Social Distancing and your Mental Health

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Social distancing and quarantines are important for a pandemic, but not so good for mental health. While there is always going to be the health anxiety that will come up with a situation like this, there is also loneliness, bad habits, and isolation that can cause further harm.

As a psychologist, I am specifically worried about the long term consequences of depressive episodes, social anxiety, agoraphobia, and addiction.

When we don’t practice a skill, it can feel awkward to start it back up. Here are some ways to keep socializing, albeit, at a distance. It will 100% feel awkward at first, but in time we’ll all be used to it.

Some ideas:

  1. Video conference a meal together: have a dinner party, with a split screen. One on one or multi-person. Skype is free and can be used for up to 50 people. That would be a huge dinner party.
  2. Watch a show while on the phone with a friend: binging Netflix is going to be mandatory, but there’s no reason why you can’t do that while on the phone with someone. I used to do this in middle school and high school while watching Beverly Hills 90210. Laugh together or ohh and ahh at the same parts. It can be bonding.
  3. Video gaming: never thought I’d say it, but now I am glad my son is a gamer. While Fortnite may not be your thing, many games are now multiplayer. Get a headset and you can even talk to people while playing together.
  4. Gaming: if you don’t live alone, then it can be a great time to start playing all those games collecting dust in your closet. It encourages being together without having to talk, plan, etc. It can be very relaxing….even if you are competitive.
  5. New skills: this is a great time to pick up a new skill. YouTube has an instructional video for everything. Pick up drawing! Learn to code! Figure out how to make the best soufflé! Download Duolingo and learn a language.
  6. Move that body: move your body, move your body, move your body. I hoped saying that 3 times would make it clear that this is the utmost importance. If you are fortunate enough to have good weather, go outside (6 feet away from anyone) and walk. Do a couch to 5K program. Tune up that old bike. Anything. My kids have Just Dance 2020 as a video game. I do it with them. More apps and ideas for exercise and mind here.
  7. Use your screen wisely: there are some amazing free things to do online. Go to a museum from your bedroom. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming a live free opera nightly.
  8. Create a schedule: being at home, or having limited outdoor time, can make life feel endless, with no boundaries of meals, meetings, classes, or errands. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Wake up at the same time each day. Have meals at the same time. Start and stop work at specific times. Get outside. Even if just in a yard or deck. Most importantly, schedule in specific time AWAY from your devices.
  9. Expect bad feelings and behavior: you and the people around you are going to go through some hard feelings and may act out. Have plans for that. Maybe create a safe word that says “that’s enough, I need space.” Remember that fear creates a fight or flight response, and so you should expect people to do both. Be forgiving.
  10. Be grateful: start a gratitude journal or exercise. Write 3 things down that you are grateful for each morning and each night. Allow them to be trite.
  11. Nourish your body: we can all overeat or eat comfort foods while stuck inside and feeling badly. Remember to eat well, low sugar, high protein and fiber. Drink a lot of water. Don’t drink too much alcohol or do drugs too much.
  12. Meditate: Did you know that people report being happier after meditating even after a short amount of practice? Or that after 6 weeks, the brain actually changes in structure seen on MRIs? There are great free resources available. My favorites: Insight Timer, Calm, www.tarabrach.com (tons of free talks and meditations).
  13. Think about your community: reach out to people in your community. If you are able bodied and healthy, offer to go to the grocery or pharmacy for a neighbor who is not. Walk their dog for them. Clean their gutter. Share your toilet paper. Give to a family who does not have the resources to stock up.
  14. Call people who live alone or have a history of mental illness: make sure to reach out to friends and family who live alone. They are feeling all these things and may have very limited social contact.

For parents with children at home, this article is a great addition to the above, as is this article by Scientific American.

(shout out to Rebecca Schrag Hershberg)

There are some really amazing things that may come from this. We are remembering and being forced to dig deep, live locally, and be connected. We are staying inside for the greater good, not just for ourselves. Be safe, stay healthy, and reach out.


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Dominique Samuels

Psychologist, ex personal trainer, ex distance runner, current gym rat. I believe that physical health and mental health are directly linked.
SF, CA