We, as humans, are undoubtedly in the midst of unprecedented circumstances; the global pandemic that is Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has created a high level of uncertainty for all members of society. This level of uncertainty can be stress and fear inducing, especially due to the fact that we have to separate from friends and loved ones. However, possessing an awareness of the association between social distancing and mental health can help to mitigate the negative impact.

There are a range of possible emotions that many people might be experiencing right now; you may feel more sleepy than usual, or have difficulty sleeping, you might feel more on edge, or may be more easily frustrated by others. Fear and anxiety, as well as depression and boredom, may also be common reactions to social distancing. Furthermore, the link between social distancing and mental health may be more profound for individuals with pre-existing mental health difficulties, possibly leading to more intense depressive symptoms. During these difficult and stressful times, at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, we can help you to care for your mental health during isolation. The following are some guidelines to aid in the navigation of social distancing.

 

Tips for Social Distancing

Unfortunately, you can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms. Therefore, it is vital to stay at home. Only go out for food, health reasons, work (if you cannot work from home), and exercise. If you do go out, maintain a distance of six feet away from other people at all times, and wash your hands as soon as you get home. Avoid touching your face.

Those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should be particularly stringent when adhering to social distancing measures. This group includes people who are aged seventy or over and those with:

  • Chronic respiratory illnesses.
  • Chronic heart disease.
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic neurological conditions (e.g. motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson’s disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Issues with your spleen
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV and AIDs, or those undergoing chemotherapy or taking steroid tablets), the severely overweight, and pregnant.

 

How to Survive Social Distancing

Some of the following tips may help with easing the negative association between social distancing and mental health:

  • Accept what is happening – acceptance and acknowledgment of the current circumstances may help with coping.
  • Practice mindful breathing – this can help you to calm your mind by focusing your attention on your body.
  • Stay connected with family and friends – you can FaceTime, call, text, and Skype in order to reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Look for the good in any situation – this can be a very helpful strategy in unprecedented circumstances, as it helps us to see the bright side of every occasion.
  • Adapt your expectations to suit the current circumstances – unrealistic goals can add to stress levels.
  • Be kind to yourself and others – by doing something kind for others you can induce a ‘helper’s high’ through lighting up the reward center in the brain.

 

Coping with Social Distancing

Effective forward planning can help to reduce the negative link between social distancing and mental health. Consider how you might be spending your time, who you can contact for support, and how you can handle any physical or mental health problems that you or your family may encounter. The following tips may help people cope with social distancing:

  • Establish and adhere to a daily routine – this helps both adults and children maintain a sense of normality and order in their day to day lives. Attempt to include healthy pastimes such as daily exercise and learning.
  • Stay connected with others virtually – If you are feeling isolated, anxious, or alone, it may help to access social support networks through virtual means. Reach out to others that you know may be in a similar situation. Currently there are numerous local Facebook groups which are targeted specifically at helping people to cope with isolation.
  • Limit your news exposure to reliable sources – too much exposure to information regarding COVID-19 may lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression. It is recommended that you balance your exposure to information about the virus with time spent doing leisure/relaxing activities such as reading, listening to music, and practicing mindfulness techniques.
  • Stick to healthy habits – maintain established sleeping and eating patterns, and refrain from using alcohol and drugs as coping methods.
  • Use psychological strategies to cope – practice mindfulness techniques, reflect on your level of stress and your ability to cope, and focus on what helpful things you can do instead of things that you can’t control.
  • Focus on the altruistic reasons for social distancing – isolating can help mitigate psychological distress for yourself and others. Keeping a safe distance from others reduces the likelihood of spreading Coronavirus, therefore protecting societies most vulnerable.

 

It is important to acknowledge the connection between social distancing and mental health in order to effectively prepare for it. To find out more about caring for your mental health, or to learn about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, contact us at 518-218-1188.