

Covid-19 is thought to have emerged from a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, at the end of last year.

It has since been identified in more than 100 countries across every inhabited continent.

More than 128,000 people have tested positive for the virus, of which over 69,000 have since “recovered”.

The outbreak appears to have “curbed” in its epicentre, with cases in China plateauing since the end of February and just eight new patients coming to light on Thursday.

The “pandemic” is taking hold elsewhere, however, with Italy alone having had more than 12,000 confirmed cases and over 1,000 deaths.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 4,700.

In the UK, more than 29,000 tests have been carried out, with 596 coming back positive and 10 deaths.

Hospital employees wearing a protection mask and gear work at a reception tent, part of a temporary emergency structure set up outside the accident and emergency department, where any new arrivals presenting suspect new coronavirus symptoms will be tested, at the Brescia hospital, Lombardy, on March 13, 2020. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)
Hospital employees are pictured wearing masks and protective gear while working in a 'pop-up tent' outside A&E at the Brescia hospital in Lombardy on 13 March. Italy has had more than 15,000 confirmed cases. (Getty Images)

How to cope if ‘forced’ to work from home due to the coronavirus Covid-19

Working alone in an empty house can feel eery.

Experts are therefore encouraging people keep up-to-date with their boss and colleagues via regular phone calls.

“Have really clear-set expectations for communications day-to-day,” Professor Barbara Larson from Northeastern University in Boston told the BBC.

“Ask [your manager] if they don’t mind having a 10-minute call to kick off the day and wrap up the day.”

With many workers seeing colleagues as friends, setting up remotely can make people miss the social side of going into the office.

“If you need to isolate for quarantine purposes remember we live in the digital age,” said psychotherapist Noel McDermott.

“The virus does not transmit across the phone or by text; it doesn’t jump out a computer screen during a Skype call; stay in touch”.

While it may sound far-fetched, Professor Larson is not beyond workers sharing a virtual glass of wine over Skype after a busy day.

“It’s a good way to bond – it’s kind of weird, but everyone’s feeling weird [amid the coronavirus outbreak], so it’s fun,” she said.

Professor Larson also recommends colleagues continue to acknowledge each others’ birthdays, personal milestones and work achievements.

While it may be tempting to lounge in your pjs all day, experts universally advise workers get dressed and set up an “office” at home.

Depending on the size of your place, this would ideally be in a little-used room with a door you can close when you “clock off”.

Patients testing positive for Covid-19 are being urged to “self isolate” for 14 days, while those with the tell-tale symptoms – fever, cough and slight breathlessness – should stay indoors for at least a week.

For everyone else, break up the day by getting some fresh air and going for a walk.

Feeling cooped up can lead to panic.

While it may be easier said than done, experts stress fretting is futile.

“Focus on your circle of influence, in other words, control your ‘controllables’,” Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist for Healthspan, previously told Yahoo UK.

“You can control how much you check the news and your response to the story.

“If you’re feeling very anxious, practice some self-care with whatever works for you – going for a walk, having a long bath – to reset an anxious mind”.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walking down Oxford Street in London, as the Government's top scientist warned that up to 10,000 people in the UK are already infected. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
A woman and two young boys are pictured wearing masks while walking down Oxford Street in London. (Getty Images)

What is the new coronavirus Covid-19?

Coronaviruses are a class of viruses, with Covid-19 one of seven strains that are known to infect humans.

Others cause the common cold, as well as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Most of those who initially caught Covid-19 worked at, or visited, the “wet market” in Wuhan.

The virus mainly spreads via infected droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by a patient.

There is also evidence it may be transmitted in faeces and urine.

Early data suggests four out of five cases are mild, with a patient’s immune system naturally fighting off the virus.

In severe cases, pneumonia can come about when the infection causes the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream.

Patients who are succumbing to the infection tend to be elderly or have underlying health concerns.

Covid-19 has no “set” treatment.

People requiring hospitalisation are offered “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.

To prevent infection, officials are urging regular hand-washing and social distancing.

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