8 Tips to Manage Your Coronavirus and Social Distancing Anxiety, According to an Expert

Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

While the spread of COVID-19 has become a threat to the physical and financial health of the world, the increasing disruption to daily life is exacting another toll, this one on our collective mental health. To stave off transmission, citizens are being urged to keep their physical distance from one another, leading to protracted time either alone or with members of the household. Coupled with unending media coverage of the virus and accompanying worst-case scenarios, anxiety in communities has become palpable.

If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the risk of illness or the reality of limited activity, it’s important to reach out to local mental health professionals for guidance. In many cases, telemedicine appointments will be available. For more general tips on coping with feelings of unease during this period of uncertainty, Mental Floss spoke with David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Here’s what he had to say about staying balanced in these tumultuous times.

1. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.

A man holds a toy while video calling a woman and child
Video calling loved ones is a great way to stay connected and feel less alone.
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Leading health experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have made it clear that minimizing the impact of coronavirus means lessening transmission by staying home. For people who thrive off social interaction, the practice can be troubling. But Rosmarin says a lack of physical proximity shouldn’t mean a lack of socializing.

“Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” he says. “We can use electronic means to connect to each other.”

Rosmarin says phoning friends and staying in touch can allow us to maintain our connections, though he cautions that social media doesn’t provide the same benefits. “Social media and news might make you feel connected, but it creates distance,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Instead, call or conference people you know personally, one-on-one. Playing online games or other virtual activities can also help you maintain feelings of remaining connected when avoiding in-person visits.

2. Don’t let the news cycle dictate your emotions.

The coronavirus situation is dynamic and seems to change by the hour, resulting in a number of people feeling compelled to stay on top of updates by constantly checking their phones for new information. While that can be stressful at any time, it can affect your ability to relax if you surf news outlets just before going to sleep. “People need to be shutting off information an hour before they go to bed,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “It’s not a good time to be watching the news.” It’s very unlikely an update will be so urgent or pressing it would lose relevance by morning. Sleep is critical to a healthy immune system, and giving yourself an opportunity to unwind is important.

Rosmarin also recommends avoiding scrolling during mealtimes for the same reason. In some cases, it may be best to avoid news or news outlets that make you feel particularly stressed. WHO recommends [PDF] checking in on the news once or twice a day at specific times, and getting information from reliable sources like local health authorities to avoid rumors and misinformation.

3. Don’t argue with people who seem unconcerned about the crisis.

Two children arguing
Now is not the time to pick fights.
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One major source of stress for people right now is the fact that they might face peer pressure from friends or family to attend gatherings when they aren’t comfortable being in groups—even small groups. Others may be upset people aren’t following federal or state guidelines to stay home.

Arguing about it isn’t productive. “This comes up a lot,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “In-laws may feel rejected, or a friend may want to come over. I would suggest a technique called ‘validation.’ You convey to a person that their feelings are reasonable. If someone wants to come over, you can say you’re sorry but that you’re practicing social distancing. You can say, ‘You might feel I’m rejecting you, but I’m not. I want to see you.’ As opposed to, ‘You’re crazy and you’re not paying attention.’ That conversation will always go south.”

4. Ask family members to respect your boundaries.

For many households, school cancellations and shifting to a work-from-home arrangement means couples and children are spending a lot more time together. People who previously had time and space now have neither. Boundaries need to be established. “People need to have a set-up for work,” Dr. Rosmarin says, whether that’s literal (a desk) or figurative (an armchair). Whatever that area is, other family members need to respect that when you’re there, you’re trying to be productive or recharging. “You need to have a certain area of the house where you can go without judgment, a place to either decompress or get things done.”

If you feel a fight coming on, remember you’re in this together—sparring with someone you love and need isn’t going to solve much.

5. Practice a certain amount of acceptance.

A young woman sitting indoors on a sofa at home, reading a book
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In many ways, people are able to exert a significant degree of control over a pandemic. Social distancing, hygiene, and other precautions can make a tremendous impact on the seriousness of the situation. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by possibilities, Dr. Rosmarin says it’s important to acknowledge our control has limitations. “It’s rare these kinds of things happen, but if you look throughout human history, they do happen,” he says. “We need to respect and appreciate that there’s only so much we can do.” It’s good to pause, step back, and realize you’re doing what you can given the circumstances.

You can also try a technique known as temporal distancing, which imagines how you’ll look back at the present. Thinking about how you’ll remember or regard these events helps remind you they’ll be exactly that one day—a memory.

6. Give yourself a few minutes to think the worst, then move on.

Whether you’re fearing becoming ill or stressing about the overall consequences of coronavirus—and for many, it’s often both—there may be value in giving yourself some time to let your imagination take off. “For a couple of minutes a day, it’s acceptable to think the worst and then move on with your life,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Imagining what you might do if you or a loved one falls ill allows for a degree of emotional preparedness, so long as you confine it to a limited amount of time.

7. Don’t ignore your regular routine.

A woman walking her dog in the park
Continuing aspects of your usual routine, like walking your dog in the park, is a good way to maintain some normalcy.
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Do laundry on Sundays? Keep doing it on Sunday. Not going to work? Get dressed anyway. Maintaining a semblance of a regular routine will go a long way toward helping you avoid feelings of disorganization and unpredictability.

“Anxiety is just the beginning,” Rosmarin says. “Within a week or two, people are probably going to start feeling depressed, sad, and lethargic, especially since we are distancing from one another. That’s really where the benefits of scheduling come in.”

Sticking to your normal sleep and wake times, your exercise routine, and other practices will maintain feelings of familiarity. It will also help you adjust when the world returns—as it inevitably will—to normalcy.

8. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it.

For people already struggling with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression, fears over coronavirus can be especially disruptive. Always seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. Currently, the Center for Anxiety is offering one free virtual consultation no matter where you are in the country. Dial their office at (646) 837-5557 during normal business hours for more information.

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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The Right Way to Clean Your Face Mask

Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
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In an effort to slow the transmission of coronavirus in public settings, health officials are advising that people unable to practice social distancing wear a cloth face mask. While not as effective at filtering respiratory droplets as medical-grade masks, cloth masks are still recommended as a practical preventative step.

Like all apparel, masks get dirty. They absorb sweat and germs, and they need to be cleaned. But how?

According to National Geographic, the best way to clean a cloth face mask is to take the same approach as the rest of your laundry—toss it in the washer. Laundry detergent is effective against coronavirus because the pathogen is encased in a layer of oily lipids and proteins. Detergents and hand soaps contain surfactants, which reduce the surface tension of the fatty layer. The surfactant molecule is attracted to oil and grease on one end and water on the other. The end that disrupts the oil bursts the coronavirus envelope apart. Tiny pods of surfactant called micelles trap and wash the remnants away. It’s this activity, not the water temperature, that kills the virus, though using a higher dryer temperature can destroy most microorganisms that might be lingering.

Bear in mind there’s a recommended way to take off your mask. Make sure your hands are clean, then pull it off using the straps behind your ears. This avoids contaminating the mask—and your face—with any pathogens that might be on your hands.

Medical-grade masks are trickier, as they’re intended to be used only once and can’t stand up to a wash cycle. If you have an N95 or paper mask, you can set it aside for several days, at which point the virus is likely to become inactive. But keep in mind that health officials still aren’t entirely sure how long coronavirus can persist on surfaces, and it’s possible for a mask to collect particles over time, increasing the viral load.

But what about the rest of your clothes? Experts say not to worry so much about disrobing the minute you get home. The coronavirus likes moisture and dries out quickly on fabrics. You need to be careful with the material covering your face, but the rest of your outfit can wait until your regularly scheduled laundry appointment.

[h/t National Geographic]