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Social Distancing and Mental Health

Once, I took an online quiz (like this one) that told me how introverted/extroverted I am. My results were "you are more of a public introvert and private extrovert," which simply means that I'm more extroverted around people I know. This seems obvious and normal, but I digress. Despite a seemingly equal balance of introversion/extroversion, I'm not used to quite so much "social distancing." We're all experiencing distancing right now, which makes it a bit easier, but humans are not meant to exist in such aggressive isolation.

My brain especially doesn't like the new, socially distanced world we're all living in. One way I manage my eating disorder is to stay busy and active. I turn my mental focus outward into work, social gatherings, training, writing, etc, so that I don't just sit and stew in my own mental disorder. But now, I'm alone a lot more, by necessity. I'm home 98% of the time, also by necessity. And the widespread fear and confusion that is swirling around the globe isn't helping. The other day, I just stared at my computer for a solid 30 minutes. Not because I had nothing to write, but because I was overwhelmed. I'm not afraid of the coronavirus per se, but I am afraid of the toll prolonged social distancing will have on my mental health.

I called one of my therapists and her advice was simple: *try* to let it all go. My eating disorder dislikes feeling out of control. When big, disruptive life shit happens, my eating disorder wakes up. It happened after a bad breakup, after moving across the country, and after hopping jobs. Shoot, sometimes it doesn't take a major life event to wake up. Sometimes the stress of normal life is enough. So when my therapist told me to *let go* of my need to control something, I laughed. If I knew how to do let go, I would have done so long ago. But letting go wasn't the only advice she had for me, "It sounds like you're resisting your circumstance," she said, "which is causing you undue anxiety. Let's try to accept your circumstances and learn some ways to cope with them. The more you fight this, the worst it's going to get."

"The more you fight this, the worse it's going to get."

So we talked through some ways to stop fighting the circumstance, and I thought I'd share them. I know I'm not the only one feeling this way.

1. Talk to Someone

I've been calling my friends and family a lot, face timing, texting, and generally finding connection any way I can. There is no clear indication of when this pandemic will end, and everyone I've talked to has felt some degree of discomfort or distress. Talking to people helps us all feel less alone and isolated by all of this.

2. Take Some Deep Breaths or Do Some Yoga

Since my yoga studio shut down, I've been hitting up some YouTube yoga teachers. My two favorites are Yoga with Adriene and Ali Kamenova Yoga. They both have hundreds of videos to choose from, from as short as 10 minutes to as long as 90 minutes. Finally, my therapist recommended the Headspace meditation app, which I was also able to access and download for free through my employer (the app is normally $12.99/month after the introductory offers expire).

3. Avoid Negative Social Media

Excessive use of social media has never been considered healthy, but it can be especially damning in times like this. Singapore's government has used social media to provide citizens with regular updates and information, which has reduced fear and panic. Here in the U.S., fear, panic, and misinformation abound online, making it difficult to suss out truth from fiction. Use social media to your advantage. Connect with friends (or strangers!), share encouragement, and generally don't be a dick.

4. Sleep Enough

This is important. Sleep has a host of positive benefits and almost no negatives. For instance, sleep: improves memory, helps regulate weight, reduces inflammation, decreases depression, may prevent cancer, and reduces stress. When working from home, it can be easy to get out of a routine. I'm sticking to my normal wake-up times (between 5:30-6:30 a.m.) and going-to-bed times (10:30 p.m.-11 p.m.). Sticking to a simple routine helps.

5. Eat Nourishing Foods

This probably goes without saying, but you are what you eat and if you eat like shit you'll feel like shit. For a few days, I was too stressed and anxious to eat...anything. I fell right back into my disordered habit of restricting, which (no surprise here), my therapist pointed out as problematic. You may not always WANT to eat, but you should anyway. I've simply been trying to eat more fruits/vegetables and less highly processed foods because I know that will make me feel better. Peep my very-boring lunch below.

6. Focus on What You CAN Control

...and let go of everything else. This is by far the most difficult and pragmatic tip. I can't change the social distancing, nor am I capable of ending this pandemic. What I can do, and what I'm striving to do, is to focus on the things within my control, which include but are not limited to: working (remotely of course), keeping in touch with friends, running/exercising, eating, sleeping, and being as creative as I can with the extra time I have.

P. S. Read some tips from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) on managing stress and anxiety HERE. Read up on the latest COVID-19 info from the Centers for Disease Control HERE or from the World Health Organization HERE.


Sarah Rose

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