Social distancing: the effects on mental health

Photo credit: Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Photo credit: Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Social distancing and self isolation is important to decrease the spread of COVID-19, but what is it doing to the mental health of Canadians? What can individuals do to maintain their mental health?

As recommended, people across Canada are participating in self isolation and social distancing to reduce the spread of this virus. Some people are emailing and calling family and friends while others are using Facetime or Skype to connect during this time.

Around the world, the media has highlighted unique ways people are connecting. In Spain a fitness instructor led a balcony workout for the surrounding buildings, in Italy others played music and sang from balconies. Some conversed over fences while others sat outside homes for the elderly and had phone conversations.

One Brock student has his own strategies.

“To deal with loneliness, now I read and do yoga/work out, online forums and video games can help too or playing an instrument,” Danny Naldjieff, fourth-year english major.

But what is this doing to our mental health during this time? Tara McKendrick, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association of Niagara (CMHA), explains how this can affect people differently.

“Everyone will experience this situation differently; introverts may be less impacted by the social distancing and need to self-isolate as they may find the reduced expectation for being social a relief; extroverts may find this more draining as they are typically energized through social interaction.” 

McKendrick also notes that there are differences between being isolated and feeling alone or lonely.

“Isolation may be something we need to embrace to help “flatten the curve” but we don’t necessarily need to feel lonely.  Loneliness makes it harder for people to regulate themselves and may lead to self-destructive habits (e.g. overeating, relying on alcohol),” said McKendrick.

According to McKendrick, people that are lonely get stuck in a cycle of loneliness.  They have feelings of loneliness so they may withdraw from others but this may make them feel more isolated. 

“The sense of being alone increases our stress response; we are social beings and genetically we are wired to perceive being isolated as a safety risk; the flip side of “safety in numbers,” said McKendrick.

This can cause anxiety as stress hormones are released by the brain.

According to McKendrick, some signs that someone may not be dealing with isolation well include: lack of energy, neglecting self-care routines such as having a shower or getting ready, spending hours listening to the news or reading headlines, feeling anxious, being unusually teary, have preoccupied thoughts and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Instead try to consider maintaining that self care through activities that calm you.  According to McKendrick, that may look different for everyone.  

“Self-care is important; continue to do things that make you feel calm and relaxed; ”This will be different for everyone but may include listening to music; colouring or engaging in a creative activity; move your body …. exercise, if you are able to, go outside take a walk and get some fresh air; meditate; take a bath; watch a funny movie; read a good book, play a game of solitaire the old fashioned way with actual cards, make some comfort food from scratch, care for your plants or your pet.”

She also suggests limiting the amount of news about this pandemic as it could cause more anxiety. Do something kind for someone else and reach out to connect with someone.

“It will help you to feel less alone as we get through this together and remember this will pass. Remember that for most the illness will be experienced as mild symptoms. Remember that we are all in it together. Remember that we are doing this so that our family, friends and loved ones who may be more vulnerable have the best chance of staying healthy through this,” said McKendrick.

Available help at this time includes: CMHA – Bounceback at bouncebackontario.ca/,      Mind Your Mind at mindyourmind.ca/, Big White Wall at www.bigwhitewall.ca and  camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19.

At Brock, students can access Student Health Services by calling 905-688-5550 x3243 or Good 2 Talk at 1-866-925-5454.

 

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