Mental health tips during social distancing

Last Updated May 2020
By Sian Babish

We’re social creatures by nature. It’s natural to miss small things like meeting with friends for coffee or heading to a party at a moment’s notice. With social distancing in place due to coronavirus, you might feel your social muscles are flexing outside your comfort zone. While it’s easy to connect and check in with friends and family through technology, it’s equally important to conduct a personal inventory right now.

Even though you’re in physical isolation, you don’t have to feel emotionally isolated. In challenging times like these, making small changes to your daily routine can boost your mood and help you get through the day. It’s never been more important to prioritize your emotional well-being, so our team put together this roundup of mental health tips during social distancing.

Chat with loved ones

It’s not unusual to feel down about social distancing, especially when you miss spending time with friends and family. Believe it or not, the joy you feel from social connection actually occurs on the neurochemical level. Seeing and hearing those dear to you can cause your brain to release dopamine, which explains the boost in mood you feel after visiting loved ones.

Virtually staying in touch with those close to you has never been easier. Enjoy a little social stimulation by seeing your favorite people: hop on Zoom for happy hour, Facetime your relatives, or send daily affirmation texts to let loved ones know you’re thinking of them. You can also send handwritten cards or letters.

Seek support

It’s normal to experience feelings that are unfamiliar to you at this time, including loneliness or extreme frustration. You’re not alone, but sometimes, you’d prefer to speak to someone outside your inner circle. Talk to your doctor about changes in your mood, especially since it can affect your physical health — and now, more than ever, it’s important to stay well. 

It’s worth considering a telemedicine therapy session, too. Online counseling websites, like BetterHelp or TalkSpace, are staffed with licensed professional counselors (LPCs). Their goals are to open a dialogue and help you get things off your chest, plus teach you how to develop positive coping skills.

Turn electronics off

Between increased social media use and a rapidly-changing news cycle, you’re drawn to electronics more often than usual. In fact, over-engagement is over-stimulating and can affect mental as well as physical health. Smartphones, tablets, and TVs emit blue light, which boosts cognitive function and can make it harder to unwind or fall asleep. 

It can be overwhelming, which is why it’s a good idea to disconnect and decompress at least once a day. Give yourself time to relax by meditating, taking a bath, or practicing yoga. You can also designate electronics-free zones in your home, such as the dinner table, as another way to reduce device use.

Get outside

Feelings of boredom and under-stimulation can result in a serious case of cabin fever. Spending more time indoors means less exposure to sunshine and may cause a major drop in your mood. Sunlight actually induces the release of a hormone called serotonin, which is responsible for boosting moods and improving focus — and less of it can make you feel down.  

To counter the glumness you’re experiencing, make it a priority to head outdoors. Every day, spend 10 and 30 minutes outside for your daily dose of sunshine if you can. Take a stroll around the block, catch up on gardening, or spend time playing fetch with Fido in your yard. Given the warmer temperatures, you can also wash your car — and cross it off your spring cleaning list.

Stay active

If you’re a regular gym-goer, you probably feel out of sorts not hitting the machines or your favorite group fitness classes. Your body may be missing out on much-needed stress relief from exercise. Adrenaline rushes felt during spin class or weight training are instrumental in helping you unwind, not to mention heightening alertness and mental clarity. 

Pivot and find new ways to embrace home exercise. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for staying on track with fitness goals, and you’ll tire yourself adequately to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. Join fitness classes through Zoom, YouTube, Glofox, or IGTV. Round out your new routine by hitting the app store and downloading 30-day challenges for abs, glutes, or planking.

Keep your mind active, too

Being home from college or work can mean more downtime — more than you’d like, that is. The decrease in thinking and concentration tasks can make you feel complacent, stuck, or even fatigued. That’s why diving into focus-oriented activities is crucial, as mental engagement keeps your brain healthy by stimulating connections between brain cells.

Push through the fog and keep your mind active by nurturing your natural inclination for learning. Take on new activities that challenge you, especially ones that require a bit of planning, strategy, or on-the-fly thinking. You can enthrall yourself with brain-teasers like crosswords or take advantage of free online courses like Yale’s The Science of Well Being on Coursera.

Do what brings you joy

Life in quarantine can be emotionally draining, especially since it’s harder to find happiness in isolation. When favorite pastimes and activities bring you less joy than they normally do, it’s a key indicator that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression. This can also trigger sleeplessness, restlessness, or even affect decision-making.

Mental health impacts your physical health, which is why it’s important to reconcile your mind-body dynamic. Revisit old hobbies that are both physically and mentally stimulating to keep yourself engaged in a positive way. Now is the time to boost cooking skills, master a craft, or level up your fitness. These offer tangible benefits and a genuine mind-body boost, as you’re able to refocus and persevere by finding new joy in everyday life.