Amy Gurka, Ph.D. Talks About… Staying Emotionally Healthy During Social Distancing

By: Amy Gurka, Ph.D.

It’s no surprise that all of us are being affected on many levels by the new requirement to practice social distancing. However, spending days or weeks at home with limited resources, stimulation and social contact can take a toll on mental health. The American Psychological Association (APA) has compiled considerable information on the effects of social distancing, quarantine, and isolation. Here is a summary of their information on what to expect during periods of reduced social contact as well as recommendations on how you can cope. Credit is given to the APA for this information through their blog post, Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe.


What to Expect

You will experience a significant change in your routine and activities for at least two weeks, if not longer. The stress during this period comes from a drop in meaningful activities, sensory stimuli and social engagement; financial strain from being unable to work; and a lack of access to typical coping strategies such as going to the gym or attending religious services.

During a period of social distancing, quarantine or isolation, you may experience:

  • Fear and anxiety about your health, the health of your loved ones, the availability of resources and personal supplies, and job-related or financial concerns
  • Depression and boredom
  • Anger, frustration or irritability
  • Stigmatization due to fear if you are sick or exposed to COVID-19


How to Cope

Fortunately, there are ways to manage these difficult conditions. Here are some ways you can stay emotionally healthy.

  • Develop a coping plan for yourself and your family
  • Limit news consumption to reliable sources, i.e. CDC, WHO
  • Set boundaries around how much time you spend on social media and watching the news
  • Create and follow a daily routine
  • Stay virtually connected with others through phone calls, texting, video chat, and social media
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits

Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise; 

Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to cope

Seek out virtual mental health services if needed

  • Use emotional coping tools to manage stress and stay positive

Examine your worries

Avoid catastrophizing

Focus on what you can control and accept what cannot be controlled

Journal your feelings

Practice meditation or relaxation

  • Try to see how social distancing is helping others


What Happens Next

Following a period of quarantine or isolation, you may feel mixed emotions, including relief and gratitude, frustration or anger towards people who worry you may infect them with the virus, or even feelings of personal growth and increased spirituality. It’s also normal to feel anxious, but if you experience symptoms of extreme stress, such as ongoing trouble sleeping, inability to carry out daily routines, or an increase in alcohol or drug use, seek help from a mental health provider.