But now that the entire world is gripped in a vise of fear thanks to the spread of novel coronavirus, those who practice social distancing are applauded for their awareness and compassion.
When the CDC urged Americans to begin distancing themselves from each other as a way to prevent the spread of the virus, most federal and state officials took the advice seriously. And now, the majority of Americans are following suit with the rest of the world by limiting social activities to nearly zilch.
That said, while social distancing can protect one’s physical health during the pandemic, what about the psychological effects of reducing recreation and normal human interactions?
How does this affect the average person’s emotional and mental health?
And if it has a negative effect, what can be done to alleviate potentially harmful psychological reactions?
Uncertainty awakens angst
Dr. John Allen, the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists explains that this widespread news coverage of events related to the virus, constantly changing daily circumstances, and uncertainty about how the virus will affect the future can give rise to heightened personal and community anxiety.
"This is understandable as these are unprecedented and uncertain times," Dr Allan says. “"There are the psychological impacts of public health measures to contain the virus which can exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and other mental health conditions, and can lead to increases in distress, symptoms and relapse into mental health."
Normally, a person who notices a spike in their anxiety due to uncertainty about their future is advised to talk to someone. depending on the severity of their angst, their encouraged to meet up with a friend or two for a long, heart-to-heart, or to seek counseling from a health care professional.
But now that social distancing has become the norm, even that has changed.
Individuals are being warned by the government not to meet up with friends for long chats over coffee, and some may be too nervous about the virus to step foot outside of their home to see a professional counselor.
On top of this, not knowing how long one must remain in quarantine or continue to apply the measures required by social distancing is further fuel to the blaze that is anxiety.
So, what steps can a person take to ensure the stability of their emotional/mental health while isolated?
How to stay healthy while isolated
“Normally, we get our social contact by going into work or by interacting with people day-to-day,”Dr. Greenberg says. “And that just happens as a matter of course.”
When under quarantine or practicing social distancing, technology can come to the rescue by providing a multitude of ways for one to continue enjoying daily, face-to-face conversations with friends and family.
Apps like Marco Polo allow users to record lengthy video messages for friends. Duo, Sype, FaceTime, and similar apps let users video message each other in real time.
Having daily face-to-face conversations with trusted friends and family members is a great way to stay emotionally healthy during the pandemic.
Here are a few other tips that may come in handy:
- Keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy foods
- Maintain a regular exercise program to keep yourself physically healthy
- If you’re working from home, take plenty of breaks and don’t over-work yourself.
- Limit how much news you watch
- Limit time on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook if they begin to make you anxious
- Stay connected with friends through private messaging and email
- If possible, be generous with those who may be suffering from loneliness or a lack of basic needs due to the virus. Sending them an email or gifting them with an online gift card to help them purchase toilet paper or food will not only help them, but increase your feelings of self-worth and purpose.
- Keep in mind that these conditions are only temporary and that by practicing social distancing, you’re assisting members of your community.
Click here for more information from the CDC.