Practice Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing

How to cope with the coronavirus quarantine.

Posted Mar 24, 2020

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Source: Getty Images

No doubt about it—we’re living in frightening times, times few of us have ever before experienced. The world has changed overnight, it seems, and unless you’re someone in denial that we’re facing a serious public health crisis, you’ve been spending a lot of time at home. 

"Physical distancing" is a better term than social distancing. We have to stay socially connected through this. Community building, togetherness, and emotional connections via electronic devices are imperative for our mental health.

We can stay in connection with each other on the phone, webcam, and many other online formats. Now is a time to be intentional and interactive and not to isolate. We are wired to be social and luckily can maintain that with technology. 

As a therapist, I’ve seen the many and varied ways people react to unexpectedly having to spend more time with their spouses, lovers, relatives, and so on. Some folks do fine with this extended proximity, but others find themselves dealing with increased stress levels and unresolved issues from the past that become magnified, whether with our teenage children, our spouses, or our relatives. Being cooped up can sometimes bring out the worst in us. 

Those who are alone for long periods of time can experience feelings of anxiety or depression. Admittedly, I have experienced some of my own so far and have had to do self-soothing and practice my own advice of getting centered and grounded. I suggest that you think of this as a time not as “social distancing,” as it’s being called, but rather “physical distancing.” We may be stuck in the house, but there are so many ways for us to reach out and connect with others, and doing so helps regain perspective on our connectedness.

I also did a podcast on the coronavirus to get the most recent facts. 

Let me offer some more suggestions about dealing with this situation: 

Aggression. One of our most basic responses to fear is aggression. I’m seeing an increase of this amongst folks. Remember this when you find yourself becoming angry and aggressive in a conversation with someone you’re cooped up with and take a time out. Take some deep breaths or go into another room, go look in the mirror, count to 10, or take a walk in the fresh air. Then come back in a non-reactive way. Practice goodwill like you would with a child who did something wrong. Remember that your partner is doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

Communication. Now, more than ever, we need to practice better communication with others. This is the main reason people enter therapy. They take things personally, interpret what others are saying, interrupt and stop listening. This is a great time to use intentional dialogue with those with whom you are living and your friends. This includes using “I” statements when speaking such as:

  • “I heard you say …”
  • “What I experienced you say or do is …”  
  • “How this is affecting me is …”

As a listener, it is crucial that you repeat back what you’re hearing to make sure you heard it correctly. “What I hear you saying is …” and then repeat back verbatim what you heard them say and tell them you’re doing this to ensure you’re getting it correctly. Then ask them if you are. These skills are important to do especially when you’re having an emotional reaction.

Calming tips. We have some great tools at our disposal today for calming down. For instance, I really like an app on my phone called “Headspace.” It offers guided voice meditations that really bring me to a more peaceful space, and I find these work better for me than trying to just sit and clear my overactive mind. Other available apps focus on heart rate variability. When we’re stressed, our heart rate becomes jagged, irregular. These apps help you monitor your heart rate and bring it into what is called “coherence,” which is smooth and even. 

Practice gratitude. A Colorado-based hypnotherapist, Ezzat Moghazy, asserts that it is impossible to hold opposing thoughts or feelings at the same moment. Therefore, if you are in a relaxed state and feeling gratitude for the many wonderful things and people in your life, fear and stress simply vanish. The same if you vividly recall a moment in your life in which you felt wonderful, supported, and happy. When you do this, you’re creating or strengthening neural pathways in the brain that, with repeated practice, can banish feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. Remember and be grateful for the things you have, like a roof over your head, electricity, the internet, TV, books to read, and friends and family you can reach out to. Truthfully, we are rather spoiled, and we are not in the habit of delaying gratification. Let’s get over that and practice impulse control, at least for the near future. 

Be sexually safe and aware. It’s a great time to discover new erotic adventures with your partner and with yourself. Spend time talking about what turns you or them on in bed, maybe something you’ve never before done, and what their fantasies are. Even ask them about what sexual imagery and erotica they’ve watched in the past, and perhaps even watch some together. 

The safest sex you can have is with yourself. Don’t feel ashamed about watching porn and masturbating. Autoeroticism is perfectly normal, absolutely safe, and a fine way to relieve stress.  

Despite the ubiquitous warnings about physical interactions at this time, human nature and our desire for intimacy is such that some people will still go looking for hookups. There have been calls for hookup sites to shut down, but even if that happened, the reality is that some people will ignore the dangers and find underground meeting places to have sex. Don’t be one of them, please. 

Hold your boundaries. This is not a time to abandon your boundaries just because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. You may be working in a place with others. Even if it’s your boss picking up your phone or violating your personal space, let them know that it’s not OK. This is not the time to be so polite that you don’t assert yourself. Speak up. Don’t depend on them. Do it for yourself. 

Set an example. We all need to take this situation seriously. Despite your kids’ complaints, don’t let them go out and hang with others. Encourage them to practice physical distancing and connect with their friends via their phones or on the internet. Explain to them how they or their friends may be carriers of the coronavirus even if they’re asymptomatic, and to think about the elderly people or those with compromised immune systems who may become sick as a result of their thoughtlessness. Look around you and think about your neighbors or friends who may need some service that you can provide. There are very few things that are better for getting you out of a funk or feeling bored than helping someone else.

Be positive. Focus on the good, and look for the uplifting stories all around us. We should all know by now that our body reflects our mental state, and fear and anxiety play hell with our immune system. Don’t let them rule you.

Don’t immediately negatively judge others. Don’t ascribe negative connotations to what others are doing around safety. Many people are at different levels of denial over this virus. While it’s important to explain to others that what they are doing might be putting you or others at risk, don’t assume they are selfish and intentionally thoughtless. Give people the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, remember and give thanks to all those who are out there providing the vital services we need in times of crisis—the doctors and nurses on the front lines, postal workers, grocery store clerks and stockers, police and firemen, janitors and plumbers, farmers … the list is endless. These people are the real heroes today. Let them know you appreciate them!