How social distancing could affect your mental health

We are living in a “cancel everything” social culture because of the coronavirus, but these new conditions could impact your mental health.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We are living in a “cancel everything” social culture because of the coronavirus, but these new conditions could impact your mental health.

Social distancing efforts are leading to canceled weddings, sporting events, classes, and social outings to name a few.

This is now the new normal, not going out to restaurants, canceling all unnecessary travel, and making sure to maintain a distance of 6 feet from those around you.

But you might not realize that distancing could affect your hormone levels.

“I know for a lot of people the whole recommendation for social distancing can be a cause of lower mental state. And a big reason for that is a hormone called oxytocin, which is our bonding hormone," said Dr. Tracy Alloway, a professor of psychology at the University of North Florida. “It’s what is released when a mother and infant first meet each other, so it’s incredibly critical. But there are so many things we can do to keep our oxytocin high.”

Alloway said there are a few ways to increase your oxytocin during this time.

First, connect on social media. Research shows this connection can increase empathy and your bonding hormone levels.

Also, try walking. It can boost your oxytocin and provide a healthy habit during a stressful time.

Expressive writing is another positive outlet. It gets out the negative feelings while decreasing stress hormones and promotes a sense of gratitude.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone,” Alloway said. “Don’t feel like the social distancing is making you feel isolated. We may feel a physical isolation, but that’s the great thing about our world today is that we’re so connected. I can call a friend, you know, across the world, and you don’t have to worry about the geography of it all. Just I want to encourage everyone to pick up your phone, send a text, send a message, send a photo, say, ‘Hey guys! Here I am. Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s my social distancing meal of the day. Send me yours.’ Find a way to connect with someone."

In addition to mental health impacts due to social distancing, Alloway said you may also be dealing with anxiety or depression due to the lack of control.

“It’s not in our control. Control is a big part of what makes us feel healthy. In my own research, I found that autonomy is linked to depression," Alloway said.

Alloway suggested you shift the focus to what you can control and take autonomy for your own life.

Whether that’s washing your hands more, contacting a friend, or finding a comfortable social activity while still keeping distance, whatever the action is, pick it daily and stay proactive with your control over it.

Dr. Tracy Alloway, a psychologist with UNF, joins us on The Morning Show to discuss the effects that social distancing has on our mental health and ways we can cope with social distancing.