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COVID-19: How to cope with isolation and social distancing

Dr. Joti Samra

March 23, 2020

Resiliency

COVID-19: How to cope with isolation and social distancing

As events get cancelled, many of us are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 even if we aren’t yet directly affected by the virus or considered to be in a high-risk category. Yes, it’s disappointing to have events you were excited about cancelled. But, if we can preemptively control the virus from spreading rapidly by just staying home and washing our hands, is that really too much to ask? You yourself may be healthy and bounce back from an illness relatively easily, but that’s not the case for everyone and it’s the responsibility of our entire community to make decisions that are going to impact and protect the community. So, here we are going to talk about how to cope with isolation regardless if you’re infected or not. 

If you think you may be infected with coronavirus, it’s suggested you stay home for a minimum of fourteen days to decrease the likelihood of spreading the virus. Therefore, in case of infection, you should stock up on the supplies you need to sustain yourself and manage the illness for fourteen days without having to leave the house. Learn more about preparing yourself here.

Though even if you’re not infected, you are being encouraged to stay home and engage in social distancing. Scientists are suggesting we don’t change our behaviour to avoid getting infected, but rather we assume we are infected and behave accordingly to prevent transmission to others. However, we know spending time at home with little to no social contact can take a toll on our mental health. 

What’s the difference between isolation and social distancing? 

Social distancing means keeping a safe distance (approximately 6 feet) from others and avoiding gathering spaces such as schools, churches, concert halls and public transportation.

Quarantine involves avoiding contact with others if a person has been exposed to coronavirus to see if they become ill.

Isolation involves separating an individual who has contracted COVID-19 to prevent them from spreading it to others.

How to cope with isolation

If you are forced into isolation because of possible exposure to the virus, this could be particularly challenging because of the associated feelings of loss of control. But we can take that control back. 

Here are some tips on dealing with isolation and loneliness:

  1. Re-frame the problem. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of staying home during this period look at the ways in which it can be a positive opportunity. For example, you can get a head start of some of your spring cleaning around the house,  tackle those other to-do lists that you never quite seem to get to, or do other at-home activities that make you feel good. 
  2. Validate your feelings. Humans are inherently social creatures and thrive on human connection so it makes sense you’d be feeling lonely during a period of social distancing. Don’t be hard on yourself for the feelings that come up – all feelings are valid. Just remember our feelings don’t dictate reality (e.g., feeling lonely doesn’t mean you’re in this alone).
  3. Manage anxiety. Anxiety is a natural response in the face of a public health emergency, and it provides the function of motivating us to prepare and seek out support – both of which are important actions during this time. However, it is important to thoughtfully prepare and not allow this to turn into panic. For more specific information on managing anxiety, read our article Coronavirus Anxiety: 7 Ways to Cope with Fear.
  4. Use psychological practices to manage stress. It’s important to be realistic in your assessment of concern, so ensure you’re obtaining accurate information about confirmed cases and risk in your area. Try not to catastrophize; instead, focus on what you can do and accept the things you can’t change. Keeping a daily gratitude journal can help focus your thoughts on positive things in your life.
  5. Stay connected. Manage your feelings of isolation and loneliness by staying connected through digital communication. Technology is often seen as a threat to social connection but it doesn’t have to be. Text communication often doesn’t feel the same as an in-person connection but now we have so many ways to video chat that can bring us together. 
  6. Maintain a regular routine and engage in healthy lifestyle activities. Maintaining a daily routine can help us preserve a sense of order and purpose in our lives despite the unfamiliarity of isolation. Try to include regular daily activities, such as work, exercise or learning, even if they must be executed remotely. It’s also important to get enough sleep, eat well and exercise when you are physically capable of doing so. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the stresses. If needed, consider telehealth options for psychotherapy. Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych and Associates offers secure virtual (online) counselling services; learn more here

Final Thoughts

Social distancing and isolation are precautionary measures to help reduce the likelihood of transmission of the virus and keep those vulnerable people in our communities safe. When possible try to plan ahead for periods of social isolation with ways you’re able to cope and stay connected. Remember it’s normal to feel a myriad of emotions including anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger, frustration, etc., but remind yourself that the isolation period will end. For now, it’s important to continue to work together as communities to keep one another safe. 

For further reading check out this article by the DailyHive on social distancing and mental health (interview by Dr Joti). 

 

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