Social distancing and mental health

So the world is going through a pandemic and people are worried, anxious, panicking, or burying their heads in the sand. In the UK we have passed the containment phase and moved into the delay phase. Currently the UK is approximately 2 weeks behind Italy and it seems like we can either follow through with social distancing and become more like South Korea, or not and be, well, not like South Korea [1, 2]. 

South Korea and what its doing: 

 

Messages from Italians to their past selves 10 days before: 

What is happening

People in the UK have been visiting the highlands, seaside towns, coastal places, and second homes [3, 4, 5], believing this is a perfect time for a holiday and flouting advice on staying home and social distancing whilst others are dying alone. Ironically, it is the elderly who move and retire to these seaside towns and coastal areas [6, 7, 8], so it wouldn’t be surprising if these people are escaping the cities to only bring the COVID-19 virus to the countryside and spread it to those most at risk. It also doesn’t help that the countryside, these rural and coastal places, have challenges regarding health services [9]. 

Why this is happening

I don’t know the definitive reason why some people in the UK are not following government advice on social distancing, but some people have a few potential reasons [10, 11]: 

Ignorance: some people haven’t been keeping informed with the news, either because they do not wish to be triggered and read anything upsetting, or for other reasons. For instance, some places may remain open against government advice because they wish for customers to continue spending money in their establishments. 

Selfishness: some people feel that they are young, fit, and healthy, and are therefore quite likely to survive; without sparing a thought for those they come into contact with who may have unseen underlying health conditions that may develop complications if they contract the virus. 

Too remote: some people do not know anyone who is elderly or anyone with underlying health conditions, and therefore believe they are not in contact with anyone who is at risk. Yet your neighbour could seem young and sprightly but could also have an underlying health condition you are not aware of. 

Disbelief of the butterfly effect: some people do not think that staying at home will have any effect, that a 5 or 10 minute walk each day will be fine, and don’t believe that one less person staying home will do anything to help the greater cause. But multiply that one thought into thousands of minds and thousands of bodies, and all these people are walking about. 

What can be done

Asia has learnt its lessons from past pandemics and from the culture built from social respect and responsibilities, whilst we have a more individualistic culture that has not gone through a pandemic like this in a century and haven’t had to commit to this level of social commitment and responsibilities since WW2. Studies have been done on the effects of social distancing [12, 13, 14, 15] and most of these studies suggested that social distancing and isolation would reduce transmission, including reducing the epidemic size, and delaying the epidemic peak. Any reduction in transmission would mean less strain on the NHS, which is already overstretched.

Let us do the responsible thing: practise social distancing and stay at home except for groceries and medicine runs for the bare minimum. If you can, work from home; if you can’t, then travel to and from work only. If it is not safe to stay at home, for whatever reason, please seek help: 

Social distancing would lead to fewer transmissions, which would lead to less strain on the NHS. Whilst if things continue as they are, the NHS would not be able to cope with the new intake of COVID-19 cases, and those already in hospitals with chronic illnesses and dangerous illnesses can’t get the care they need. In Italy there is already a system in place to determine cases who will benefit from critical care and those who will not due to lack of beds, equipment, and people [16]. The UK may well have something similar. 

The less responsible people are, the longer this will go on for. Social distancing and staying at home is not necessarily for you. It is for the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, with autoimmune issues. It is for the NHS and those already requiring care in the hospitals. Staying at home may affect your mental health, it may not; not staying at home will affect the physical health of others and it will affect the NHS. If you have continued reading this far, it means you at least care or are intrigued. Continue reading for some tips on how to cope with your mental health when at home: 

 

What you can do for others:

Social distancing

See above “What can be done”.

Purchasing only what you need

I admit, we are running out of toilet roll. Jokes aside, it is disheartening hearing that those on the front line are not getting the food and supplies they need to enable them to help treat and care for our loved ones. How can key workers continue the good job they are doing if they cannot even eat. Supermarkets are doing a wonderful job bringing out priority shopping for NHS and social care workers as well as elderly and disabled customers. Some supermarkets are even prioritising online delivery and click-and-collect services for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. 

Volunteering

There are community support groups all over the UK now, determined to help those who need it. Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK, is the umbrella organisation co-ordinating these groups, and if you Google your local area or local authority there is bound to be one near you. 

Donating

If you can, donating to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund would be very helpful. The money goes towards understanding the virus, ensuring patients and frontline workers get the supplies they need, and of course helps towards producing a vaccine. We have already donated and are planning to continue doing so each month, as we are luckily in a position where we can work from home and continue being paid. 

 

What you can do for yourself: 

  • keeping informed; 
  • something for the body;  
  • something for the mind; and
  • something for the soul.

Keeping informed

There is a lot of fake news out there and even some snake oils being pedalled. Keeping informed is good so you know what is going on, but ensure it is from a trusted source: 

I’ve also been looking at this website that is updated regularly using local government sources, which shows the status of the virus spread. 

Something for the body

Gyms have now closed (or should have), but that means there are more creative ways to stay active and to look after ourselves physically: 

  • exercising via Youtube videos eg Joe Wick’s 9am PE workouts for kids starts tomorrow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6r99N3kXME
  • exercising via gaming (we recently bought the Just Dance game so we’ve been dancing most mornings);
  • any form of movement: DIY, gardening, dancing, yoga, pilates, HIIT (there is a wealth of videos and workouts online)
  • pampering: bathing, home facials/ face masks, home manicures, hair masks etc;
  • pets: play with them, stroke them, brush them, clean out their cages, cuddle them; 
  • get some sunshine: if you have a garden or balcony, what a great time to use it, weather permitting, or sit by the window and bask in the sunlight; 
  • eat well;
  • sleep well. 

Something for the mind

This can be anything to keep you occupied or distracted, or it could be something that you’ve been meaning to do for ages but just never had the time:

  • learn to play an instrument (I’ll be dusting the cobwebs off my ukulele);
  • learn another language (a great opportunity to teach my husband and re-teach myself Cantonese);
  • learn a creative hobby: painting, drawing, calligraphy, sewing (I can finally re-purpose/ upcycle the clothes that still brought me joy that I never actually wear);
  • listening to podcasts or audio books, singing, reading, writing (get on with that book you’ve been trying to write all these years); 
  • playing games: board games, video games, online/ mobile games, puzzles, jigsaws; 
  • trying out new cooking or baking recipes, experiment with food or try growing your own if you can; 
  • watching a documentary on the many streaming services online. 

Something for the soul

This is just general self care.

Stick to a routine: especially if you are working from home, it will make deciphering between weekdays and weekends much easier. Get washed and dressed and get out of those PJs into something bright and colourful, yes, wear-apy is a thing. Trying to keep the same working hours and same sleeping patterns will help put some structure into your days. If you live with others then perhaps agree a routine that works for everyone, especially if there are shared spaces in the property. 

Avoid anything that is triggering: you don’t have to read everything that is being shared on social media or forwarded to you by friends/ family. There is a great potential for misinformation so one can unfollow anything that could be potentially upsetting. If you feel anxious, be assured that this is normal and that anxiety can be helpful in moving one to become informed and develop a plan, but after that it becomes self destructive: “the character of our thoughts are shaped by the texture of the information we consume. Finding peace in a chaotic time is about using information to act as a guidepost for navigating that chaos, but setting it aside once it has served that purpose” [17]. 

Stay connected: talk to someone you trust, someone who doesn’t judge you. Humans are social creatures, so it is natural for us to seek conversation with others in this trying time, and with technology it is much easier these days to stay in touch with loved ones. If you think you may run out of things to talk about, plan to watch a film or read a book and then discuss it when you next contact each other. 

Avoid feeling lonely: if you live alone and the place is a little too quiet, consider listening to music, a podcast, or a chatty radio station to cover up the silence. If you can, consider putting up some pictures of friends and family to remind you of the people in your life. 

Marie Kondo: essentially an epic spring clean, keep objects that bring you joy and get rid of or donate objects that no longer bring you joy or serve a purpose. This can also be digitally done: getting rid of any apps or software on your phones or laptops. 

Practice mindfulness: this can be via meditation, having a journal or diary, practising gratitude and mindfulness – trying to be at peace with your current situation. Take each day at a time and have value in just existing. 

 

Conclusion

I hope that this has been informative and not too passive aggressive. I am also trying to make sense of the new world we live in at the moment, and perhaps the only way I can feel some control is to write and blog and speak my voice, just like how some people feel the need to purchase 2 years’ supply of toilet roll as their way of feeling in control of their lives. Horses for courses, I suppose. 

If you need more support, it can be found in many places, such as:

If you’d like to show support for the NHS: 

We are in this together and we can do this. I’m reminded of the serenity prayer, of which I’ve only recently heard of, but it has helped me in this trying time: “Grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, the courage to change that which I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. Keep safe, people, stay home; and remember: this too shall pass. 

 

 

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-uk-2-weeks-britain-italy-slow-outbreak-pandemic-2020-3?r=US&IR=T
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/20/south-korea-rapid-intrusive-measures-covid-19
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-51990534
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-51988877
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-51990604
  6. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/august2019 
  7. https://www.ippr.org/files/images/media/files/publication/2013/06/moving-on-older-people_June2013_10898.pdf 
  8. https://www.citymetric.com/horizons/england-and-wales-cities-oldest-populations-are-all-seaside-1497
  9. https://publichealthengland.exposure.co/health-inequalities-in-rural-and-coastal-areas
  10. https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/608305/ 
  11. https://thehill.com/changing-america/opinion/488654-why-so-many-people-are-still-going-out-and-congregating-in-groups 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5907354/
  13. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/5/19-0995_article
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stop-the-spread-of-viruses#social-distancing
  15. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/science/coronavirus-math-mitigation-distancing.html
  16. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/italy-has-world-class-health-system-coronavirus-has-pushed-it-n1162786 
  17. https://moretothat.com/finding-peace-within-the-pandemic/

 

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