person relaxing in hammock with dog

Since the World Health Organisation officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic, there have been significant changes worldwide to life as we know it. Entire countries on lockdown, major events postponed/ cancelled, people not allowed to go outside unless absolutely necessary, people losing their jobs, businesses struggling and keyworkers asked to double up their efforts to name a few.

It’s safe to say it hasn’t been an easy ride for any of us, it’s also safe to assume that now more than ever, in times of such uncertainty, our mental health isn’t at its prime. There are a million things to be worried about right now and because most of us are practicing social distancing, our mind is freer than ever to roam around overthinking, worrying and assuming the worst.

Coincidentally, April is Stress Awareness Month, so we are trying to shade a light on the effects of stress and the ways to tackle them. It also seems like a good time to talk about the effects social distancing has on us.

Whether you’re in self isolation by yourself, of surrounded by family and/or friends, it cannot be easy to deal with that for weeks on end – because as of right now, we have no idea when the United Kingdom will come out of lockdown and when will we be able to resume our lives.

Why should we consider our mental wellbeing?
woman doing yoga meditating

Like any other times of distress, we are taking a look at the last time there was a similar event of substantial importance and how did that generation deal with it, to help us make sense of what is happening at the moment.

From 2002- 2004 in Toronto, Canada, there was an outbreak of SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome, a strain of the Coronavirus just like Covid-19. 15,000 people went into self-isolation due to exposure to the virus, and for more than 10 days they were asked not to leave their homes, or have visitors, and even to try and isolate from other family members or people they lived with.

A study that was done later in assessing the psychological consequences of the isolation, found that people were reportedly feeling isolated because of the lack of contact with the outside world, they felt cut off from life as they knew it as they were unable to engage in normal day –to day activities. Some reported that the simple act of wearing a face-mask was increasing their feelings of anxiety and fear.

Out of 15,000, 31% of the participants had depressive symptoms and 29% displayed PTSD symptoms.

There are many ways the pandemic now is similar to the one created by the same family of viruses almost 2 decades ago, but there are even more ways in which this time is different.

Pandemic in the time of social media
animation of globe with planes flying around it

The amount of ways to cope with self-isolation today are endless. We are living in a digital age, where you are able to effectively video communicate with your loved ones remotely, any time of the day. We have many more means of communication and engaging than ever before, making the social distancing more bearable. There are phone applications such as ‘Houseparty’ that is taking the nation by storm, allowing you to video chat with your whole group of friends and lets you roam around and participate uninvited in other gatherings, that people are using to stay connected with their peers.

We have the possibility of watching numerous TV series, films, read online books and exercise, all from the comfort of our own house. These days we can take up any hobbies we want, start our own businesses and learn how to cook, all from our own home.

So the way the 2020 social distancing is different than the 2004 one is through the evolution of ways to cope with it that help you keep sane. Because we are quite literally, ‘All in this together’, we also are feeling more connected to our family, friends, neighbours and community overall, without having to break quarantine.

Movements such as the trending #ClapForOurCarers have gotten the attention of hundreds of thousands of people when, on the 26th of March at 8pm (and ever since transforming into a weekly activity), the whole nation applauded the bravery of our frontline workers, thanking them for their efforts to keep the country afloat. People have gone to their windows/ out in their gardens/ on the front steps of their house and clapped and cheered for a few minutes without stopping, and the vibration was so high that there have been numerous reports of people saying how connected they all felt in face of this huge challenge.

Or the money being raised by Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year old veteran who has raised a huge £12.5m for the NHS, by walking 100 lengths of his garden.

It seems like the whole world was brought closer by the incapability of being physically close. The frontline workers are being brought food free of charge almost every day, the government has implemented the furlough – allowing impacted businesses to apply for a grant that would provide their staff with 80% of their normal pay and the pollution is gone down worldwide, including in the UK as a result of the lockdown.

That’s not to say the pandemic is a positive thing - there have been numerous people who have lost their loved ones, families that are grieving and unable to pay their respects as they should because of the quarantine rules, communities impacted by the loss of jobs, local businesses and independent shops. But there is nothing wrong or shameful in trying to continue to live your life as close to normal as possible and as a nation we must carry on and keep our heads up and our hearts full of hope.

Part 2 on how to relieve stress coming soon!