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How Social Distancing May Affect Mental Health

In this time of a global pandemic, one of the measures we all need to take to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and help things return to normal (or a new kind of normal) is social distancing. Social distancing means staying away from anyone who is not living with you in your immediate household and remaining at least six feet away if you are in the vicinity of others.

In practice this seems like an easy thing to do and everyone should be able to manage it. However, it is also proving difficult at times. How can something be both easy and hard? On the one hand, it’s easy — just stay indoors unless you need groceries or medication. On the other, it’s hard because humans are social animals and not being able to see friends and family for an extended period of time is devastating. This is why social distancing can affect mental health. Read on for more information.

Loneliness

One of the issues that social distancing can cause is loneliness. Being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone. You can be with other people and still feel lonely. Even if you are staying at home with your family, the fact that you can’t see other people can make you feel very lonely indeed.

The problem is that long-term loneliness can cause many different ailments, both physical and mental. Studies have shown that lonely people are more likely to die early, and the risks are similar to those who smoke.

Other issues that loneliness cause include:

  • A weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • A higher instance of dementia

Depression

Social distancing gives us everything we need to create the ‘perfect’ combination of risk factors for depression. Sadness, loneliness, a feeling of loss or emptiness, not having anything to look forward to, exhaustion, anger, and more are all emotions and feelings many of us are going through right now. All added up, they can easily turn to depression.

So it makes sense that social distancing, no matter how needed and important it is, could be leading to depression. Or, if someone already suffers from depression, their condition may deepen despite the hard work they have put in with therapy, and so on.

Depression is a mental health disorder that tends to be down to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. However, given the right levels of environmental stress, depression can be made worse. When someone suffers from depression it can be hard for them to think clearly, and setting and achieving goals can be difficult. This will obviously make any kind of social distancing or lockdown much harder.

Anxiety

There are many different types of anxiety, but the current situation is sure to trigger many of them. Anxiety is actually your own natural response to stresses around you. It makes you feel afraid or apprehensive of what is happening or about to happen. This is perfectly normal, and it will happen before a test, on the first day of your new job, when moving house, and so on.

The problem is when this feeling of fear and worry doesn’t go away. In this situation, you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Waking up each day not knowing what has happened or what is going to happen, as we all are currently doing, can make an anxious person feel even worse, or cause someone to develop anxiety for the first time.

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