Mental Health and Social Distancing
Social distancing: it’s important for your health and safety in these uncertain times, yet it can also be lonely — especially if you’re dealing with an existing mental health problem. So, what can you do to stay social (and mentally healthy) despite distancing rules?
Isolation can take a toll on mental health, especially when one is already dealing with a global crisis. It’s important to understand the relationship between social distancing and mental health in order to know what you can do about it.
Here’s how to protect your mental health despite social distancing measures — and how to stay healthy and social even when you’re six or more feet apart from friends and family.
How Social Distancing Can Affect Mental Health
If you’ve been consuming the news lately, you’ve probably heard the term “social distancing”
being used quite a bit. Social distancing refers to maintaining a safe distance of at least six feet from others and avoiding social gathering spaces such as schools, workplaces, churches and public transportation — and it’s an activity that can take a prominent toll on your mental health.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), social distancing disrupts our daily routine, interfering with our ability to work or study and leaving us unable to access people and places that help us manage our stress, such as the gym or places of worship. Feeling cut off from these resources and from other people can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, among others.
Here are some normal feelings you may have if you are practicing social distancing or self-quarantining due to potential exposure to COVID-19, according to the APA:
Depression and Boredom
The inability to work or study can quickly lead to boredom, especially when many of our favorite places to go and things to do are inaccessible. If you feel isolated from others, you may find yourself lonely, which can contribute to feelings of depression during social distancing.
Fear and Anxiety
Even if you are practicing social distancing, you may feel worried about you or someone you love contracting the coronavirus. You may also worry about obtaining food or supplies, absence from work or fulfilling family obligations despite social distancing measures. Amid this global crisis, it’s important to remember that these feelings are perfectly normal and shared by others across the globe.
Anger or Frustration
Isolation and quarantine are rarely choices we would make for ourselves. The loss of free will associated with stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations can lead to anger or frustration with those in charge. You may also feel irritated by others who you feel are acting irresponsibly, such as those who are ignoring social distancing measures and could be placing others at risk.
If you have COVID-19 or suspect you were exposed to the coronavirus, you may feel stigmatized by others. People may withdraw their social support for fear that they will be exposed to the coronavirus, which can make you feel lonely or ashamed. Members of certain communities, such as the Asian community, might also feel stigmatized due to the false rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus as an “Asian virus.”
How to Stay Mentally Healthy Despite Social Distancing
The current global crisis is a challenging situation to manage, but it is not impossible to cope with social distancing. Psychological research provides us with a loose framework for coping with the challenges of our new reality. Here are some strategies you may try to help you stay mentally healthy, even while you are socially distancing or self-quarantining in the time of COVID-19:
Limit Your Consumption of News Media
While it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the world situation, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. The news media means well but can actually create a false impression that we are in immediate danger when, in fact, our chances of becoming infected are lower than it seems.
You may think that listening to news 24/7 would alleviate anxiety since it allows you to stay informed, yet consuming too much news can create unnecessary stress. And, when you do choose to consume news, be careful about which sources you look at and listen to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are two reliable sources of information that you can turn to when you’re curious about the news.
Create and Follow a Daily Routine
When practicing social distancing measures, you may find yourself missing the routine and structure that normally drove your everyday life. After all, with no office or classroom to go to, it’s difficult to transition into the frame of mind needed to be productive during work or school. Creating a routine for yourself to follow at home may help keep you on track and maintain a sense of normalcy during these chaotic times.
Even if your commute to work or school is now remote, try to maintain a schedule that is as similar to your normal life as possible. Be sure to include time for self-care activities, such as eating, exercising and sleeping, to promote mental health amid this crisis.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Staying physically healthy promotes mental health as well — plus, it has the added bonus of boosting your immunity! Make sure to eat a diet rich in healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, as well as a regular exercise routine. Instagram Live and Youtube are two excellent resources for finding workouts you can do at home.
If you are someone with a chronic health condition that requires regular health visits, continue to manage your condition at home via telehealth, if your provider offers it. You should also make sure to stock up on any medications you take regularly in the event of a shortage and, if you are a senior or chronically ill, take advantage of shopping hours for immunocompromised guests to stay safe.
Stay Connected with Others
One of the worst things you can do in a global crisis is to cut yourself off from others. Staying connected to loved ones is an important coping strategy that is essential to mental health. While face-to-face interactions may not be possible, staying connected via phone call or video chat can help you feel connected even when you are far apart.
You can also rely on pets for emotional support. Staying close to your furry friends can help you feel warm and fuzzy inside in a time that is decidedly not warm and fuzzy. Plus, having pets gives you an excellent excuse to head outdoors for some quality time in nature. However, it’s important to note that the CDC recommends restricting contact with pets if you contract the coronavirus until you feel better since it’s unknown if pets can catch it from humans.
Use Self-Care Strategies
Taking care of yourself can promote relaxation and help you cope with the difficulty of the situation at hand. While working or studying, it’s important to take frequent breaks to give your brain a chance to rest. Doing things that relax your body, such as meditation, stretching or taking part in activities you enjoy, is equally as important.
Maintaining a sense of positivity is another self-care strategy that can help you cope with the coronavirus crisis. Keeping a journal of things you are grateful for or positive things that happen may help you refocus on the good, even amid a global pandemic.
The global coronavirus pandemic presents a challenging dilemma for much of the world. With many of us beholden to social distancing measures, it’s no surprise that many of our mental health systems have been affected as well. It’s normal to experience emotions ranging from depression to anxiety to anger during these difficult times — but these emotions, while challenging, are not impossible to cope with.
By focusing on self-care, physical health and our connections with others (digitally, of course!), we can help ourselves feel calmer and more stable, even in a world that is uncertain. And, if you should find yourself in need of additional support, telehealth therapy services are available to help you cope with these unprecedented times! Contact us today to find out how we can support you through the challenges of COVID-19.