Psychological fallout due to Social distancing

The practice of physical distancing and self-isolation is a crucial part of the plan to reduce the spread of CoronaVirus, and to flatten the curve. It might sound like a relatively easy task. As we are entering 3rd month of lockdown, many individuals are already seeing their mental health suffer as a result of reduced social interactions, even though that reduced interaction is saving our lives.

Humans, by nature are social creatures and this situation is not the human condition, where we cannot be comforted, being afraid and cannot hug others. We have evolved over millennia to rely on complex social interactions and this is all unnatural and disorienting for human being. 

Before we go deeper, It’s important to know there is a difference between being socially isolated and being lonely.

Social isolation is the objective physical separation from other people – such as, living alone – while loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or separated. Loneliness is not just a feeling; it is a biological warning from our body to seek out other people. Physical distancing and self-isolation measures that have been applied to limit the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in an increased number of people feeling lonely.

Long before coronavirus, we have known that loneliness and social isolation has been linked to a number of adverse health outcomes. Past studies show that feeling isolated and loneliness is associated with poor health and higher rates of mortality. And also loneliness or feelings of isolation can lead to anxiety, depression and dementia in adults. A weakened immune system response, higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and a shorter life span can also result from social-distancing. 

Similarly, Children who have fewer friends or isolated at school tend to have higher rates of anxiety, depression and some developmental delays. 

But when it comes to a global pandemic like COVID-19, there are studies being conducted right now. However it is unfortunate enough, but it is a big relief to know that the entire world is basically in the same situation, a commonality that is leading to the rapid development of coping strategies from multiple sources, including friends, schools and businesses.

Some tips to help us to manage social distancing:

Accepting our emotions. First, we need to accept that these are challenging times and it’s OK to not feel OK. Some of our emotions may arrive from out of the blue, and may make you feel it’s very “Unlikely of you” to feel this but these emotions won’t last forever. They will come and go.

Don’t be hard on yourself. These are unsettling, unprecedented times, and none of us don’t have any previous experience to cope with this situation. Just learn to take one day at a time and try not to overwhelm yourself.

Try not to take it personally. This is a collective need, not a personal slight. So when someone crosses the road to avoid physical contact, try not to take it personally and get hurt. Instead, wave and greet them from distant next time.

Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Phone calls, video conferencing apps and social media are just some of the ways we can keep in touch. Virtual contact is not as effective as face-to-face contact, but we can at least tell people that we’re thinking of them. However, it’s important to stay away from negativity or fake new in social media as this may not help our mood or our anxiety levels.

Practice relaxation and mindfulness. Relaxation and mindfulness exercises help reduce stress and rumination, which can exacerbate depression. We can practice listening to music, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive imagery and mindfulness exercises. This lockdown period may be also a time for self-reflection and a chance to consider what is really important to us.

Do something fun, helpful or challenging. Doing activities that provide feelings of pleasure and mastery, and takes our focus away from negative thoughts or worries are helpful in this situation. Activities such as, read a novel, write poetry, watch a movie, cook/bake, garden, play a musical instrument, play games with family or others online, offer at-risk relatives/neighbors help with getting groceries and supplies, learn a new language or take an online course. The list is endless!

Here are some Helpline service providers available to anyone for immediate counseling in coping with the mental or emotional effects caused by developments related to the CoronaVirus pandemic.

In addition, identify trusted sources of information you can turn to, such as MoHFW, UNICEF, WHO or CDC.

Some more resource & information in Hindi language are available in my YouTube video:

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