How Social Distancing May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

How Social Distancing May Be Affecting Your Mental Health

( – The pandemic has created an air of uncertainty all across the globe, leaving many people feeling lost and scared. With everything that’s changed in this last year, past the piles of masks and the social divide, another pandemic has quietly hit: mass isolation.

It might not cause fevers or put people on ventilators, but it has left some people barely functioning. In some cases, it’s even led to suicide. Here are the details.

Effects of Physical Distance

The CDC recently released a report on the effects of social distancing on mental health, and their findings aren’t good. At the end of June of 2020, about 40% of all adults in the United States struggled with mental health issues, new substance abuse or both. A startling 11% of the population had contemplated suicide. These trends reflect a wide range of concerns, from personal health and safety to the uncertainty over the future, but increased isolation is a huge factor.

Researchers from the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland took a deeper look at the impacts. They found that people who live alone, or even feel alone, are far more susceptible to suicidal ideation during uncertain or extremely stressful times. COVID-19 has pulled people from their normal work schedules, derailed sports and social events and altered our dynamics while out in public. We avoid one another in the grocery store aisles. Good friends hardly see one another in person, if at all. If ever there were a time to feel alone, it would be now.

Social distancing takes more from us than our social lives; it also takes away the element of direct physical contact. Psychology Today explains that humans are hardwired to touch and hold one another. We offer friends and family members hugs for comfort, and when a heartfelt embrace comes from just the right person, it can feel amazing. Many of us had no idea how important that contact was until we found it missing in our lives.

Staying Connected

One way to connect, while maintaining social distancing, is to establish a social bubble. Canada’s Ontario Ministry of Health recommends these groups be no larger than 10 people, but members are free to interact normally with one another. The idea isn’t a failsafe, but it makes a lot of sense: Agree to stay distanced from all people outside the bubble so members are safer to hug, hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Members must agree to restrict themselves to that one group as not to compromise any of the others.

Pets can also help fill that interactive void. According to the National Institutes of Health, there’s a lot of power in the relationships between animals and their people. A good hug from the family dog or cat could be just what the doctor ordered to take the edge off and improve coping. CDC officials warn that some pets may be at risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, so owners should take measures to distance themselves if they happen to fall ill.

In quarantine and unable to hug anyone? As silly as it might sound, hugging a stuffed animal might offer some emotional release. Some researchers have even looked into the benefits of interactive, huggable plush toys. One prototype is the SnuggleBot, which responds to hugs with a wagging tail and “needs” a certain amount of attention each day to stay “content.” It might not be the same as hugging a person or a pet, but it might be the next best option to help get people through.

Social distancing has changed a lot about our social dynamics, but there are ways to cope. If all else fails, there’s always someone to talk to. Samaritans are available 24/7 to offer support, or just be an ear for people who need to vent, and they’re always free. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also always open to help people in crisis via phone, at 1-800-273-8255, or through website chat. Loneliness is a powerful force, but amidst all the distancing and isolation, it’s important we remember that we’re still all in this together.

~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!

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