As the country undergoes a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to curb the rise in South Africa’s coronavirus cases, the thought of being confined to one's home for an extended period of time is daunting. Picture: Piqsels.
As the country undergoes a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to curb the rise in South Africa’s coronavirus cases, the thought of being confined to one's home for an extended period of time is daunting. Picture: Piqsels.

6 tips for ensuring physical distancing doesn't hurt your mental health

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Apr 9, 2020

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Counseling Psychologist Rakhi Beekrum shares tips on how to make sure physical distancing and self-isolation don't hurt your mental health.

As the country undergoes a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to curb the rise in South Africa’s coronavirus cases, the thought of being confined to one's home for an extended period of time is daunting. However, the reality is that this is an even more difficult time for those with mental health conditions such as anxiety. 

Rakhi Beekrum, a counselling psychologist based in Durban weighed in on how the impact of being cut off from one's usual coping mechanisms can affect a person. “Even though physical distancing and physical isolation are protective factors against the spread of the virus, what it effectively means is that traditional methods of coping with mental wellness are thwarted.”

Access to support systems for those with mental illness are restricted. “Whether it may have been exercise at the gym, religious services, a hug from a loved one or a coffee date with a trusted friend. Isolation can lead to loneliness. Any significant stress, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can worsen existing mental health conditions. It is not unusual to see an escalation of symptoms such as panic attacks, excessive worry, sleep difficulties, paranoia and feeling of  hopelessness,” said Beekrum.

What’s important to bear in mind is that physical distancing does not have to mean emotional distancing. According to Beekrum, even though we may be physically distant, there are ways to still connect. “Connection and feeling a sense of belonging are important for our mental well-being. It’s helpful to reframe the idea of physical distancing and self-isolation in our minds. Instead of seeing them as risk factors, we need to see them as acts of compassion – our contribution to curbing the spread of the virus in our country,” she said.

Thankfully for us, self isolation is not the same as solitary confinement. We still have ways of staying connected and accessing necessary support systems. We live in an age where technology has made connection easier. “Video calls can help us connect with loved ones who are supportive. Online therapy sessions are also possible with many psychologists offering this option particularly during this time. Our physical health is just as important. Many free apps, workout videos and virtual training sessions are available online. Apps such as Headspace and Calm are brilliant resources to help us remain mindful and reduce anxiety,” said Beekrum.

Beekrum’s tips for coping with physical distancing: 

  • Routine is good for our mental well-being. Just because we may be at home, it does not mean that we should not have to wake up at set times, dress up and have a plan for the day – if that is helpful to you. 

  • Be mindful of how much information you consume – and the sources of information. Those who are generally anxious are more likely to want news updates regularly, but this is not helpful. Rather choose one (or two) sources only that you will check no more than once or twice a day. 

  • Focus on what you can control. We can control the routine we choose to follow, the sources of information about the virus and how much we consume, how we choose to connect responsibly, the self care choices we make and how we treat ourselves and others. The more we focus on what we can control, the less anxious we are likely to feel.

  • Be mindful of the coping strategies we are employing. Increased stress may lead to unhelpful ways of coping – e.g. substance use or emotional eating. 

  • Self Care practices such as journaling, meditation, reading, breathing exercises and yoga are good for our mental health.  Reach out for help if you are struggling.

  • Remain mindful by being in the present – anxiety about the future will make us feel worse, not better. Do the best you can in the present moment. While we must plan for the future, obsessing about it will do little to help us right now.

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