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Tips on Social Distancing and Behavioral Health

Tips on Social Distancing and Behavioral Health

Amid the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and the declaration of a National Emergency, the public is being asked – and in some cases required – to practice a concept called “social distancing.”

For many, terms such as social distancing are new. COVID-19 response has also led to quarantine and isolation to limit the spread of the virus. 

Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread infectious diseases, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The feelings and thoughts someone may have during and after social distancing, quarantine, and isolation may differ. But SAMHSA is suggesting ways to care for your behavioral health during this crisis, and also provides resources for additional support.

People react differently to stressful situations and experiences, depending on a variety of factors. SAMHSA warns that the requirements to curb infection association with COVID-19 may make people feel anxious, worried, or fearful, particularly related to:

  • Their own health status
  • The health of loved ones or friends exposed to the virus
  • Time off work, school or social obligations and potential loss of income
  • The challenges of securing goods or services they may need, such as groceries or hair appointments
  • Concern about the ability to care for others in their family

It is also likely that people will begin to feel angry about the changes in the world or their financial uncertainty. People may also become bored or frustrated because of the necessary lifestyle changes. There may be enhanced loneliness for those in isolation or quarantine, or whose social lives have been severely curtailed.

SAMHSA warns that people may begin to see signs of depression, which includes feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite, or sleeping patterns. The isolation may also bring a heightened desire to use alcohol or drugs to cope with the situation.

If you or a loved one is experiencing those reactions for 2-to-4 weeks or more, contact a healthcare provider for assistance. If you feel your mental health is at risk at any time, call your healthcare provider.

There are ways to support yourself during social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, according to SAMHSA.

  1. Understand the risk: Public perception and news reports about the risk during an infectious disease outbreak may lead to increased anxiety and concern. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the evolving situation, but not to be overwhelmed by it. Relying on credible information sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control, is essential.
  2. Be your own advocate: Make sure you have what you need to feel safe, secure, and healthy. Work with your community to find out how to arrange for food delivery. Tell your healthcare providers if you need medication and work with them to ensure you have adequate supplies.
  3. Educate yourself: Ask questions to help reduce your anxiety about the virus. Ask your healthcare provider for written information if that eases your anxiety.
  4. Take care of work: If you are off work due to the virus or a shelter-in-place edict, work with your employer to be educated about your rights and financial situation. Call the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-487-2365 for information about the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  5. Connect with others: If social distancing is required, use your phone, texting, social media, Skype, or FaceTime to connect with people. 

SAMHSA also urges people to use practical ways to cope and relax during the pandemic.

  • Relax your body – take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, or pray and engage in activities that you enjoy and which don’t violate social distancing requirements.
  • Talk about your feelings and fears with loved ones and friends. Let them share their experiences. Keep a journal if it helps you express your feelings.
  • Keep positive. Write down things that make you grateful. Send cheery notes to friends.

Please seek help immediately if you or your loved ones are experiencing symptoms of extreme stress. Symptoms include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • unusual eating patterns
  • using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • inability to do your daily routine 

Speak to your healthcare provider or call a hotline number listed below.

If you feel as if you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. You may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

There are a number of other resources as well. However, mention of a resource does not imply endorsement by the Center for Mental Health Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or LVMC.

Other resources include: