As health officials work to slow the spread of COVID-19, they’ve asked Americans to do one important thing – practice physical distancing. Please see healthinfo.ua.edu for tips on how to effectively engage in physical distancing. However, spending days or weeks at home with limited resources, stimulation and social contact can take a toll on mental health. Below you will find a summary of the potential impact of physical distancing on mental health and wellbeing, and tips for healthy coping.
Experiencing and coping content compiled from The American Psychological Association.
In a time of physical distancing, here are some things you may experience:
- Fear and Anxiety
- It is normal to feel anxious or worried about yourself or your family, as well as having concerns about obtaining personal supplies, taking time off work, or fulfilling family obligations. Some people may have trouble sleeping or focusing.
- Depression and Boredom
- Breaks from meaningful activities interrupts routine. You may feel sad or have a low mood. You may also having feelings of boredom and loneliness.
- Anger, Frustration, or Irritability
- Loss of agency and personal freedom can often feel frustrating. You may also feel anger or resentment toward people who issued isolation orders or if you feel you were exposed the virus because of another person’s negligence.
- If you are sick or have been exposed, you may feel stigmatized by others who fear they will contract the illness if they interact with you.
There are ways to manage these difficult conditions. It is important to plan ahead by considering how you might spend your time, who you can contact for psychosocial support, and how you can address any physical or mental health needs you have.
- Limit News Consumption to Reliable Sources
- This includes U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the World Health Organization (WHO)
- Create and Follow a Daily Routine
- Maintaining a daily routine can help preserve a sense of order and purpose in your life despite the unfamiliarity of isolation. Try to include regular daily activities, such as work, exercise, or learning, even if it must be done remotely. Integrate other healthy pastimes as needed.
- Stay Virtually Connected with Others
- Physical distancing does not equal social distancing. It is vital to stay connected with people during this time. Use phone calls, text messages, video chat, and social media to access social support networks. If you are feeling sad or anxious, use these conversations as an opportunity to discuss your experience and associated emotions. Reach out to those you know who are in a similar situation.
- Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
- Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise in your home when you are physically capable of doing so. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the stresses of isolation and quarantine. If needed, consider telehealth options for psychotherapy.
- Use Psychological Strategies to Manage Stress and Stay Positive
- Examine your worries and aim to be realistic in your assessment of the actual concern as well as your ability to cope. Try not to catastrophize; instead focus on what you can do and accept the things you can’t change. One way to do this is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Focusing on the altruistic reasons for social distancing or isolation can also help mitigate psychological distress. Remind yourself that by taking such measures, you are reducing the possibility of transmitting COVID-19 and protencting those who are most vulnerable.
For more coping strategies, here is a free guide for coping with stress and anxiety during these uncertain times.
Skills for Building Resilience
Normal: the usual, average, or typical state. With the current situation being abnormal we must all endeavor to create a new normal for ourselves.
- Develop a Routine
- Particularly start of day and end of day. (Make your bed). Maintaining a routine without external enforcement (Job, deadlines, social meetings) is difficult but important. The goal of setting a routine is NOT productivity but creating some normality during these abnormal circumstances.
- Limit News Consumption
- Don’t watch 24 hours news channels for hours. Don’t refresh news sites all day. Don’t listen to conroavirus podcast. Limit all of these to no more than 1-2 hours per day at maximum. Consider avoiding social media where the memes are coronavirus related 24/7.
- Distract Yourself
- Watch TV if there is something left you haven’t watched. Play a game. Read books. Practice an instrument.
- Find Ways to Feel Productive
- If this is working out, learning a new skill, language etc. This could be a time to attempt a new hobby or rekindle a dormant one. The idea here is to engage in a task that provides a sense of accomplishment, whatever that might be for you.
- Reach Out
- Use technology to stay in contact. Direct messages, group chats, video chats, voice chat while gaming are all preferable to social media (see above).