Updated: Apr 15, 2020
In my last blog post, I floated the idea that social distancing is not the right term for what is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be more accurate to say that we are physically distancing and socially connecting.
As a Doctor of Psychology, as well as a communications executive with over 30 years in business, I advise companies through periods of massive change. Earlier this week, I appeared on a panel in front of a group of C-level female executive and spoke about the mental health ramifications of social distancing for employees, friends and families.
Following is a summary of what I shared. Since we are all overtaxed right now—both mentally and emotionally, I wrote this blog post in list form to give our brains a break. I call these “Quick Bites” and I am starting a lunchtime speaker series with business leaders along these lines. It is called the “Quick Bites Speaker Series: Tips You Learn over Lunch.” (If you want to sign up for alerts about it, you can do so here: JDMAinc.com)
DISCLAIMER: This is not personal medical advice. If you are experiencing physical pain or mental and emotional agitation, contact your medical provider.
Human beings can handle absolutely anything in the moment; it is the thinking about it that makes it a problem.
People who are more adaptable are doing better with the massive shifts brought on by COVID-19 than those who are more rigid and try to control their environments.
Emotions are high. Our mind can tell us that everything is going to be okay, but our central nervous system says otherwise, so anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide are higher in this period.
Also, people may be trying to self-soothe, but this can seem like good intentions gone awry, because they are over-indulging at harmful levels in drinking, overeating, taking pills or compulsive buying.
Following are some coping tools:
Allow yourself to feel your feelings but try not to get carried away with future tripping. Keep your head in the same room as your feet.
Take time to laugh at the silly stuff—cat videos and dog memes are a necessary relief.
Have a schedule—get up, shower, change out of your nighttime pajamas and into your daytime pajamas at the same time every day.
Stay connected, because human beings are social animals and we cannot survive alone. We are a highly interdependent species.
Remain socially connected while practicing physical distancing:
Use video conferencing services to stay connected socially. It is important right now that we see each other as well as hear each other, so video is a vital tool.
Host virtual dinner parties with your extended family and friends. If Sunday night dinner is a tradition, keep doing it.
Hold virtual book clubs, bridge games and Dungeons & Dragons nights.
Take advantage of the fitness classes being offered on Instagram Live and via Zoom.
If you are not a member of a religious congregation, consider joining one. Spiritual communities mobilized immediately and moved their services and social activities to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.
If you find you are struggling with drinking, doing drugs, abusing pills, or overeating, now is a good time to check out a 12 Step program to get recovery from an addictive tendency. All 12 Step meetings have moved online and lists of thousands of meetings around the world can be found on the group websites.
The final question I got on the panel was, “How will the world change as a result of this?”
Change is good. It wakes us up and moves society forward. My personal hope is that we collectively become less judgmental about mental health issues. I hope that people who are struggling, or those who have previously resisted therapy, get help during this time. Therapists and psychiatrists have moved to telemedicine and many providers are offering free services through their states.