Social Distancing and Mental Health

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By now I am sure most of you have likely been impacted in some way by COVID-19, the new viral strain of coronavirus that affects your respiratory system. You or someone you know may have been directly infected with the virus, your employer may have asked you to begin working from home, and/or you may have had to clear your spring social calendar due to social distancing guidelines. While these new guidelines could be considered an “introvert’s dream”, for many of us social distancing guidelines can be a trigger for depression and anxiety. For some, depression and anxiety symptoms may increase while for others it may be their first experience with these symptoms. It is important for those experiencing the symptoms and those around them to understand two things: why are the symptoms present and what ways can we look for the positives during this time to help combat those symptoms?

Let’s first talk about why the symptoms present themselves or increase during a time like the present. Simply put social distancing and isolation require us to remove ourselves from the contact of others, which often results in a reduction and/or change in the kind of support we receive to help manage our mental health. For many, the ability to be in contact with others through being in the office with coworkers, grabbing dinner after a long week with friends, or attending the concert of our favorite artist with a family member has been a form of self-care. Self-care and those interactions with others outside of your home play an important role in reducing the sense of disconnection, despair, fear, and/or hopelessness you may feel. These feelings along with others are how depression and anxiety present themselves.

So how can we find the positives and work to combat those feelings during a time like this? In the past few weeks, I have found myself in a bit of a paradox while being quarantined and practicing safe social distancing. Many need a reason to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced world we live in. While others have spent most of the winter isolating themselves and could really use this time to get back into a routine of meeting with friends, going to the gym, and other activities with others in their community. The key is finding a balance that works best for you and focusing on what you CAN do rather than what you can’t.

For those who relate to the need to slow down, this is a great time to reflect on your accomplishments and begin focusing on things you have been putting off. What better time to read that book you bought last summer but haven’t had time to read yet or spend time with your kids at home going through pictures and videos you’ve collected over the years. You could use this time to begin learning a new language you’ve always wanted to or focus on a hobby you’ve always wanted to try.

As for those of you who relate more to isolating and needing to pick activities back up, how do you decrease your isolation while being forced to social distance? A great place to start is with the technology you most likely already have access to. You could call up a friend/family member you haven’t spoken to in a while or connect with someone through email or social media. If you have access you could set up a video chat with a few of your favorite people and watch a movie together or a show you all enjoy. You could tap into your artsy side and paint some pictures to mail or fax to a local organization or you could begin building a bucket list of things you plan to do after this is all over.                

Whichever category you find yourself relating to (or maybe you fall somewhere in between), utilizing this time for good is the goal. Use this time to reflect on what in your life adds value that helps to improve your mental health and work to remove the things that cause strain on your mental health.