How to Cope with Social Distancing and Avoid Social Isolation, Anxiety, and Depression.
You may have read and heard that these are unprecedented times, filled with uncertainty. Well, the Covid 19 pandemics has brought upon us a new situation, but we cannot say it is unprecedented. As a matter of fact, a cataclysmic pandemic devastated the globe in 1918 and killed 30 to 50 billion people. The Spanish flu of 1918 was very aggressive and the speed in which people succumbed to their demise was swift. Those who contracted the Spanish Flu in the morning, died of hypoxia (lack of oxygen supplies) in the afternoon. Survivors of the Spanish flu recounted exactly similar scenes as those we are witnessing today. Schools, theaters, bars, church services, and social gatherings were banned. It all happened so quickly; in that people could fall sick in the morning and be dead by evening.
What have we learned from history? For pandemics, the essential elements includes an infectious agent (a virus or bacterium), a host, and the environment (a society that is either informed or not, a healthcare system that is either equipped and ready or not, and a government that is decisive in public health actions or not).
A host is a person who may or may not be resistant to infections. In theory, most of us are not equipped to resist a novel virus or bacterium. Therefore, since we are unable to resist novel pathogens biologically, we need to develop psychological means to deal with such a threat. Thus, our psychological defense system against pathogens depends on our capacity of detecting pathogens (noxious smell, avoiding people who are malodorous), adhere to public health directives, and how to cope with the novel situation. A key concept in this matter is rapid adaptation and coping with the changing situation and changing environment. Thus, needless to say that staying informed is imperative. Learning as much as possible about the outbreak of the novel virus, how to deter its spread, how to adhere to strict hygiene is of great importance. In this regard, the best way of deterring the spread is social distancing and using protective gears.
Coping and adaptation should be applied to the constraints of social distancing itself. How can a person who had led a busy and productive life change gears and slow down so suddenly? Social distancing entails impoverishment of sensory, perceptual, and social stimuli. How to cope with an impoverished milieu?
The suggestions that will provided here stem from research on psychological changes experienced by jobless persons. Before we go into details of coping, we need to understand that humans have divided the 24-hour cycle into three: Eight hours sleep, eight hours work, and eight hours rest. Jobless individuals often complain about that the divisions in a 24-hour cycle become vague or erased. They feel that all days, including weekends, are the same and therefore they experience a great sense of monotony. Consequently, unemployed individuals often complain of passivity, dullness, and ultimately they succumb to depression.
In order for us to avoid becoming the victim of under-stimulation and monotony, we need to divide the 24-hour cycle. We sleep eight hours, avoid excessive sleep or sleep deprivation. Exercise sleep hygiene. Go to bed at given times, do not violate your set sleep rules. Wake up at the same time. When you wake up, take a shower, pay attention to grooming and hygiene issues. Change your clothes from pajamas/nightgown to your daily clothes. Eat breakfast, plan your day, and execute your chores, remain informed about the current events, listen to the news several times a day, keep your home tidy. Make a virtual appointment with siblings, parents, friends, and coworkers. Drink coffee, eat breakfast or lunch with them. It is of great importance that you vent and speak about your subjective experiences of your situation, and mutually allow your counterpart to share their feelings and experiences with you. Towards the evening, slip into more comfortable clothes, make dinner, review your pantry and write a to-do-list for the following day. If you are troubled by worries, try to think through them before bed time. You may write them down and apply some hypothetical solutions to each one of them. Do not take your worries to the bedroom and most importantly avoid ruminating in bed.
Maintain optimism,remain informed, and do not succumb to helplessness. After all, if we have a problem, we need to solve it but not become part of it.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and maintain optimism. There are brighter days ahead.
Thank you for reading my first blog ever.
Charles Pilavian, Psy.D.