Monday, 30 March 2020

Social Distancing & Mental Health Amidst COVID-19

By Waiching 

As things stand as of now, these are (still) difficult times that we are living in and most of the world's societies are at a distance and standstill, with the killer Coronavirus taking a hold of and taking away people's livelihoods. But those concerns don't just refer to the physical aspect: it also has exacerbated theirs and my very own mental health. 

When you socially distance - or to be more exact, physically distance, you stay at home and interact only with the people you live with. When you go outside, or at your workplace, you need to stay 6ft away from coworkers and customers at all times.

It is a tremendous battle and one that can be so massively disruptive, it becomes a struggle for many of us, who at this time are pondering when on earth this will come to an end and when a vaccine is readily available to all. Whilst we must be physically distant to each other, to help prevent the spread of infection, it is still important not to abandon all social contact and connection with our peers, friends and family. Social distancing measures are put in place to reduce the proliferation of COVID-19, and to a degree, from a medical and physical standpoint, these are working. 

However, research has also shined a light on how being isolated and secluded can have an adverse impact on one's mental health. Whilst isolation is every introvert's fantasy, social distancing measures also has dire consequences: for those of us who are depressive, suffer from anxiety or have any other underlying mental and/or emotional health problem, social distancing can trigger the likes of depression and PTSD, as well as various mood swings. 

Face-to-face contact and communication are things with which, we as humans, are hardwired to a) have emotions, b) to sense and express those emotions and c) to reach out to others. The ability to contact and reach out to others in need and support by undertaking hobbies or interests, spending time with them, working alongside them helps reduce our sense of disconnection and despair and replaces it with joy, a sense of belonging and the feeling that you matter to them. And yet these are the same things, as well as the hugs, holding hands, that have been taken away from us as they carry a health risk.

Here, through the lockdown, we are not self-isolating, we are not socially distancing ourselves and isolating others around us out of choice, but out of force, out of necessity to preserve our physical health - and yet this shouldn't be at the expense of our emotional well-being. What social distancing gives and offers to us on one hand, it also takes away with the other, and sadly not only is that unfair, it goes to show that it has its cons, as well as pros. Your mental health shouldn't be compromised.

Coronavirus has had an impact on global travel, airlines, stores that have to shut up shop until this is over, schools have been closed off, major events have been cancelled and rescheduled at a later date, and the alarming stats of victims go up every single day. But with mental health, it is the one grey area many have overlooked and wherein people have taken their own lives, they have also seen their mental health levels deteriorate, and right now, their voices are not being heard. 

At work (seeing as my line of work can only be carried out at my workplace - although with cleaning I do this at home when I have to), this poses a substantial challenge; the dread of being stuck in this lockdown with no end in sight until say Sept of this year, and trying to adhere to these social distancing measures, all whilst managing my mental health and emotions, in addition to preserving my safeguarding, or trying to safeguard my physical health, is a tall order. Especially as I would be putting myself at further risk. I am having to socially distance myself from my colleagues and as a depressive myself, this can take a toll on my own emotions and mental health. As I feel more isolated, I sense further anxiety and a growing frustration that comes with the unintentional 'brush off', and longing for that connection that I am used to receiving seems distant. At times, I feel helpless, not knowing what to do that my energy levels wear off. I cannot approach them or come into contact with them on a physical level; coupled with the fact that regular and daily duties have been minimised, means I have to think outside the box and come up with other ways to keep myself occupied, work-wise. The realisation with this is that I am thinking along the lines of what I am being forced to do and what I won't have access to: for me, I am forced to go to work, otherwise, I don't get paid, but I won't have access to certain things that would have been available, had it not been for the terrible impact of this pandemic. For some, whilst being at work can be a good distraction from being stuck at home, others like myself who are depressed or endure panic attacks, the fact that I can't hug or console my workmates or approach them, make it more of a burden. & with that, we deprive ourselves of the one thing that keeps us together, and that is interaction, but not any old interaction; rather good positive interaction. 

We are fortunate to live in this day and age whereby the internet and social networking and messaging, even video calling via Skype, Google Duo and Zoom, for instance, are available to us; thus, when it comes to active communication, we must take full advantage of these platforms and make the most out of them as and when we can and to get a hold of our loved ones and dearest. Social networking and social media have often been the brunt of criticism for many years, but during this time of worry, panic and fear and despite the (mis) information from all quarters, the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have the potential to help enable users to dispel the negative associations that have been banded around with social media, and thus forth, there is no better time than now to put aside those worries and fears. 

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