Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Annmarie O'Connell, LPC, CADC, NCC
When I hear the term “social distancing” a part of me cringes. Not because I do not believe in it or the evidence that physically separating ourselves from each other is exactly what is needed to slow down or stop COVID-19. It is more because the term itself suggests that we should distance ourselves from being social altogether. As a therapist, I am inclined to say that isolation at its worst contributes to an increase in depression, suicidality, and addiction. These things, when not properly treated, can be dangerous. In fact, it is cited that evolution itself shows us social behavior and social connection are vital to regulating our emotions.
When I was training to become a therapist I became very interested in reading about Polyvagal Theory. This theory, by Stephen Porges, provides us with a more sophisticated understanding of safety and danger, one based on an understanding of our bodies and the physiological features of those around us. It tells us that a soothing voice or a calm face can dramatically alter the way we feel. Attuning with another person can shift us completely out of fearful states. In this theory, social relationships are the most important factor in combating issues like depression and trauma. I often prescribe the same concept to clients. Engage socially, even if it makes you uncomfortable. The proof is in the way we seem to feel better after doing it, even if getting there is almost painful.
So how can we still maintain our mental health in the depths of social distancing? Can we begin to look at it as Body Distancing or Physical Distancing? Can we keep the social part with friends and family? I have been attempting to Facetime those I love in order to remain connected. I Facetimed with my sister and discovered that she is insanely calming in a crisis and remembered that through her caring face and ability to attune to me over the phone. This really shifted my day. Can you make it a point to reach out to connect even if it's just for a few minutes on the telephone? Connecting in this way is much different than text or social media.
There are also options available for daily prayer groups via teleconference or church services streaming online. If you are a person in recovery, there are options to attend recovery programming via Zoom or other online conference platforms. At Graceful Therapy, we have the opportunity for telehealth so this way your therapist can connect and attune to you and your body can respond and begin to become more regulated.
In these unprecedented times, it is difficult to know how we will react or respond when spent in self-quarantine. I think it is important to get a daily reprieve and engage in self care and social connection, even if it is just for 30 minutes. Sometimes in these kinds of situations, our mental health symptoms hit out of nowhere and it is difficult to reach out for help. If you already have the support in place, whether it is a therapist at Graceful Therapy or a friend or family member, it will be easier to relieve some of them.
Please email me if you are looking for a link for prayer or a meeting for addiction at firstname.lastname@example.org