Social distancing can be very good —from a public health perspective.
It’s a time-honored, low-tech tool
for slowing the spread of contagious pathogens.
But it can also take a toll psychologically.
Luckily, there are ways to mitigate these harms.
So you can protect yourself and your community from disease
while also protecting your mental health.
Social distancing refers to a variety of measures
which actually aim to increase the physical distance between people.
In fact, some experts have suggested changing the term to
“physical distancing” instead of social distancing.
And the logic is simple:
we’re dealing with an infectious disease
that spreads through contact with a sick person or something they’ve left behind.
So, if everyone limits their contact with people and public places,
they can limit the spread of the disease in their community.
And that, hopefully, will slow or even stop the outbreak.
There are two basic strategies for this.
The first is to keep people who come face-to-face with one another farther apart.
This usually means avoiding physical contact, like hugging and shaking hands.
And if sneezes and coughs can launch virus particles up to two meters,
then it may help to stay at least two meters away from other people when you’re in public.
The second is to limit the size of gatherings.
This decreases the likelihood that a person who’s infected will be there.
That might mean closing schools and canceling events,
or even shutting down businesses where people tend to gather,
like bars and movie theaters.
Or, in the extreme, it may mean following Stay at Home orders,
which literally mean staying home as much as you can,
save the very occasional trip to the grocery store
or if you need to seek medical attention.
Social distancing comes in handy
when you don’t know who in the community might be infected.
Like, if people are contagious before they show symptoms,
or if people with very mild symptoms can spread an infection.
[social distancing] It’s distinct from two other measures you’ve probably been hearing about:
quarantine and isolation,
though we are using these things all interchangeably a lot right now.
But technically, Quarantine is
when you separate people who have been exposed to a contagious pathogen away from people who haven’t,
and monitor for signs of illness.
And isolation is when you separate people
who have a contagious disease from people who do not.
You may have also heard of cities, counties, or other large areas
stopping people from entering or leaving their borders.
This is yet another method people have used
to control the spread of infectious disease,
called a cordon sanitaire.
In all cases, the ultimate goal
is to reduce the total number of people infected at any given moment,
or quote “flatten the curve” of the epidemic.
That helps ensure that healthcare facilities have the bandwidth
to give quality care to everyone who needs it.
But, these measures also have very real costs
—including psychological ones.
There are lots of factors at play here,
but when it comes to mental health effects,
the main culprits are isolation and uncertainty.
Now I know we used “isolation” earlier when talking about public health.
But isolation as a public health measure
is different than feelings of isolation in psychology.
Those are the negative emotions associated with
having fewer interactions with other people.
We really feel the loss of our social lives because,
well, we’re a social species.
There’s lots of research that suggests
people feel happier when they interact with others.
And that’s because, for hundreds of thousands of years,
an individual’s survival has depended on
the nature of their interactions with other humans.
So our brains have evolved
to find positive social interactions rewarding on the neuronal level.
Even the everyday interactions we have with strangers
contribute a surprising amount to our mental wellbeing.
On top of that,
the quickly-changing landscaping of a public health crisis
breeds a lot of uncertainty.
We have a whole episode on why people tend to have a hard time
with uncertainty in general, if you want to learn more.
But the short version is
a major theme that underlies many of our greatest worries
is fear of the unknown.
And outbreaks are kind of unpredictable by nature.
Emerging pandemics may create even more uncertainty
than other types of dangerous events
because they involve multiple types of risk.
On the one hand, your individual risk of personal harm may be low
一方面 虽然根据接触程度 年龄和健康状况不同
—depending on your exposure, age, and underlying health conditions.
But at the same time,
the risk to your community or country might be huge
like, the high potential that the disease will overwhelm healthcare systems and cripple economies.
It can be hard for the brain to reconcile these seemingly conflicting points of view.
And that contributes to uncertainty.
And speaking of uncertainty…
It’s also difficult to predict exactly how a pandemic will affect mental health.
Many of the psychological effects of social distancing
and other measures are tough to quantify
—like the stresses that come with canceled events and lost income.
Plus, contributing factors are interrelated,
so it’s hard to disentangle one part from everything else that’s going on.
But researchers have gathered a lot of information in recent years
—after the SARS, H1N1, and Ebola outbreaks, for example.
All those studies suggest that public safety measures
often lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety in the community.
Those increases are even higher for people with high exposure, like healthcare workers.
And people with certain mental health conditions may be more vulnerable.
Like, if you already have anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder,
比如原有焦虑症 抑郁症 物质使用障碍的人
then social distancing may make it worse.
Or if you have obsessive compulsive disorder,
it may be harder to manage amid messages about increased handwashing.
And the emotional costs tend to increase
as measures get stricter.
Regardless of your specific circumstances, though,
there are things that you can do to protect your mental health.
All the uncertainty jacks up your stress level
—so things that help you relax are great.
Like, if looking at the news makes you feel anxious,
maybe spend less time with it,
and tune in to just a few reliable sources.
Even if what you’re reading is accurate,
consuming outbreak-related media may decrease your wellbeing
and perhaps even make you feel sick when you aren’t.
Also, you can try to stay active.
Exercise is great for relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Or, you could consider giving mindfulness practice a try.
That’s the practice of tuning in to the present moment
and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judging them
— often with the help of breathing exercises or meditation.
It can calm painful emotions and relieve stress,
and it benefits the body and brain in other ways, too.
Though, different people can react to it in different ways,
so you might want to talk to your doctor first.
Above all, try making an effort to reach out to other people.
Even if it feels like it, you’re really not alone.
We live in a wonderful time
when we can use technology, like video calls, to connect.
So you can be social with friends and family electronically!
And if you can, go outside.
From a safe distance,
you can talk to your neighbors and even strangers on the street.
You can also reach out to people in need,
and have some compassion for people whose jobs take them into crowded places
— the healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and airline workers
如医务人员 店员 乘务人员
who take care of us every day.
Helping others pays dividends in both directions:
the giver and the recipient both feel good.
It’s part of our biological programming.
And all of us should also support the people who get sick
and those who lose their wages or jobs because of everything going on.
And if you were these people, it could be very hard.
But people need to know if you are struggling.
so don’t hesitate to ask for help.
This is a time when everyone will be very understanding of that.
This kind of leaning on one another in spite of social distancing
may actually make us feel closer
and more supported by our friends and loved ones
during and after an outbreak.
And remember: You have some level of control here.
Your actions, from working from home to washing your hands, do matter.
你的种种行为 从居家办公到勤洗手 非常重要
You are protecxting people.
None of this will completely prevent the pandemic from having an emotional toll;
But they might help reduce some of the negative effects of social distancing.
We’re all in this together.
So be kind to one another
—and, especially, to yourself.
Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych,
and thank you to all of our patrons on Patreon
who make every episode of SciShow possible.
You can learn more about this amazing community of science-loving people at Patreon.com/SciShow.
And if you’re looking for more information about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic,
we have some episodes on our main channel that you might find helpful
—they are linked in the description below.