Coping With the Psychological Effects of Social Distancing

Steps for boosting emotional immunity as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted Mar 19, 2020

GerdAltmann/Pixabay
Source: GerdAltmann/Pixabay

All of us are vulnerable to loneliness, boredom, and other negative emotions at times. In this current public health crisis that we are facing, unpleasant feelings like these are likely to arise.

For those who already struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions even when the world is not in a state of a crisis, being isolated from others for an extended period of time could easily exacerbate symptoms. Just as those with underlying health conditions are in a higher risk category physically, so it is with psychological conditions.

We are flooded daily with recommendations of precautionary measures to protect our physical health; for example, we know to wash our hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, to cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze. But how do we build up an immunity to the potential psychological effects of social isolation?

Below are a few suggestions for practicing good psychological hygiene as we go through these very trying times.

Monitor news consumption

Staying informed of the latest updates and recommended precautions is vital right now. However, when the amount of news consumed is excessive, it becomes counterproductive in terms of our psychological well-being. Pay attention to how much time you are spending on the news. When you feel your stress levels rising, it could be a signal to take a break.

Consider the source

Perhaps even more important than the amount of information we consume is the source from which we are receiving it. Be discerning and stick to reliable, legitimate platforms. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false and misleading information out there. Whether it’s a retweeted tweet that your cousin’s friend’s brother’s wife posted on Facebook or, most disturbing, those in authority spreading misinformation, remember to always consider the source.

Stay connected

Set up video dates with friends. Join an online support group. Reach out to old friends. Pick up the actual phone. You can do that, you know! And not just to text and email and scroll endlessly through social media feeds. The next time you reach for the phone to text someone, think about calling them instead. Hearing a human voice is not the same as reading text on a screen.

In a time of social distancing, connecting virtually may be the next best option. We are fortunate to have these tools. This is a perfect example of technology’s potential to enhance our emotional well-being rather than stunt it. 

Reach out to a mental health professional

All of us are dealing with the repercussions of this public health crisis in different forms, whether economic, health-wise or other. Each of us will react differently depending on our internal and external resources, our resilience and our psychological health. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Fortunately, many mental health care professionals offer therapy via phone or video. Most insurance companies these days will cover telemedicine as it becomes more frequently used. If you have the resources, this is a good time to take advantage of them.

Find activities that bring you joy

Work on that project you have been procrastinating for the last three years. You no longer have any excuses. And your future self will thank you. If there is a book that you have been wanting to write but never had the time, or spring cleaning you have been putting off, or you’ve been wanting to learn to play a new instrument or learn a new language, here is an opportunity to start. 

Keep perspective

Epidemics of infectious diseases are not new. Neither is illness or disability or other health crises that force people into isolation. From the elderly to the disabled, before coronavirus, there were thousands of people living in situations not unlike ours and even worse. For most of us, this situation will be a temporary one. For many others, that will not be the case.

Here is where perspective and gratitude come in. Be grateful during this time of crisis? Yes! Not in a dismissive or minimizing way—we are in a real crisis—but just as important as maintaining our physical well-being is maintaining our psychological well-being. Adding on extra stress to an already overwhelming situation is not going to facilitate the process of building up our immunity. Keeping perspective is one way to stay grounded—and sane. 

These are just a few suggestions that may be helpful during this time. But perhaps most important is to remember that ultimately, we will all get through this together.