By  April 13, 2020 - 11:32am

People by nature are social creatures. The average person has 12 social interactions per day*. Each interaction creates a risk for spreading COVID-19.  Although social distancing is effective at reducing the spread of the virus, the unintended consequences can result in social isolation accompanied by intense feelings of anxiety, fear, loneliness, and depression -- especially for those who reside alone within their residence. Maintaining mental health during these uncertain times is crucial for overall health and well-being. Here are some activities that can reduce anxious feelings:

  1. Limit the amount of pandemic related news and social media that you watch/read. While it is important to stay up-to-date with what is happening, the news will still be there after you take a brain break.
  2. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Open up and be truthful about the emotions you may be experiencing. You would be surprised how many people may be feeling the same way but are too embarrassed to admit it.  Alternately, if you are not comfortable sharing with someone, consider journaling, creating art, meditation and/or praying about your feelings. Any method of describing and naming your feelings will be more beneficial than keeping them bottled up.
  3. Staying connected with loved ones, friends or co-workers has been suggested by many mental health experts. In today’s age of technology, it is easier than ever to stay physically distanced but socially connected via phone, text, or video chatting. Try chatting, singing, or even playing a game with friends or family. This is also a good time to look up old friends that you have not talked to for sometime. While chatting through technology may not be a perfect substitute for face-to-face interaction, it keeps you connected, contributes to happiness, combats loneliness, and gives you and others a sense of belonging. It can even help to pass time.
  4. Be kind. Being socially distant from others does not mean that you cannot practice acts of kindness. Checking in on others and being a source of light for them contributes to a person’s sense of purpose and belonging.
  5. Get lost in a new novel or TV series. Getting lost in a fictional world can provide a healthy distraction while you connect with new characters.  
  6. Seek warmth. Whether it is curling up with a blanket, having some tea, or taking a warm shower, psychology has taught us that warmth can mimic the sensation of physical touch. Such comfort can provide ease in times of isolation and loneliness.
  7. Be active! Exercise contributes to overall physical and mental health, well-being and life quality. Being active can make you feel happier, increase energy levels, reduce risk of chronic diseases, boost brain health and memory, help regulate sleep and relaxation, and can even add years to your life. Consider doing a virtual class or even getting on Skype or Zoom for a session with friends and family. Going for a walk or bike ride in nature will not only provide you with fresh air but the sun is also good for your mind and body, and can provide some comforting warmth as well. (Just don’t forget some sunscreen!)
  8. Maintain a schedule with regular sleep and wake times – even if it’s not required for classes or work.
  9. And be gentle with yourself – this is not a time to expect increased amounts of productivity – we are worried and grieving and adjusting – and that takes a lot of emotional energy.

Finally, remember that the feelings you are experiencing about the COVID-19 pandemic are temporary, and they do not mean anything is “wrong” with you.  You are doing a vital service with your part in reducing the spread of disease in your community. If you are feeling like you need support call SAMHSA’s free 24-hour Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. They can provide counseling services, information on how to recognize distress, and tips for healthy coping. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours every day at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line offers free, 24/7 support via text message. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.

 

Reviewed by:

Kerri Ashurst, Ph.D., Senior Extension Specialist for Family and Consumer Sciences

Mary Chandler Bolin, Ph.D., Director of the University of Kentucky Counseling Center

Andrea Higdon, MS, Emergency Management System Director, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment

Amy Kostelic, Ph.D., Associate Extension Professor and Adult Development and Aging Specialist

David Weisenhorn, Ph.D., Senior Extension Specialist for Parenting and Child Development

*Zhaoyang, R., Sliwinski, M. J., Martire, L. M., & Smyth, J. M. (2018). Age differences in adults' daily social interactions: An ecological momentary assessment study. Psychology and aging, 33(4), 607–618. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000242


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