Ask CU: Psychological Effects of Social Distancing with Dr. Jenny Mason

What are the effects of social distancing on our psyche?

For many, social distancing for extended periods of time, like what we’re all experiencing right now, can not only feel stressful, but it can also be damaging to our psyches. In fact, research shows that college-aged students (18 to 24-year olds) are at risk of experiencing the strongest negative response to social distancing. Young adults are likely feeling anxious, depressed, angry, bored, or scared during these weeks. Those that were highly sociable pre-COVID times may feel as though they are going through this event without support and completely alone.

What are some ways that we can prevent those things from happening?

We are all feeling many of the same things and there are ways to fight off the negative effects:

(1) Get most of your days scheduled. Pull out a planner or start putting things in your phone’s calendar. Give yourself things to look forward to and plan for, like video chatting with a friend, going for a hike in the park, walking your dog, or watching your favorite TV show. Put it in the calendar so your days are broken into manageable pieces. 

(2) Exercise in the mornings even if you aren’t active under normal circumstances. Starting your day with a simple 15-minute walk has shown to be nearly as effective as taking antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, and can start working to improve your mental health in less than a week! 

(3) Drink more water. I know this sounds silly, but water helps fight off illness, decreases stress and anger, increases brain function, and gives us greater amounts of energy. As much as coffee, coke and wine may sound good in stressful times, scientists and health-workers have known for many years that water is the key to staying healthy.

How can we practice self-care during this time?

Whatever you choose to do, take the time to care for yourself in small ways every day if possible. This can actually be a wonderful time to learn new things, practice new skills, and start new healthy habits. Start by making a list of things you would enjoy doing while under social distancing and schedule them into your daily plans. I like turning a movie-watching moment into an experience, where I make popcorn, turn down the lights, put my feet up, and pretend I’m back in the theatres. You can even take the temperature way down in the house and freeze your toes off just to make it more realistic! I also have two different days each week that are scheduled for video chatting with friends and family. We play games, watch movies together, or just talk about life. I look forward to these appointments and believe that while I am spending time with them, they are also caring for me.

What is the importance of self-care? 

Self-care is really important. It should feel purposeful and meaningful. Often, we think self-care is only about resting, but it is really about finding balance in life. If you have been working really hard, maybe it is time to rest for a few days. On the other hand, if you have spent much of this social distancing time so far sitting, sleeping, and resting, maybe it’s time to have a more active life in the name of balance. We know, deep down, when our choices are not helping us. Self-care is changing that to grow in peace and happiness. We all deserve that during this crazy time.

News / Blog / Ask CU: Psychological Effects of Social Distancing with Dr. Jenny Mason