Mental Health Tips During Social Distancing

May 5, 2020

By Jill Ratanaphruks, RN, MSN, FNP-C

No matter who you are, we all have had our mental health affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing.

Here are some tips to navigate the mental health challenges that social distancing has created.  It is my desire that these tips will encourage and help you gain a sense of control and hope.

As Americans and individuals, we are all in this crisis together. In some way, this provides comfort that you are not alone, but in other ways it intensifies the stress due to the magnitude of effect it has on society.

Two common factors that impact people are loss and uncertainty.  People have lost social connections, daily routines, and resources.  For many, not knowing where your next roll of toilet paper is coming from has been distressing. On a more serious note, people have lost work, retirement savings, health, and loved ones. We all have been stressed, but each person has their unique situation.   The fear of loss and uncertainty about the future has put many on edge and sent others into a mental health spiral.

When I think of mental health the word resiliency comes to mind.  “Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds, personal crises, plain 'ole' life problems–and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful. It's important because this is what we need to do when faced with life's inevitable difficulties.”  This is a stressful time, but it is an opportunity to re-frame our thinking, a chance to change and strengthen ourselves and grow.

Here are five tips to help your mental health amidst social distancing.

Tip #1: Recognize your emotions

The first tip is to recognize the emotions you are experiencing.  Are you feeling sad, lonely, frustrated, hopeless or grieved?  It is normal in a time of stress to relapse into old habits such as emotional eating, comfort foods or COVID carbs.  As humans it is our tendency to want to avoid, want get rid of painful feelings instead of processing them so we can feel better.    So take inventory of how you are feeling. Are you slipping into automatic habits that have been ineffective and self-sabotaging in the past?   It is time to regroup and move forward you so can overcome and change.

Tip #2: Accept your emotions and situation

The next tip is acceptance of your emotions and the situation.  However, some situations are much more serious and will require time and even counseling to work through, so I do not want to make light of those who have sustained major losses.  Also, be mindful that your mental health in times of stress can trigger old struggles that increase anxiety.  If you are in a place where your feelings are manageable acceptance will help you move to a place where you can take positive action.  If you get stuck, it could be that lack of acceptance is holding you back.  If you do not accept how you feel or the circumstances you are in, this prevents you from taking action to make a change or it may even precipitate making things worse. I can choose not to follow health guidelines and put myself or others at risk, but that could make the situation worse.  I can choose to accept that I need to wear a mask in public and stand six feet apart in the grocery store line.

Tip #3:  Make social connections

Choose to do things that strengthen your mental health such as making social connections.  Social distancing may create a sense of loneliness, and isolation.  Even the words themselves give the sense of being alone.  If you think of social distancing in the frame of physical distancing, then you truly do not have to be distant.   Living in the age of technology is an asset because you can actually face time with family and friends. Consider calling an old friend, re-connecting with someone you were too busy to meet with before social distancing.   I have written more cards than I did at Christmas (that was not that difficult given I did not send out Christmas cards this year), but I have been inspired to connect with friends through letter writing (I may be showing my age).

Tip #4: Maintain structure and routine

For many working from home, juggling children who are in online school or do not have day care has created chaos.  People’s schedules have been turned upside down.  To regain a sense of normalcy, work on structuring your day, even if it is a new normal to accommodate a different environment. This will give you a sense of control and accomplishment.  Routine helps maintain your health habits that you have developed to for weight management and control.  Remember to schedule something you enjoy into your day.

Tip #5: Cultivate a heart of gratitude

Finally, cultivate a heart of gratitude. Find two or three things you are thankful for each day.  I am grateful for the faster commute to work because there is hardly any traffic. I am enjoying spring and bike riding with my daughter.  I am amazed at the resourcefulness of Americans in joining together to fight COVID.

Being cooped up has given our fast paced culture a time to reflect. Reframe the stress as an opportunity to strengthen your mental health and develop resiliency.  Accept yourself, your situation, take time to connect with friends and family, structure your time, and cultivate a heart of gratitude.  Take control of your mental health; COVID cannot take that from you.

For more helpful information on COVID-19, visit our resource center.

References

Henderson, N. (2012, November 2). What is Resiliency and Why is it So Important? Retrieved May 1, 2020, from https://www.resiliency.com/what-is-resiliency/