Physical distancing not social distancing

Physical distancing measures and staying at home is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19. While it is important that we maintain our physical distance during these times, it is imperative for our emotional and mental wellbeing that we find ways to remain socially connected. Research has shown that remaining socially connected during stressful and traumatic periods can help reduce the incidence of poor mental health and help build emotional resilience.

Some people may be struggling more than others at the current time. Genetic, social and situational factors contribute to individual experiences of loneliness and distress. While some people may be enjoying social isolation, others may be finding it confronting and stressful. Many people will be unable to access services that are important for their wellbeing. People with pre-existing mental health issues are likely to be at increased risk during the current times.

When practising physical distancing, we do not have to disconnect from family, friends, colleagues, neighbours etc.  Intentionally engaging with your social network should be a key priority.

Tips for staying socially connected when practising physical distancing:

  • Feeling connected is about the quality and emotional reciprocity of your interactions, not physical proximity.
  • Be intentional and schedule time to connect.
  • Make use of technology – phone, text, messaging, video-conferencing software, email etc.
  • Practice self-compassion and perspective taking. Remind yourself that the current situation is temporary. You will be able to catch up in person with friends, family and work colleagues again.
  • Have a ‘buddy’ that you regularly check in with. This should be someone who you are able to be honest with about how you are coping.
  • Schedule a virtual coffee with friends or work colleagues. If you usually have coffee with colleagues in the morning, replicate this online using video-conferencing technology.
  • If previously you connected with others when going to the gym, consider participating in an online workout class.
  • Safely exercise outside when possible. The Black Dog Institute has conducted research showing that even an hour of exercise a week can have significant benefits on your mental health.
  • Get professional support when you need it. If you’ve been struggling for more than two weeks, it’s worth getting professional help. Consider speaking with your GP, seeing a psychologist or accessing online resources. See more information on how to access mental health support here.

Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Coordinator.

First published Wednesday 29 April 2020