Surviving the Stress of Social Distancing in Amherst, MA

Are you feeling “stressed out” by the daily news accounts and rising threat of the COVID-19 pandemic? As if regularly watching the latest numbers rise isn’t stressful enough, needing to “shelter-at-home” can compound the stress in several ways:

  • A decrease in activity often triggers boredom that can be fertile ground for a depressive episode.
  • Not accessing our usual workplace may lead us to feel less productive and cause a decreased sense of worth. This can also contribute to a negative shift in mood.
  • We may be experiencing a severe reduction or elimination of income. This can be very stressful and increase our level of anxiety.
  • Not attending normal social or community gatherings can disconnect us from social supports that we usually rely on.

But there is hope. Listed below are several steps you can take to combat these stressors and maintain a positive mood.

  1. Establish a regular routine: Not having to get up to go to work or school may tempt us to stay in bed a little longer and not engage in daily activities as we normally would. However, it is important to get up each morning, prepare for the day as usually and follow a purposefully set schedule. This step is important to assure that we maintain a healthy level of activity.
  2. Use your phone or internet to maintain connection: While we may have complained in the past that “now-a-days people are always on their phones”, our use of social media and texting may have actually prepared us for this time of social distancing. It is important to contact loved ones via email, messenger or video chats. This helps us keep connected to relationships that support and encourage us.
  3. Spend more time with family: I have heard more than one person say, “Since we’ve been stuck at home, we’re spending more quality time with each other than we ever have before”. While we’re connecting with others outside of the home electronically, let’s not forget the ones we are home with. Develop family activities that engage each member and create a sense of connection to one another.
  4. Set personal goals while at home: With increased time on our hands, it is important to determine what we would like to accomplish in this time. You may decide to prune the bushes that you have let grow for too long or finally read that book that’s sitting on your shelf. Online courses or internet research of a favorite topic are also goal-oriented activities that we can achieve while at home. This will help give us a sense of accomplishment that promotes self-efficacy and has a positive impact on our mood.
  5. Take it easy on yourself: Establishing new routines and/or connecting with others in new ways can be scary because we often find change hard and may not always adapt to these new patterns smoothly. As a result, we may feel a sense of failure that delivers a blow to our self-image. Therefore, it is important to give ourselves a break. Develop a self-orientation that reinforces ourselves for the effort we are making. Engage in internal dialogues that are encouraging and give a sense of hope. This approach is more likely to motivate us to accomplish more, which enhances our self-image rather than detracting from it.
  6. Enjoy the victories: Each time you’re able to make someone smile, each goal that you’ve reached, each change in perspective that led to a positive mood shift, is something worth celebrating. And it is important that we do. This will positively reinforce our efforts making it more likely that they will recur.

One final word. It may be important to recognize the examples we set for others. We may not always be aware, but others are watching us. Whether it’s our partner, children, or the friend that called us to see how we’re holding up, our behavior and speech during times of crisis can discourage or inspire others. We can determine which it will be. Please remember that the accomplishments and victories we realize may spark a belief in others that they too can not only survive these times but thrive as well.

Dr. Handel is a licensed psychologist, clinical director and owner of Thriveworks Amherst.

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