“Social distancing” is the buzzword of the moment. Experts say it’s the key to slowing the spread of coronavirus and preventing medical resources from being overwhelmed. The protracted disruption to life as it was, mental health experts say, could bring feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and even grief.
The next few months may take a toll on the nation’s mental health, experts say, but it is possible to mitigate the stress.The practices of physical distancing and self-isolation are a crucial part of the plan to reduce the spread of coronavirus and, we hope, the number of deaths from the disease.
As important as it is to keep these measures in place, it is also important to recognize the psychological effects this can have on people. We need each other. Being isolated from other people can make our physical and mental health worse and can trigger anxiety and depression.
Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.
What You Can Do
- Acknowledge what’s happening and that it’s stressful. Because it is. “Denial is a remarkably adaptive skill,” says Dr. Kaplin.
- Stay connected. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. You can still FaceTime, call, text, have a Zoom happy hour with your friends.
- Do benefit finding. “Looking for the good is an important strategy,” says Dr. Julie Kolzet, Ph.D., and a licensed psychologist in NYC (who also sees patients remotely). An example would be if you’re working from home, maybe you have more autonomy now.
- Try breathing exercises. Mindful breathing where you match your in-breath with your out-breath and focus on scanning your body is calming. You don’t have to spend 20 minutes, even three minutes will help.
- Be kind. It doesn’t just benefit someone else; you reap the rewards too. According to research, when you do something nice for someone else, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up. It’s called the “helper’s high.”
- Share something good. Even if it’s something small or mundane, like a funny meme or cute picture. Letting someone else in on it amplifies the good feelings you got from it.
- Change your expectations. You add to your own stress levels by creating goals that are unrealistic. “Be easy on yourself,” advises Dr. Kolzet. “It’s not an easy time. Do what you can.” Dr. Kaplin agrees. “Our culture doesn’t believe in giving people time to recover and react,” he explains.
- Manage your news intake. It is way too easy to get sucked into press conference after press conference and then to check for updates on websites or to obsessively check in on the number of confirmed cases in your state. Being informed doesn’t require you to act like you’re a newsroom producer. It’s okay to set a few times a day where you’ll check-in for updates. And, stick to reliable news outlets. Rumors spread quickly and feed into the panic.
Know the facts to help reduce stress
Sharing the facts about COVID-19. Understanding the risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.
When you share accurate information about COVID-19, you can help make people feel less stressed and make a connection with them.
Check out these resources to help support your mental health or that of a loved one:
- Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety Toolkit
- How to Help Someone with Anxiety or Depression during COVID-19
- Resources to Support Mental Health and Coping with the Coronavirus
If you are in crisis, don’t hesitate to call the 24-Hour Crisis Line at 866–427–4747 or text HEAL to 741741to get confidential text access to a trained crisis counselor any time of the day or night.
Staying away from other people is not good for us. It doesn’t make any sense except in the light of the compassion we have for our loved ones and communities. Stay at home to protect the people you love.