Updated: Mar 29, 2020
//by Jenna Cook, MEd, LPCi// In a world that already puts so many barriers between us and our fellow human beings, the critical, yet disheartening necessity of social distancing is scary.
As mental health professionals, our job entails connecting with people, connecting people to each other, connecting people to resources and solutions, and combating the depression and anxiety that comes along with the missing or faulty connections between all these things. In short, our job is all about connection.
As humans, we are programmed for connection. We survive and succeed in, and only in, connection with our tribe of fellow humans. We are a social species that relies on the strengths of others, especially in times of our own weakness. We all have different strengths and gifts and resources and ideas to bring to the table for the good of the group.
Know That You Are Not Alone
Now, as chunks of our group are struggling physically, and the rest of us are struggling logistically and emotionally, we must figure out how to truly connect and make it count, as our physical presence with others is rightfully restricted.
With the development of technology and new ways of communicating, one might think that we’d feel more connected and “a part of” our world than ever. Yet, social media tends to be a counterfeit connection. Instead of creating a communal sense of “we’re all in this together” it can cast blame, spread hype, diminish significant things, and catastrophize trivial things.
Even with users’ best intentions, wires get crossed, data gets dropped, and the connection fails, leaving users feeling anxious, depressed, offended, or excluded. When we seek out in social media the same things we get from in-person interaction, we are left wanting more, even to the point of addiction.
While a great deal of research and information exists about the effects of social media on our society (some of which we have included below—thankfully we all have some extra time to read up), it is certain that technology has made it possible for us to remain in touch with others, even across borders, oceans, and CDC proximity guidelines.
Due to the implementation of social distancing and self-quarantine, maintaining clear, honest, open, authentic, connection in the ways available to us is critical. With all of the added downtime, our inclination might be to spend more time on the internet or social media.
With a healthy mindset and in moderation, it is possible to use social media and technology to connect us during this chaotic time. Instead of utilizing it as a means of consuming or producing news, consider using it to check in on the people you care about. Use it to share ideas and your own experiences with methods of staying active, creative, and healthy. Use it to find and share joy and happy distractions. Use it to point people to resources you know about in your community.
Check in with yourself next time you log in. Are you starting to post or scroll because you’re feeling bored, scared, lonely, or heated? Consider returning when you’re feeling inspired, grateful, helpful, or happy.
If you or someone you know feels alone or anxious during this time, here are a few things to try:
Do Your Part and Feel Proud of Yourself for it.
Find your role to fill during this time. As mentioned above, we all have something important to bring to the table. Send words of encouragement to a friend. Check on your coworkers. Donate to a cause that resonates with you. Help your household spend some fun time together.
Stay home and feel proud that you’re helping combat the spread of COVID-19. Take your role seriously and feel good about it.
Take a Break from Social Media.
While of course it’s easier than ever to communicate with other humans, social media often drives invisible wedges between us. Instead of emulating authentic human interaction that helps us feel like we matter and belong, it sometimes works to isolate us even more when messages of fear, blame, hype, panic, “should”s and “should not”s are flung around recklessly.
Take a break and decide what’s best for you and your loved ones using your own reasoning, information, and intuition.
Take a Breather from News Sites and the Internet
Making sure you have the latest news from reputable sources is normal and natural when we are practicing informed decision-making. However, clicking the refresh button repeatedly and waiting impatiently for the next big story to break is an indicator of anxiety and our desire to feel in control in an out-of-control situation.
Take a break from the internet to do something fun, productive, relaxing, or communal with your household. The news story will still be there when you log on later.
Do Something Physical
Doing something active helps divert our energy into something that helps us feel good about ourselves. Take a walk outside or do an at-home workout video from YouTube. Even if you simply take a few diaphragmatic breaths (https://youtu.be/Vca6DyFqt4c), you will be activating your body’s parasympathetic nervous system which works to calm you.
Talk to Someone You Know
Have an in-person conversation with someone in your household about how you’re feeling. Share in some of your thoughts and worries together. Create a plan of action of what you will do to stay healthy. Also try talking about things not relating to current events. Have a fun, funny, or interesting conversation that helps you feel connected. If you’re struggling to think of topics, try some conversation starters like these Table Topics (https://www.amazon.com/TableTopics-Original-Anniversary-Questions-Conversations/dp/B00GNI0DNM/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=table+topics&qid=1584455085&sr=8-5)
Talk with a Mental Health Professional.
Feeling anxious or worried during this time is natural and normal. However, if your anxious thoughts and worries are affecting your daily life, relationships, work, or responsibilities, talking to a clinician can help you better understand your struggles and how to work through them.
A professional such as a psychologist, counselor, or marriage and family therapist can work with you to help you feel connected to yourself and others and problem-solve with you to restore a sense of calm and control. Luckily many counseling practices like ours have taken steps to provide fully remote counseling options through secure video platforms.
Our team here at The Conative Group comes from diverse backgrounds and is highly trained in areas such as anxiety, depression, relationships and communication, parenting, learning differences, and ADHD. Our team of therapists, as well as the field of mental health as a whole, is committed to ensuring that folks stay not only physically healthy during this time, but mentally, relationally, and emotionally well.
For more info about staying physically, relationally, emotionally healthy amidst COVID-19, social media usage, and social distancing, please check out:
- Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020
- Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Advice for the Public World Health Organization, 2020
Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., 2018
Lisa Damour, Ph.D., 201