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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Keeping busy isn’t the best way to stay sane in quarantine

One year into the pandemic mandatory quarantine remains a common occurrence in the ACT, and a new RMIT University study reveals keeping busy may not be the best way to cope with the psychological impact of social isolation.

Increasing activity levels with mindless chores leaves people in isolation feeling unsettled and unsatisfied, according to RMIT co-lead researcher Dr Lauren Saling.

“Busyness might be distracting but it won’t necessarily be fulfilling,” she said.

“Rather, think about what activities you miss most and try and find a way of doing them.”

For example, someone who loves dining out with friends might organise a group dinner date via Zoom.

Participants in the Australian study rated their level of wellbeing during social distancing and retrospectively one month beforehand.

They also recorded how much time they spent doing different activities and whether those activities were meaningful to them.

The results showed that novelty “meaningless” activities like binge watching TV resulted in more extreme fluctuations between negative and positive emotions.

Dr Saling said the study challenged assumptions that humans were either happy or sad and that sadness could be staved off by keeping busy.

Study participants who were occupied with mindless tasks reported feeling more frustrated in isolation, and even when they were happy felt less fulfilled.

The study also found people under the age of 40 experienced the biggest change in positive emotions during lockdown, compared with how they felt before they went into isolation.

Dr Saling suggested this was because that age group found it harder to successfully substitute meaningful activities into a quarantine context.

The wisdom imparted by the study will continue to be useful in 2021; last week ACT chief minister Andrew Barr warned COVID-19 outbreaks and clusters will continue even after vaccines were rolled out.

“So we are in this for the long haul,” he said.

Over the past week there was a three-day surge in the number of people quarantining in Canberra, peaking at approximately 7,500 on Monday, 11 January due to border restrictions with Greater Brisbane and Greater Sydney.

If you’re in quarantine in Canberra and you need a helping hand, follow this link to the ACT Government quarantine support page. You can also register for a wellbeing call using this form or call (02) 6234 7630 between 8am and 4pm weekdays.

Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts