Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review
A Focus on Mental Health While Social Distancing
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
By Vainavi Gambhir, Walter Johnson High School, Bethesda, MD
Amid the evolving situation of COVID-19, we must take the time to address our mental health. No N95 face mask or hand sanitizer can prevent the constant worry and loneliness that is resulting from this pandemic. Data from Australia's first equine influenza outbreak showed that “34% [of quarantined respondents] report[ed] high psychological distress (K10 > 22), compared to levels of around 12% in the Australian general population” (Taylor et al., 2008). Since isolation has correlated with psychological distress in past outbreak studies, many psychologists worry that long term social distancing due to coronavirus can lead to psychological problems in society like depression, aggression, or even higher suicide rates. At a time like this, mental health should be of major importance.
Offices and schools closing, face-to-face interactions diminishing, and extracurricular activities for students getting cancelled can be extremely disappointing, but if time is budgeted towards self-care, the potential negative mental effects of social distancing can be prevented. Participating in wellness activities is one of many avenues to care for mental health. A study measuring the impact of workplace wellness programs on health found “statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in exercise frequency, smoking behavior, and weight control” (Mattke et al. 2013). With an increasing awareness surrounding the importance of mental health, wellness initiatives have been incorporated in many workplaces and schools through standing desks, healthier snacks, and classroom brain breaks. However, typical wellness activities need to now be adjusted to account for a home setting.
Below are a few wellness activities children, adolescents, and adults can incorporate into their routine to help cope with the effects of social distancing:
Yoga: As a children’s yoga teacher, I am a strong advocate for yoga for people of all ages. Dr. John Sharp from Harvard Medical School considers yoga, meditation, and controlled breathing "tried and true ways to relax" (Sharp, 2020, para.12). Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital also emphasizes that “yoga can benefit three aspects of ourselves that are often affected by stress: our body, mind, and breathing” (n.d., para.3). By utilizing the extra time at home and incorporating yoga into a routine, we can instill a habit that extends beyond this pandemic. For those with shorter attention spans, there are many ways to variate a yoga routine such as coupling meditation with art or practicing with a partner.
Virtual Communication and Wellness Journaling: While distanced from friends and relatives, communication helps restore a sense of normalcy despite the current global situation. Something as simple as a video call can be an uplifting way to stay in touch with people while in isolation. However, communication doesn’t necessarily have to be with other people. Self-care is all about being aware of our thoughts and feelings, and wellness journaling can organize any overwhelming thoughts on paper.
Visual Art: “Research has shown that creating visual art can reduce stress and promote relaxation in people who are homebound” (Harvard Health, 2017, para.3) Not only is visual art considered therapeutic and relaxing, it can also be another form of communication or self-expression regardless of skill level.
Cleaning and Decluttering: A key finding from a study of possessing “clutter” was that it had a negative impact on subjective well-being (Roster et al., 2016). Cleaning or organizing spaces are effective ways to release stress or feel in control even during uncontrollable circumstances. Effectively organizing items into a restricted space can also evoke a sense of personal achievement and competence which, in turn, boosts self-esteem.
Laughter Therapy: While trying to keep track of the latest news on coronavirus, it is also important to not consume hours listening to negative content. Keep a balance by watching uplifting content such as comedy shows that induce laughter. For those interested in yoga, there is a form of yoga called “laughter yoga” that focuses on mental strength. It works by combining laughter exercises with breathing techniques to maximize relaxation and positivity.
During a time like this, it becomes increasingly important to pay attention to mental health, and incorporating a wellness activity, whether it be yoga, wellness journaling, or another hobby, is a positive step towards self-care. COVID-19 may be able to restrict our daily life, but we should not allow it to degrade our mental health.
Gupta, S. (2020, March 31). Social distancing comes with psychological fallout. Science News.
Roster, C. A., Ferrari, J. R., & Peter Jurkat, M. (2016). The dark side of home: Assessing possession ‘clutter’ on subjective well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 46, 32-41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.03.003
Sharp, J. (2020, March 12). Coping with coronavirus anxiety. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/coping-with-coronavirus-anxiety-2020031219183
The healing power of art. (2017, July). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-healing-power-of-art
Workplace wellness programs study: Final report. (2013, June 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4945172/
Yoga for Stress Relief. (n.d.). Home - Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Yoga-for-Stress-Relief