Dealing With Distancing
While Larimer County may have downgraded their stay-at-home protocol in response to flattening rates of COVID-19 cases, the importance of “social distancing” (or preferably – physical distancing) remains. For those that are not able to physical distance, even formerly mundane task like going to work may feel like a threatening venture. However, if life under COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that, regardless of our situation, everyone is facing their own unique obstacles and those who are able to practice physical distancing are no different. Distancing presents its own challenges like coping with stress and isolation, but while COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for the world, the effects of isolation are well documented.
Potential Effects of Isolation in the General Population
- Disruption of normal sleep-wake cycles, and eating habits
- Increased substance use
- Deficits in concentration
- Symptoms of depression and anxiety
Effects of Isolation for Individuals Experiencing Symptoms of Mental Illness
Everyone is affected by isolation in different ways, but people experiencing symptoms of mental illness can be especially impacted. It is not uncommon for the potential symptoms of isolation in the general public to become pronounced in populations with a mental illness. Access to social interaction is often seen as necessary for symptom reduction in many mental disorders.
Facing social isolation, individuals with depression are at risk for increased rates of suicidal ideation. Individuals with Substance Use Disorders may be at increased risk for returning to former habits when faced with the boredom or lack of socialization under lockdown. This population may be especially at risk for worsened health complications after contracting COVID-19, particularly for those using inhalants like tobacco, cannabis, or E-cigarettes. Some research has suggested that without regular cognitive exercises like conversation, isolation can be related to increased rates or acceleration of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s in elderly populations. Individuals with symptoms of Anxiety might feel overwhelmed and disconnected from their usual support networks. Isolation coupled with a fear for yourself or for loved ones during a pandemic can heighten existing symptoms of fear, restlessness, or a sense of loss of control.
Coping and strategies for Isolation and COVID related stress
- Unplug. Staying informed about the world and COVID-19 can help you protect yourself from getting sick, but constantly checking in on the situation can breed anxiety and a sense of powerlessness. Being informed should help you feel empowered to protect yourself, if you find that the news is becoming too frightening and overwhelming you might be overly fixated. Take time away from your device and focus on what you do have control over like general housework. Find what relaxes you if you feel like you are getting overly stressed or anxious go for a walk (but be mindful of others), play games, or relax with some recreational reading.
- Establish a routine. It may come as a relief to some to have all of this extra time on their hands but overindulging in some activities can impact mental and physical health down the line. Planning regular times for eating, exercising, sleeping can help keep us on track. If you are working or schooling remotely, it is also important to not only plan out time for productivity, but also to designate times for relaxation, entertainment, and creativity.
- And perhaps the simplest: Distance, don’t isolate. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to remain in touch with loved ones. If you are able, adopt video-chatting or making regular phone calls to friends and family into your daily routine.
To restate, life under COVID-19 has revealed to us what some have already known; that everyday people can have vastly different experiences that may appear non-stressful, unreal, inevitable, or even preferable from an outside perspective. Two people enduring the same hardship likely have distinct ways of processing it, which may seem foreign to the other. However, this might seem like a familiar struggle if you have experienced symptoms of mental illness. It can often feel like you have to have to work twice as hard to get over the same hurdle as your peers, and COVID-19 presents yet another obstacle. For some, experiencing extended isolation during the outbreak might provoke mental health complications for the first time, but if you lived with symptoms of mental illness you have the experience to work through hardship even with the added stress of your symptoms. Checking in with loved ones, whether they have experienced symptoms of mental illness or not, presents an opportunity for empowering them with your lived experience or communicating your own struggles and getting the help you need.
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