The Dos and Don'ts of Social Distancing
Mental health experts weigh in on the best ways to combat social isolation when spending time apart, and which activities you should avoid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Photo credit: Paolo De Gasperis/Shutterstock.com
Mar 26, 2020 • 4 min read
You likely know someone who has been practicing “social distancing” subliminally for years. Those who seem to prefer to have an ample “bubble” of personal space and steer clear of as much physical touch as possible. They were on to something, medical experts are now saying, and we’ve turned to social distancing as a global strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.
But how do you actually put this concept into action, and how do you do so without falling into depression or loneliness—especially if you live alone? We turned to mental health experts for answers.
What Is Social Distancing, Exactly?
“The purpose of social distancing is to avoid gathering with others, and to create physical space between all individuals around us in our community who could either be symptomatic or asymptomatic of the coronavirus,” says Tracy Thomas, Ph.D., psychologist, and founder of Dr. Tracy Inc., an emotional training company in Sonoma and Marin County, California.
Since coronavirus is an infectious disease that’s most commonly spread by respiratory droplets, six feet of breathing room is advised between humans as often as possible.
“This means at home with friends and family, at work with colleagues or clients, and in any environment where people gather: public transportation, school, restaurants, grocery stores, sporting events, and any public event,” Thomas says.
Even if you are feeling completely well and healthy, it’s best to practice social distancing—especially since we’re learning that as many as one in 10 cases may be completely asymptomatic.
“The coronavirus is highly contagious and in order to slow down the spread of this virus, or what experts are calling ‘flattening the curve,’ social distancing is a must,” says Navya Singh, Psy.D., a psychologist and adjunct research scientist at Columbia University. “Flattening the curve essentially means that we spread out the number of positive cases over a longer period of time, which lowers the burden on the healthcare system and enables more people to get access to care.”
Social Distancing Dos
Seek out ways to create a new normal. Yes, it’s a challenging, turbulent time, but many of your favorite activities can be shifted into the social distancing framework.
Did you used to enjoy a movie night out with your partner on Fridays? Transition it into a pajama party at home: Pop some popcorn, pick out a movie on Netflix, and take a break from the news.
Work from home, if possible, Thomas suggests, and tap into the power of technology as often as possible. Try video chat services such as Zoom, FaceTime or Google Hangouts to keep in touch with friends, family, and co-workers.
Tired of cooking? You can still support your favorite neighborhood bistro, as long as they’re still open: Order carry-out and pick up curbside or utilize non-contact delivery.
As long as the weather is cooperative, seek out fresh air. Enjoy a spaced-out hike with a friend, take your dog for a walk, or go for a solo round of golf. Not only will this offer breathing room, but it will clear your brain, boost your endorphins (happy hormones), and improve your immune system.
“Sitting at home and not moving creates a buildup of blocked energy in our bodies. Getting up and out has tremendous positive effects on how we feel and our emotional well-being. The combination of fresh air and energy release in your body can completely change your mental and emotional state,” Thomas says.
Take advantage of the extra time at home to start a new creative pursuit or learn a skill. Making art, playing music, and writing are all stellar ways to relieve stress and increase feelings of fulfillment. Bonus points if you can carve out time first thing in the morning.
“Start your day with something just for you so that taking time to take care of yourself continues to pay emotional and psychological dividends throughout the day in terms of gratification, grounding, and a sense of control over a part of your day,” Thomas says.
Social Distancing Don’ts
First things first, don’t get too close to others—especially anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.
Don’t skimp on sleep. Aim to get adequate rest, if you can. During this stressful time, it’s important to prioritize rest, which will help keep your brain and body strong. “A lack of sleep is the easiest way to increase your vulnerability to illness and the potential of contracting the coronavirus,” Thomas says.
And as high-anxiety as this time can feel, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Turn to the Crisis Text Line if you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed by it all, and check out these National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) resources for more coronavirus-specific mental wellness strategies.
“Don’t be hard on yourself if everything doesn’t work out as planned. Any new situation requires some time to get used to, and there are other factors in play here that you can’t control. Be kind to yourself,” Singh says. “Remember, you can’t control everything, but aim for patience, sneak in activities that make you feel calm, and if days turn out to be more chaotic or stressful than you imagined, then try again the next day. Small steps.”
This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.
Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.
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