The COVID-19 pandemic has affected life in countless ways, from changing the dynamics of the workplace and shifting vacation plans to altering interactions with friends and family members. Instead of living life as usual, many people have found themselves relegated to their homes more often than not.
In the early stages of the virus, this seemed like a short-term issue — a problem to grin and bear through the coming months. However, as the pandemic continues to drag on, situations that seemed tenable in March are now less tolerable than ever before. And, unfortunately, this can contribute to the deterioration of both mental health and the bonds of relationships.
From social distancing to the effects of staying home all day, the pandemic’s impacts can have serious ramifications on a normal way of life — including overall health and wellness.
The Importance of Socialization
Humans are social creatures. Even introverts who prefer limited contact need socialization to some degree, even if far less often than more extroverted individuals. Connections, both platonic and romantic, are an important part of wellness and well-being. Friends, family members and partners are there to make good times better and bad times more bearable.
Most people spend at least some portion of the day outside the home, whether at work, at school or running errands. They see friends, go on dates or simply chat with the grocery store cashier while buying food. Those who work from home or are stay-at-home parents may have friends and extended family members over for dinner or organize play groups with other members of the neighborhood. Whether apparent or not, social interaction drives a huge part of daily life for most people.
COVID-19’s Impact on Social Interactions
Unfortunately, social distancing has put normal social interaction to the test.
To avoid the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends staying at least six feet away from other people and wearing a mask at all times when proximity can’t be avoided. Instead of family dinner or date nights, Americans are now finding themselves limited to masked gatherings outdoors and video calls. In many areas, places like movie theaters, gyms, indoor restaurants and other social spaces are closed, so getting together as normal isn’t possible at all, even with safety precautions like masks in use.
While it’s still possible to have friends over at home for a private gathering, this is highly discouraged. Indoor spaces often have poor ventilation, and mask-wearing at home is less common. Just a few minutes of casual conversation in an indoor space in close proximity can cause community spread.
From work to socializing with family members, video calls have replaced many of the day-to-day in-person interactions, but the impact isn’t the same. With Zoom or FaceTime, physical contact isn’t available, creating a tech-driven facsimile that’s so close, yet so far, from the way life used to be.
While some people are able to manage limited social interaction for a long period of time, others aren’t. The stress of interrupted relationships driven by the effects of staying home all day can be very damaging to those who thrive on continued contact with other people, triggering mental health challenges. In addition, a lack of contact can drive a wedge in relationships, breaking bonds that at one point seemed strong.
Beating Back the Blues
While there’s no good way to reclaim normal life until COVID-19 is largely eliminated through vaccine usage and more effective treatments, there are some measures available that can make the impact of social distancing a little less significant — and reduce the pressure on relationships.
- Plan Zoom Functions: While simply chatting on Zoom can feel a little isolating, planning an event, like trivia, virtual card games or virtual board games, can make the distance a little less noticeable. Because the activity is interactive, you’ll be less likely to fixate on how far away other people are and simply enjoy your time together.
- Get the Group Together: Seeing old friends who have moved away is usually a challenge — but not anymore! Virtual hangouts eliminate the pressure of distance, making it possible for friend groups from high school, college, old jobs or old cities to catch up at the drop of a hat. With a bigger group of people, it’s possible to increase social interaction opportunities and see unfamiliar faces.
- Join Digital Interest Groups: Love to knit? Working on a novel? No matter your interests, there’s probably a virtual interest group that caters to it. This is especially true for those who use Discord and are open to joining channels about subjects of interest, use mass forum sites like Reddit or play video games with online components.
- Plan Outdoor Events: While it’s still possible to transmit COVID-19 when outside, the chances are significantly less likely. As such, socially distanced and masked outdoor gatherings at parks or in backyards can give you real face time in a safe manner. If you stay at least six feet apart and keep faces covered, meeting in person is relatively safe. Hugging isn’t advised, but a friendly elbow bump can be a good stand-in.
- Start a Home Project: Home renovations aren’t equal to seeing friends and family, but starting a new project can provide a good way to invest excess energy. Instead of sitting on the couch at the end of the work day, focus can be invested in repainting, replacing flooring, retiling bathroom walls or even hanging shelving. Staying busy around the house can make time at home feel less uncomfortable.
Seeing the Warning Signs
Isolation is tolerable for a little while, but eventually staying inside and forgoing all favorite activities will start to take its toll. In June 2020, the CDC found that 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse due to the stress of the pandemic.
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness
- Irritability and restlessness
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyable activities
- Avoiding speaking with friends and family members
- Changes in weight
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Increase in substance abuse to cope with changing circumstances
Some people who experience mental health struggles due to the effects of staying home all day may see improvement once lockdowns and social distancing requirements alleviate, but others may not. If you or someone you love is struggling to live normally during the COVID-19 pandemic or is showing symptoms beyond moodiness or general anxiety, professional help may be required. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more about our mental health treatment programs and see how we can make a difference for you.