As recently as late February, much of the populations of the United States and Canada were living life as they normally would. A few short weeks later, when COVID-19 began to affect a greater number of people, many businesses grinded to a halt. Schools were closed to students, and governments instructed people to stay home as much as possible.
"Social distancing" quickly became part of the general lexicon, with people in many cities and towns staying six feet apart from others when venturing into the public, but mainly staying at home. While it is still too soon to determine the lasting impact of COVID-19, the psychological effects of social distancing were apparent almost immediately. According to Dr. Adam Kaplin, M.D. PhD., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, anyone who has had some trauma in the past may discover that social distancing rekindled previous traumatic feelings. Emily Roberts, a New York-based psychotherapist, says any form of isolation can be devastating to a person's mood because they are left with their own thoughts.
Various strategies can help to ease the potential psychological burden of social distancing and give people a new perspective on their situation.
• Focus on the positives. Look at what you have gained rather than lost from social distancing. This may translate to more time with the family; opportunities to exercise more; time to engage in a hobby; or chances to finish up projects around the house.
• Get fresh air. Where laws allow, make time daily to get outdoors, even if it's for a short jaunt around the neighborhood. Seeing new sights can be good for the mind, and exercise also is good for the body.
• Establish a routine. A routine helps anyone feel more in control, which is helpful when so much of the consequences of COVID-19 are beyond individuals' control. Psychology Today recommends rising and going to bed on your typical schedule, eating meals at regular intervals and making time for different activities each day.
• Reach out to people. Social distancing does not mean you have to cease being social. Contact friends or family on the phone, through video chats or even speak with them at a safe distance in person. If you need professional help, many therapists now offer telehealth therapy sessions.
• Turn off the news. Take a break from the constant onslaught of information. This can reduce stress and anxiety and allow the brain to focus on positive thoughts and ideas.
• Express gratitude. Give thanks for what you have each day and try to help others who may be less fortunate than you.
Social distancing has been a trial for everyone involved. Certain strategies can help turn grief into gratitude.