Social distancing is needed to limit infection, but it can erode our mental health. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), we now have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Recent research shows that more than three in five working American’s feel lonely and report it affecting their mental health. This doesn’t even consider those out of work due to coronavirus (COVID-19). The Health Resources and Service Administration noted that loneliness can contribute to depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cause chronic inflammation by activating our fight-or-flight response. This response also reduces about body’s immune system and virus defending capabilities. One study by the Health Resources and Services Administration cautioned that loneliness can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
This is not surprising considering the multitude of mental and physical aspects connecting social contact to our health. For example, a 20 second hug helps our body produce oxytocin, a chemical proven to boost mood and speed healing. For centuries humans have lived in groups and been conditioned to almost need socialization to maintain mental stability. In fact, military special-forces and astronauts go through special training just so they can combat intermittent loneliness caused by isolation on missions. Without such training, when you are isolated you may experience the same challenges of a person in solitary confinement- the feeling that you have to psychologically endure wherever your mind wanders without anyone else or many options for reflection. Social distancing takes these negative feelings a step further.
The news conditions us to be suspicious of others, alert, and anxious. Due to media reports we are almost always watching for potential sources of infection. Additionally, the activities and interventions needed to stave off these negative mental health impacts, such as exercising or crossword puzzles, requires significant mental energy or motivation, both of which can be drained by social isolation, especially for people who thrive on the energy of others and social events. Changes in the status quo typically puts most people at risk of depression. Yet, even in this era of limited face-to-face meetups, mistrust, and change there are interventions to help us stay sane, calm, and mentally healthy. We suggest the activities to help stay mentally healthy:
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