In recent years, mental health has been put in the spotlight, as people become more vocal about their emotional well-being. In 2018, The National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) reported that 47.6 million people experienced some type of mental illness. In the new age of social distancing, it isn’t hard to imagine this will not exacerbate the problem.
People need connection, one of the ways we express emotion is by physical contact. The environment, communities, and society as a whole are built around the socialization of human beings. We enjoy getting together to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and life-changing events in an effort to bring family and friends closer together and show appreciation for loved ones. In a city like New York where we practically live on top of each other, it’s incredibly challenging to practice distancing. The large population in addition to our liberal lifestyles lend themselves to cultivate a culture that allows us to be ourselves and connect. Social distancing, as you probably know, goes against human nature. Therefore, it is crucial for everyone to be aware of its mental effects and what you should do if you begin feeling off-kilter.
The first thing important to understand is the difference between social distancing and social isolation particularly related to the COVID-19 virus. Social isolation is a complete physical retreat of human connection that can have traumatic effects on the health of its sufferers psychologically or physically. Social distancing is limiting physical interaction with other people while still going about their activities with restrictions such as a walk in the park, picking up necessities at a market or pharmacy among a few of them. The mental effects of each of these can be daunting, hence why it is necessary to learn how to physically distance yourself without removing the emotional and social aspects.
For much of the population, the lockdown has been in place for weeks or months at this point. It is normal to begin to feel like the walls are closing in, as you spend most of a 24-hour period at home. Life on pause appears to freeze time; waking up each day to a repeat of days prior can create a drain of emotions. If you are confined to a small area with a partner or siblings, it can lead you or anyone else to appear cornered. Sharing spaces becomes challenging for the most patient of family members. Slowly, weariness, impatience, sadness can unexpectedly cause you to be increasingly emotional. The anxiety is normal but there are ways to fight it.
Timeout to Focus on You: Take this pause to connect with your inner self. Life takes us on the fast lane everyday. It can be a blessing in disguise to have time to stop to figure out where you are heading. Are you happy in your life? What are you grateful for? Anything you’ve wanted to do that you never had time for? Were you exhausted by the rat race before the global health crisis? Do any areas of your life need a makeover, clean up? This time can serve to re-evaluate life up to know or can be to rest from the madness of a life that never stopped.
Practice and Maintain a Positive Mindset: Negative self-talk is a rabbit hole. Make a decision to create good vibes in your life. Watching the news report the latest numbers or discuss the detrimental effects of the current COVID-19 situation will not add value to your health. Staying informed is necessary but oversaturating your mind with negativity will only fuel the anxiety. Watch the news once a day, and instead read, watch programming that can serve to relax or distract you. Listen to music that revives or energizes you. Spend less time on your smartphone, as it will bring you worries. Remind yourself to continue to connect with friends and family by using the phone. We have Facetime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to surround yourself with love from afar. Don’t let the technology discourage you; teach yourself new ways of communicating. Do not let this new normal beat you up. We will all find a balance in time. Do not let the current state of affairs discourage you. These are uncertain times but they won’t last forever, nothing does.
Set Daily Targets: Getting accustomed to a way of living that provides all the things we need is a luxury we may have taken for granted too long. We are now forced to slow it down, live with the basic necessities. During this time, it might be good to stick to simplicity. Live with intention, make a list with a couple of bullet points that detail small things you want to accomplish. It can be anything, no need to change the world or create the next big idea. Consider this time as a brief period to regroup and find your center. Target small wins that contribute to your physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Eventually, many or all of us will sense the uneasiness of the situation because it is incredibly outside the norm of what we are familiar with in our lives. We cannot allow it to break us down. Therefore, I propose hitting the restart button every day you wake up. There are various places to get your inspiration whether it’s people, thoughts, activities, or faith. Once you link your mind with something that lifts your spirit, then you will be able to reboot. Not all days will be the same —rough patches are expected — but when tomorrow comes you will rise, receiving another chance to do it all over, again.
The significance of fighting the mental effects of social distancing becomes increasingly necessary. Preparing yourself for the long haul will work in your favor, as the latest news shows researchers estimating these measures may need to stay in place in many areas until 2022. Advisories from the medical community are constantly changing, decisions will be based on a number of factors including each state’s testing capabilities and development of a vaccine. We can only hope that resolutions arrive sooner rather than later.