Humans are wired to be social beings and that’s how we cope when faced with challenges or disasters. However, as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are expected to practice social distancing and this can be very difficult. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing is one potential mitigation strategy to reduce transmission of COVID-19, and includes avoiding large gatherings of people and maintaining a distance of six feet from others.
But abrupt social distancing and self isolation may negatively impact some people’s mental health. It is completely normal for people to feel distressed and a real sense of loss and frustration being taken away from their usual lives.
In this post, we will share 12 ways to manage your mental health during a global pandemic.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread an infectious disease. Schools and other gathering places such as movie theaters may close, and sports events and religious services may be canceled. It is often used interchangeably with social isolation.
According to Wikipedia, social isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects temporary and involuntary lack of contact with other humans in the world
Social distancing differs from quarantine and isolation.
Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. It lasts long enough to ensure the person has not contracted an infectious disease. In the case of COVID-19, it lasts for 14 days.
Isolation prevents the spread of an infectious disease by separating people who are sick from those who are not. It lasts as long as the disease is contagious.
Effects of Social Distancing on Mental Health
Social distancing can lead to mental health issues or can worsen existing ones, especially as they get older. The effects could include:
- Anxiety, worry, or fear: You could start being worried about your own health status, the health status of others, the experience of monitoring yourself, or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of the disease, time taken off from work and the potential loss of income and job security, and the challenges of securing things you need, such as groceries and personal care items.
- Loneliness and boredom: This could be associated with feeling cut off from the world and from loved ones.
- Uncertainty and frustration about how long you will need to remain in this situation, and uncertainty about the future.
- Symptoms of depression such as feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite or sleeping too little or too much.
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in (PTSD) such as intrusive distressing memories, flashbacks (reliving the event) nightmares, changes in thoughts and mood and being easily startled.
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.
12 Ways to Protect your Mental Health during a Pandemic
1. Accept the situation
You have to accept the reality of the current pandemic. The COVID 19 pandemic is real and global. Don’t judge or be ashamed of your feelings. Understand that it’s okay to feel fear, sadness, frustration, confusion, loneliness or guilt as a result of social distancing because of the pandemic.
2. Focus on things you can control
There is so much uncertainty in the air. It is important to accept that there is not much you have control over. The most important thing you should be focusing on is ensuring the safety of yourself and those around you. You can do this by:
- Washing your hands often (use sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water).
- Covering your mouth when you cough and your nose (with a tissue) when you sneeze.
- Avoid touching your face whenever possible.
- Avoiding any non-essential travels.
- Leaving face masks for medical professionals, caretakers and individuals at higher risk of infection.
- Keeping your immune system strong by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and getting adequate amount of sleep.
3. Focus on the positive
Try not to obsess over things like: What will happen next? Will the grocery shelves be restocked soon? When will all this end? How long will we be trapped in our houses? Instead, focus on the positive and uplifting moments because it is impossible to know exactly what the future will look like. Even in the darkest times we must try to find some light.
4. Stay connected
Social distancing does not mean social isolation. According to studies common loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Keep in touch with family friends neighbors and co-workers.
Thankfully, technology has made digital communication easy through Skype, phone calls, texting, email and social media. Use this mediums to stay connected as this helps manage stress and guard against unhealthy coping mechanisms comma like drinking and eating too much.
5. Organize yourself
Now that you work from home, your normal daily routine may be altered. However it is important to create a daily routine. Keeping a daily routine helps you stay productive. Moreover, you can still stay close to your normal routine by maintaining a similar structure from your pre-quarantine days. For example, if working from home is new to you, you can start your day the same way you would if you were heading to the office.
6. Practice gratitude
It is important to count your blessings. Gratitude is a powerful tool. Be thankful for your health, your friends and families don’t forget to thank the people who are facing the Coronavirus pandemic head-on such as the doctors, nurses, delivery workers, government and caregivers. You can keep a gratitude journal where you write down what you are thankful for on a daily basis.
7. Limit your Media intake
Limits your news and social media intake to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Stay informed about the situation by reliable sources, such as CDC and world health organization (WHO) . Obsessing over the endless coronavirus coverage will, at some point, become detrimental to your mental health and that of any one you live with.
8. Eat healthy
While staying at home, it is easy to start snacking on junk food, soda and even alcohol. It is important to remember you should be boost your immunity by eating healthy. This includes more fruits and vegetables in your diet, staying hydrated by drinking enough water and taking all necessary vitamins and supplements. If you must snack, go for dried fruits, nuts and seeds. These are healthier snacking options.
9. Take care of your body
It is important that you take care of your body during social distancing. Ensure you practice good hygiene, exercise regularly, meditate, get enough sleep or sit in nature. Relax and make the most of catching up with T.V series, reading and exploring projects you have been putting off.
10. Keep the kids busy
Got kids? Gather up creative activities for them. Identify games that they can choose from ahead of time and let them know how each day will work. You could set up a routine for them because too much downtime is tough for children as well.
11. Help others
If you are not under strict isolation rules yourself, and you are in a position to do so, find ways to support those in need by offering to run errands and collect supplies for them. Little things like sharing words of hope or songs can help uplift others around you. For example, despite Italy being one of the most affected countries by COVID-19, Italians were singing songs from their windows to boost morale.
12. Seek professional help
To help many people adjust to social distancing, many therapists have moved towards telehealth-based platforms. If you need professional help consider telehealth services like BetterHelp and Talkspace which allow you to communicate with mental professionals through digital messaging.
The government has also taken steps to ensure more access to telehealth. Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is making it easier to e-prescribe certain controlled substances including those that treat mental health conditions.
Take advantage of online resources and hotlines too.
Here are some online resources you can use include:
- National Mental Health Consumers Self-Help Clearinghouse is a Nationwide directory to locate local consumer-driven mental health services.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosts online communities where people exchange support and encouragement.
- 7 Cups is a free online text chat with a trained listener for emotional support and counseling.
- Support Group Central offers virtual support groups on numerous mental health conditions- free to low-cost.
- 18percent offers a free peer-to-peer online support community for those struggling with a wide range of mental health issues.
- Psych Central offers online mental health resources, quizzes news and online support communities.
Also, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Distress Helpline that is open 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 1-800-985-5900
Social distancing is just one of the many strategies put in place in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Finding ways to protect your mental health when you are practicing social distancing is important since research has shown that this type of brief isolation can have a number of detrimental effects on one’s mental health.
Staying busy and keeping in contact with others via phone and social media whilst maintaining a sense of daily routine are ways you can manage your mental health during social distancing.