Coping with Social Distancing: Tips for Managing Time, Stress, and Anxious Feelings
By now, most, if not all, of us are practicing social distancing until further notice. For those with kids, they are homeschooling while trying to balance remote work schedules. For others that may be alone or have no kids or family nearby, or have been temporarily laid off of work, this time is especially challenging.
We must all do our part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing functions as a means of harm reduction by allowing time for tests and vaccine production. It is vital and requires effort. The timeframe on this remains unknown, and long periods of loneliness and worry can increase stress, anxiety, and depression.
Social distancing, while crucial, asks us to suppress our evolutionary hard-wiring for connection. Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist and a public health specialist at Yale University, told Science. "Pandemics are an especially demanding test…because we are not just trying to protect people we know, but also people we do not know or even, possibly, care about." (bigthink.com) And yet social distancing will be a way of life for several weeks, if not longer. It is a test of enormous proportions, and we all need to help each other as much as possible from a distance.
Breathe…we can do this! Before hitting the panic button, try to think of the opportunities that still exist at this time for creativity, care (self and others), and compassion. We are fortunate to have more ways to reach people remotely than at any other time in history. We have tablets, laptops, and phones that function as mini-computers. We can use these platforms to support people outside of our social restriction circle.
A helpful way to reframe social distancing may be to focus on social solidarity. It is a chance to reflect and expand our circle of moral concern. We are in a time of transformation, shifting away from an I-centric approach to one of collective effort and care. We are all in this together, and maintaining our emotional well-being matters.
For Marriage and family therapists, social distancing is part of a systemic response to managing the spread of COVID-19. The discordant nature of it is such that we are helping the more extensive system, our community at large, by intentionally conducting life via isolation. But to repeat…we can do this!
Here are some survival tips for managing life during this time:
Don't Panic: With so many sources of media, it can be hard to weed out unfoundedly pessimistic news. To fend off panic, one must prioritize reason and realism. One way to do this is to make sure you are obtaining information from reputable sources. Some good sites for this include the CDC's coronavirus page, your local health department's website, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Other reputable news sources include New York Times Conavirus (free access during the outbreak). Do remember to set limits on how much news you consume each day. It is not helpful to keep checking; in fact, the more you do this, the more likely you are to make snap judgments based on how easily information comes to mind.
Re-create Your Daily Routine: The sudden move to remote working and homeschooling has thrown routines off-kilter. For most of us, this can create additional stress and anxiety. Thankfully, we can retrofit our pre-distancing habits to our new social distancing way of being. If you are working remotely, try to follow a similar routine as you did when going to the office. Get up at your usual time, engage in healthy activities of daily living, and carve out a designated space to work. If homeschooling, set up a schedule that resembles what your kids have been doing throughout the school year. You can modify it, however, as you feel fit. For example, you can develop a schedule that incorporates routine and reward. Follow an hour of reading or math with a snack and an educational show. There is no specific right way to do this, but having a routine will make life a bit easier for everyone.
Be Altruistic: Research shows a strong correlation between philanthropic activities and improved health and well-being. While social distancing puts limits on our ability to engage in altruistic behavior, it doesn't eliminate it. One can offer to shop for a neighbor or relative that is elderly or has a compromised immune system. Another way to give is financial. If someone in your community is temporarily laid off, you can offer to drop off groceries or send a gift card to help offset some of the burdens he or she is facing.
Be Creative: Being socially restricted may provide an opportunity to engage in creativity. With the time at home, you will likely cook more. Find new recipes or have an in-home bake-off. Other creative outlets include – drawing, puzzles, knitting, crocheting, creating writing. You can find anything on YouTube, so don't be afraid to learn something new while you have time to do so.
Move it! At this time, we can still go outside for a walk and get fresh air. Take time every day to go for a walk or jog (if preferred) while maintaining a safe distance from others who may be doing the same. Getting fresh air and moving our bodies is one of the best things we can do at any time, and now more than ever.
Choose to Remain Positive: Social distancing will have taxing moments. Human nature leans into the negative with ease, so staying positive will take some effort. Marriage and family therapists often talk about the positive to negative ratio or “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions (gottman.com).
During this time of social distancing, you will have ups and downs, and that is okay. Make room for the trying moments, and remember they are just that – a moment, not forever. Maintaining an attitude of optimism is more beneficial to your well-being than dwelling on negativity. Try to choose a healthy mindset day by day, and remember you’ve got this!