by Jennifer Paley | Attorney and Writer

It has been over a week now since we began our collective self-isolation. Before the bell officially rang, I had stopped attending my 105 degree hot yoga class for at least a week or two. Right after that, Starbucks was crossed off the list as a highly trafficked hot zone.  Its surreal – yet at this point – our collective isolation seems to be the only rational response to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. And the government is requiring it at this point for an undetermined period of time. But we have to do it, I suppose, as medical quarantining is backed by science — it is abundantly known that restricting social contact is by far the most effective way to reduce the spread (and the speed of transmission) of a virus.

Before shaming others for heading out for a quick coffee-to-go or describing staying home for awhile as a “small inconvenience,” however, it is important to realize that isolation can have serious mental health effects on people. In fact, a spade of research has linked extensive isolation to anxiety, depression, anger, helplessness, and confusion, amongst other things. Many argue that the damage is permanent and long-term. As this current crisis is expected by some to last for the better part of a year or two, the effect that community quarantine and social distancing will have on our mental and emotional health cannot be ignored. Human beings are social creatures, and living a sequestered lifestyle for an extended period of time will no doubt gravely impact us.  According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a psychology and neuroscience professor Brigham Young University, lack of varied social connection and activity drastically increases health risks and shortens life spans as much as regular smoking, obesity, or having an alcohol use disorder.  

So what should we all be doing?  Well, according to Sue Firth, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, we should be catering to our innate need to make decisions and be in general control of our lives, to create and experience connection and community with others, and to exist with a sense of purpose.  While this is not without its challenges during communal isolation, it is nonetheless doable and may include Skyping with friends and relatives (including group-Skypes, of which there are a variety popping up), taking walks with those you share a home, working out indoors with videos, talking on the phone (preferred over texting), and tackling projects saved for one of those rainy days. Creative projects and activities including photography, writing, drawing, and cooking help by keeping the mind active — they can also be a great way to connect with family. The options are infinite.

No matter how each of us choose to pass the time during this global pandemic, let’s all pray together that our collective efforts pay off as quickly and with as little loss as possible. And hopefully, that we each benefit in some way from this unwelcome turn of events.