How to Cope with the Emotional Effects of Social Distancing

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Like many in our community—and around the world—I’m feeling anxious and fearful of the unknowns related to the current and novel coronavirus outbreak. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, especially something of this scaleAs a result of the disease associated with this coronavirus, COVID-19, many are practicing social distancing.  

Social distancing refers to actions taken to physically distance oneself from society to help stop the spread of a contagious disease. This includes avoiding going out in public and holding gatherings.  

With schools, universities, churches and other businesses closing, many usual in-person interactions will become limited or nonexistent over the coming weeks. For some, this can lead to increased anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness.  

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During this time, be sure to check in your mental and emotional health as much as your physical wellbeing. Here’s how:  

1. Observe and describe your emotions in a nonjudgmental way. The purpose of this technique is to help calm strong emotions so you can think more rationally and act more skillfully. For most of us, it’s impossible to reason when we’re emotional. 

2. Have a distress tolerance planCalm strong emotions with a distress plan. This can include making time for a warm bath, watching funny movies, playing games, or exercising.  

3. Take regular and frequent breaks from the news. While it’s important to stay current on news as it relates to the coronavirus and its impact on the community, being exposed to the news 24/7 can be upsetting and even have a negative impact on health. Research show that exposure to prolonged periods of stress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, stomach issues, elevated blood pressure, cardiac disease and problems sleeping, so take a break. 

4. Take care of your body. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. 

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5. Make meditation a daily self-care practice. Studies analyzed in the Journal of the Medical Association found that meditation does help manage anxiety. The focus of mindfulness meditation is to train the brain to stay in the moment, which decreases stress levels.  

6. Create meaningful interactions with your familyFor those home with their families, take advantage of the extra time to connect with your children, partner, parents or pets. Playing card and board games, and watching movies together are great ways to deepen connections.  

 7. Use social networking and virtual platforms to stay connected. In addition to texting, I’ve been using face time to connect with friends and family while practicing social distancingSeeing the other person’s facial expressions and hearing their voice creates a deeper social interaction, which can help combat depression or loneliness brought on by social distancing.   

 8. Connect with nature. Where safe and possible, go for a walk, a run or a bike ride. Research shows that connecting with nature decreases symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Just be sure to maintain distance from others 

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 9. Remember you’re not alone.  Everyone around the globe is being impacted by the pandemic and many are experiencing increased stress levels. Simply knowing we’re not alone can reduce feelings of loneliness, so when you experience those feelings, remind yourself others are, too.  

What other mental health coverage do you want to know about during this pandemic? Share your suggestions in the comments 

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Paula Durlofsky.

Paula Durlofsky, PhD is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Bryn Mawr. As a practicing therapist for over 18 years, Dr. Durlofsky helps individuals, couples and families reach their full potential for leading lives with passion and purpose. She is also affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Medical Center, the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the Women’s Resource Center. Her expert opinions, shared through “Thinking Forward” are based on over two decades of clinical experience and training. Her expertise has been featured in Marie ClaireTeen Vogue, APA’s Monitor on PsychologyExceptional Parenting MagazineMain Line Health, Psych Central, as well as at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and on ABC 10-KXTV.

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