social distancing

WEEKS ago, terms like “social distancing” and “self-isolation” were alien concepts, today they have become part of our reality. But that comes at a cost. While social distancing and self-isolation can help stem the tide of COVID-19, they will also have a significant effect on the general mental health of the entire population, said counselling psychologist Jean-Luc Borel.

“Routines have been interrupted and there is also a lot of anxiety concerning what is going to happen in the future. Right now things are so unpredictable, it’s difficult to plan and have an idea of what to do next. So, generally speaking, the virus has already had an effect on persons’ mental health; it is raising anxiety levels, it’s calling into question your mortality, it makes you wonder about your own family’s mortality, especially those who have compromising immune systems. It also makes us worry about our financial stability and job security,” said Borel.

Borel added that a culture such as ours that is often associated with liming and partying doesn’t go hand-in-hand with terms like “social distancing” and “self-isolation”. Restrictions that have been placed on movement and social gatherings are a major adjustment for persons whose families are closely knit, especially with Easter being around the corner.

This dramatic change in circumstances can result in fear, disappointment, loneliness and depression, said Borel.

“This virus has thrown a wrench in all our plans going forward. It’s a lot to deal with, but there are ways that we can manage this new reality we’re dealing with,” he said.

At this time the priority is on the physical well-being of our population. So it falls on each of us to monitor and take care of our mental health. Borel said we must find new ways to adapt to the current social environment. Today we have technology that allows us to socially interact with relatives and friends who are in different households and different countries around the world.

“We have that advantage and we need to utilise it as best as we can,” said Borel. “There are so many apps, so many websites, so many things we can use that we didn’t have years ago.”

Creating a daily routine is also an important coping mechanism during this period of social distancing, added Borel.

“A daily routine will put some sort of order or peace to your life. During this time you’re going to have difficulty feeling in control. Many people may feel they are spiralling out of control or that they can’t handle what’s going on in the world around them. When that happens, it’s important to latch on to the things we have control over: we have control over ourselves, over our self-care routines. We have control over hygienic practices such as washing our hands and not touching our face,” he said.

Borel also recommends being kind to ourselves. Even though we may have extra time on our hands, we may not feel as productive, creative and motivated as we would normally feel.

“Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to adjust,” said Borel. “If we have a daily routine and pencil things in, that will help us to do the things we have planned.”

Do you keep the news running 24/7? For the sake of your mental health, Borel suggests limiting how much news we listen to on our news feed and social media.

And for persons who are on medication, Borel emphasises the importance of sticking to a routine that includes taking medication as prescribed and eating well.

“I will also like to encourage persons to reach out to their company’s human resources department to find out if they are covered by an employee assistance programme. If they are, this is a great time to start doing some work on your mental health,” said Borel. “Most EAP firms like Elders, Families in Action and PEAPSL are doing online counselling, Zoom and Skype sessions. We can take advantage of the extra time we have on our hands to work on ourselves.”

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