How to Survive Social Distancing
This may be a day late and a dollar short, but let’s take a few minutes to recognize what social distancing can do TO us as opposed to what it can do FOR us. It has certainly flattened the curve and has helped to truncate the spread of COVID-19. It’s also helped our healthcare system to rapidly develop and implement protocols for the protection of the community both now and as we prepare to live in a world where we have to co-exist with this virus.
There are scads of articles detailing the negative effects isolation has on health. Most have centered around the elderly because in our recent past, these were the groups most likely to be isolated because of disability, loss of a spouse, family moving away or loss of friends. Physiologically, isolation is a stressor that upticks the sympathetic nervous system also known as the ‘fright or flight’ response. It increases the stress hormone Cortisol, it alters our sleep-wake cycle, it increases the body’s inflammatory response, it increases resistance to insulin and increases blood pressure and therefore increases risk of cardiovascular disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I do not want to make this a doom and gloom article, Facebook can give you plenty of that.
We don’t need to focus on what isolation and social distancing can do TO us, rather we need to recognize what it can do to us AND actively fight against it. To fight any enemy seen or unseen, we first have to recognize it in order to combat it. Having identified this enemy, let’s talk about how to have victory over it.
A few small steps can reduce the feeling of isolation during this time and can help to eliminate the stressors or at least decrease them.
Set a schedule
It doesn’t have to be a rigid schedule broken into 15 minute segments. It can be a loose schedule, but any kind will provide structure. Structure will offer a sense of accomplishment when you adhere to it and can mark off items or tasks as they are accomplished.
There is no substitute for physical activity. It will increase blood flow, it will regulate blood pressure, it will release endorphins, it will give a sense of accomplishment, it will give you a positive outlook.
Make a list of goals
Being goal directed leads to success. A life without goals will be a life successfully wasted. Without goals you will never have a litmus test to hold yourself to that will inform you on areas where you have grown. When goals are set no matter how big or small they stand as reminders of things that you have both done and have yet to do.
We live in a world dominated by social media and commercial media. Social media can give a false sense of connection but as we see it is unfiltered content spewing forth from frustrated fingers and can create a further barrage on our psyche which will increase our stress. Ironic that the place we go to feel connected to people can isolate us even more as people type and share things they would never say in person. Commercial media is sensational and wants ratings and to sell airtime, they are not interested in your well-being. When you unplug you can read a book, this can unfetter your mind and allow you to stretch, imagine and grow. When you unplug you can go outside and feel the wind, see nature around you which will calm your spirit, you can get sun. All these actions will decrease the sympathetic response and truncate the adverse affects of isolation.
Connect with others
At this time we cannot and should not have physical contact with others, but this day in age we can Zoom call, Skype, FaceTime, meet up outdoors and maintain social distance while doing so. It will allow us to reduce the separation and the anxiety that comes with it.
The world is currently trying to figure out from a medical standpoint how to emerge from this social quarantine. I imagine many will try to resume normal activities and go on as though nothing has changed. The medical community is making preparations for a disease that will continue to have its effects until the world is immunized from a vaccine or until there is proof that immunity can be acquired and sustained. Expect the economy to start opening up again but I don’t think it is wise to expect all social distancing guidelines to be completely removed. Stay safe.
Kent Bowden DO, FACOS