Across the globe, business and schools are closing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Major events have been called off, including sports events, conferences, and religious services. While no one at your current work or school may be sick yet, the action is meant to be preventative. The closures are a way to enforce social distancing, a public health intervention that is critically important in helping stop transmission of COVID-19 by avoiding crowds and large gatherings.
Leah Lagos, a New York City-based psychologist, states that “staying home as much as possible, even if you believe you aren’t infected, is the type of altruistic decision that, when performed en masse, has the potential to slow the infection rate.” If you are relatively healthy, it’s important to still take precautions because doing so can end up saving someone’s life.
However, while self-isolation and social distancing can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, it can also cause increased anxiety and have a serious impact on mental health. Limiting social contact is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Recent research published The Lancelet studied the psychological impact of quarantine and found that it is linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion, and anger. In the event that the COVID-19 crisis is with us for an extended time, it’s more important than ever to put mental health at the same priority as your general health and safety.
With fear and unease across social media, stories of self-quarantines, and shortages of products, it can be hard to stay calm. It’s important to have detailed information about symptoms of COVID-19, it’s typical course, and how it is currently impacting your community. Make sure that the updates and information are coming from reputable sources.
se sites provide timely information and guidelines that can be used as a foundation.
If you are self-isolating, you may be more likely to spend time scrolling through articles and social media. However, experts suggest limiting exposure to media, especially social media, to help keep stress at bay. While it’
s important to stay up-to-date on latest guidelines from health authorities, it’s important to strike a balance between staying informed and consuming everything in your newsfeed. Marni J Chanoff, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, said, “I recommend a daily routine for getting news. If that means checking sits for updates in the morning or evening, do that. It is advised not to check right before bed, as upsetting news can disrupt good sleep hygiene and affect your bedtime routine.”
In times of crisis and uncertainty, adding the fact that we may be isolated, we can fall into two thinking traps: catastrophizing, which takes us to the worst-case scenario, and overgeneralizing, which makes us think that terrible outcomes are much more likely to occur. This is even more likely to be so when the facts are already scary. To combat this, we can try to catch ourselves when we go down that path. Ask: Is this thought based on facts, and is it helpful to me right now?
Being social in a time of social distancing
Humans are social creatures that evolved to feel safest in groups, and as such, loneliness can cause stress, which can be a pathway to damaging health. Following public health recommendations about social distancing and quarantining is important, but at the same time, it’s important for us to remain as connected as possible.
Many experts are emphasizing the promis
e of virtual options to ease isolation. Video chats and phone calls, for example, can be much more socially fulfilling than texting or emailing. Take time to chat with those closest to you.
Sadly, the hardest hit may be those without robust networks of family and friends. Below are 24/7 crisis hotlines that can be called/texted into if you need someone to talk to.
The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors: 757-236-5260
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
Disaster Distress Helpline: Text TalkWithUs to 66746 or call 1-800-985-5990
Additionally, for those who aren’t in strict isolation, offering to help others can help create a sense of community. Look for group
s offering to run errands and collect groceries to help those who are suffering the worst of isolation. Companies like GrubHub and DoorDash now offer contact-free delivery that allow you to help others receive food while still keeping social distancing practices in place.
Sleep, nutritious eating, good hygiene, exercise, fresh air, and connecting with people – these are the basics. Mindfulness activities and your own personal self-care routine is also helpful in breaking the cycle of worry and anxiety.
If you go to the gym, consider going to the gym during off-peak hours or try a home workout – for the social aspect, you could ask someone in your circle to be your virtual gym buddy and check in with them during and after your workout.
Activities that create a sense of change and purpose, such as redecorating or cleaning the house can help create stimulation. Creative projects such as drawing, compiling photographs, or puzzles can help keep the mind active. Take time to read that book that you never got around to reading or start that project that you felt you didn’t have time to start.
For parents (taken from the CDC website):
Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.
Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include
Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
Excessive worry or sadness
Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
Poor school performance or avoiding school
Difficulty with attention and concentration
Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
Unexplained headaches or body pain
Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
There are many things you can do to support your child
Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
Reassure your child or teen that it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxin
g or fun activities.
Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.
Learn more about helping children cope.
Ultimately, as with so much else with the COVID-19 pandemic, how we respond depends on the level of social solidarity that we feel and the degree with which we are willing to look out for each other. In times of social distancing and isolation, we can still support each other by providing comfort from afar and support ourselves by keeping our own personal self-care practices.