The emotional impact of social distancing

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In my time as an artist and therapist, I’ve found that community is truly remarkable. There’s nothing more remarkable than the outpour of support online that the LGBTQ+ community has found for one another, from bartering for basic needs, to emotional support, to online games of chess with one another. We find a way; we always have and always will. In the wake of COVID-19, that sense of community is very helpful for many, but not all. The emotional impacts of social distancing are also undeniable, and as we approach this uncharted territory, acknowledgment of the impacts and our individual self-care and regard for others is important.

1. Courage, empathy and compassion: We need all three as we approach this crisis. We need the courage to find patience as we wait for clarity, and we need empathy and compassion for the hardships we face in social distancing and for those who are less fortunate or work in medicine. We need the courage to face our emotions, urge others to do the same and to find our own empathy during fear and negative self-talk.

2. Change is hard: Many people find forced change unnerving and difficult. Human beings feel most comforted when there is reassurance and foreseeable stability. Right now, this is not the case, and the disruption to our security can leave us feeling hopeless, fearful, angry or distracted. Allowing those feelings to be at the surface is important, and finding ways to incorporate some stability where you have control can help. Getting up at the same time each day, setting some realistic goals from home, taking care of one personal chore you never get to (hello dust under the couch!) may help provide a little structure to allow yourself time to mitigate this change.

3. Ambiguous loss and grief: Yes, there is grief and complicated grief for those who have lost a loved one, and that is incredibly painful. There are also additional kinds of grief, some many of us feel simultaneously, which is where that very important sense of courage, empathy and compassion comes into play. Grief can occur from job loss, savings accounts diminished, loss of the ability for human touch or contact, canceled graduations, childcare options far and few, no part-time work. All of this can amount to feelings of loss and people are allowed to grieve them. Grief comes in many forms, and we must honor our own and that of those around us. Reach out to others in times of grief, and remember you are not alone. 

4. Isolation and mental health: We as humans are social creatures and isolation, while a much needed and positive approach to stopping the spread of the virus, does not negate that social distancing can impact mental health. This time is unprecedented for many and depression, anxiety and fear are normal responses. Psychologically, that isn’t easy for many of us on our best days. For those suffering from the symptomology related to mental health, this can be distressing. Finding time for your version of self-care will be paramount — walks outside, time with a good book, drawing that flying unicorn you’ve always wanted to draw. It may be time.

5. Constant media bombardment: As tempting as it is to log into social media, it may be best to do so once a day or finding news from reliable sources such as the CDC website or local government updates on precautionary measures. Media bombardment can cause and contribute to national panic, at a time when we may need less stimulation and more coherent approaches to social distancing. News that isn’t based on real precautionary measures can also increase people’s risk of making poor decisions. Stay informed, but stay informed smartly. 

These impacts are not nominal, and they challenge all of us differently. While the impacts of this pandemic are strong, I am once again reminded of the importance of defining your own self-care measures. I’m also encouraged seeing ways that many in the queer community are supporting one another, from Instagram Live dance parties in our living rooms to preparing food for those who can’t afford to stock up, to online antics of dressing our animals up in costumes (consider me guilty of this one).

Let us rise united; let us find empathy, courage and compassion, and let us remember, we are not alone.

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