One of the likely permanent outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic is that we will live in a new world of ‘social distancing’.
While strict isolation has been a key factor in preventing the spread of coronavirus, social distancing is going to require millions of people to stay at home more often. It also means we will have to observe strict rules when we are out in the world.
While social isolation preserves our physical health, experts have warned of the impact of social distancing on the nation’s mental health.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness , approximately nine million people in the UK say that they often feel lonely. In a separate study undertaken by the British Red Cross in 2017, almost a fifth of people said that they don’t have friends that they can turn to in times of need.
So, as we enter a ‘new normal’ of social distancing, here are some simple steps you can take to preserve your mental health.
Social distancing has been a key part of tackling the coronavirus pandemic because the virus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets - packed with the virus - into the air.
Once in the air you can breathe in these droplets. Or, they can cause infection if you touch a surface they have landed on and then touch your face with unwashed hands.
Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce the interaction you have with other people. By restricting the contact that you have with others, this will help reduce the transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19).
Social distancing measures include:
It’s OK not to feel OK
These are challenging times. You may be trying to balance working from home, looking after your children, and keeping yourself and your family safe from a serious global pandemic.
You are going to experience a mixed range of emotions. Sometimes they may surprise you and you may feel that you are not acting like yourself. Remember that these emotions won’t last forever, and that you are just having a difficult day. Feelings will come and go in difficult times, and it is perfectly OK if you don’t always feel on top of the world.
It can be difficult to talk about your mental health, but do try and speak to a family member, friend of support service if you are struggling.
If you’re worried about someone else’s mental health, talk to them. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to talk about how someone else is feeling – indeed it’s often little things like asking someone how they are which help the most.
Keep in touch with friends and family
If you’re not able to meet friends and family, try and keep in touch with them as much as you can through video conferencing, phone calls or social media.
We are fortunate that we live in a time when we can connect with other people across the world easily and cheaply. So, during difficult times, maintain contact with friends and family if you can.
Human beings are social creatures and our technology can help maintain interaction until things return to normality.
Even if you have no problem being on your own and you enjoy your own company, do you know somebody who may be particularly vulnerable at this time? Now is a good time to check in with them. Don’t underestimate the positive impact that getting in touch can have on others.
Be productive and make sure you’re doing what is right for you
Our normal daily routines have changed dramatically in recent months, and so it’s important for your mental health that you create new structures.
Trying to make time to exercise (see below), chat to friends, cook, or even catch up on the latest TV series can help create a new routine. If you can, stick to a set schedule for mealtimes and bedtime, and plan activities and set goals. These can help keep you motivated and stop you feeling down.
Now is also a great time to focus on that task in the house that you’ve been putting off. It may also be a great time to learn something new. Pick up a book, write your to-do list, get creative and see what else you can come up with. It’s important to maintain a structure to your day.
Turn off the news
During a challenging time, it’s important to keep up to date with current events. However, in a world with 24-hour rolling news, it is easy to find yourself becoming anxious if you spend a lot of time glued to the news or social media.
Keep updated but try and take a step back from the news from time to time. Doing another activity will give you a reprieve from the negative stories and reduce your anxiety levels.
If you do want to keep abreast of the news, make sure you are using trusted and reputable resources, such as the World Health Organisation or NHS.
One of the permitted reasons to leave your home is to take exercise, so it’s important you take advantage of this.
Exercise benefits your mental and physical health, but also improves your overall mood. It can also provide a boost to your self-confidence and self-esteem.
Going for a walk, a run or a cycle ride in a non-crowded space gives you vital exercise as well as fresh air and exposure to sunlight. If you’re used to going to the gym, there are plenty of home workouts available with many coaches running classes on YouTube or other social media.
Don’t take social distancing personally
In recent weeks, you may have seen someone cross the road to avoid you when you have been out of the house. While the rational part of your brain may understand the need to socially distance at all times, the more emotional part of you might feel hurt when a person avoids eye contact and crosses the road to avoid you.
The casual interactions of the pre-coronavirus days – chats in the supermarket queue, a cup of tea with a neighbour, lunch out with friends – have all stopped suddenly.
Remember that socially distancing is not about you personally – it is about keeping everyone safe.
Practice mindfulness and relaxed breathing
Mindfulness is about becoming more aware of what is going on in the present. It aims to help you to stop thinking about worries and concerns – may of which may have not yet come to pass – and to manage your emotions and feelings.
Mindfulness can be an excellent way to look after your mental health, and the good news is that you can practise it throughout your day. Indeed, you can build it into your new daily routine.
There are lots of apps such as Calm and Headspace which can help you learn mindfulness and take you through some guided meditations.
Breathing exercises can help you to relax and to reduce feelings of anxiety. You could also consider small meditation sessions, where you focus on your breathing, yourself and the here and now, rather than worrying about deadlines, projects or other things going on in your life.
In recent months you may have had time to consider your own life and what is important to you. Tragic stories of people who have lost their lives to coronavirus may have led you to think about your own family, and what would happen to them if you were to pass away.
Life insurance can provide you with the peace of mind that your dependents are financially supported when you’re no longer around. If you have time on your hands now, it’s the perfect opportunity to compare life insurance quotes and to arrange the cover that you need.