The effects of ‘physical distancing’ and how to take care of yourself

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(Illustration by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

Brent Schneider, staff psychologist at Counseling Services, said the World Health Organization stated on Friday we should be using a different term than “social distancing,” to refer to our effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I saw that the WHO was really saying we need to start using the term ‘physical distancing,’ because we need the social piece,” Schneider said. “The physical piece, that’s what we really need to focus on in terms of not being around people, but we need to stay in touch as much as possible with people.”

No matter if they are introverted or extroverted, Schneider said people need to keep interacting in whatever way they can, be it over FaceTime, phone or email.

“Even people who are introverted, if you talk to them every once in a while, they do want to get out of the house, they do want some contact,” Schneider said. “It’s just they get more energy — they get more recharge by being alone — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to be alone all the time.”

That may not be the case for extroverts.

“People who are extroverted on the other hand, this is where it becomes a little bit more difficult because they need that social interaction to recharge,” Schneider said.

As the need for physical distancing continues, Schneider said he thinks it will get harder.

“I think what people are going to start finding is that it becomes more and more difficult to fight off that boredom, that kind of stir craziness,” Schneider said. “I think it becomes really important, especially now that the weather’s kind of starting to get nicer, get outside. You can go outside as long as you are maintaining a safe distance from someone.”

Laura Brannon, professor of psychological sciences, said via email there is a natural tendency of wanting to do something when it has been restricted called reactance.

“I can imagine some people who don’t usually like to be around other people to all of a sudden miss that experience,” Brannon said. “No doubt there are students who didn’t have great class attendance before who now ‘miss’ getting in-person lectures. Everyone needs to remember that they are being asked to make a temporary sacrifice for the health of the community. Focusing on the fact that we are helping other people can help reduce our stress.”

While this is a hard, unusual time, she said it’s important not to ‘catastrophize’ the physical isolation and to remember it is just temporary.

“Students are frequently a lot more resilient than they realize,” Brannon said. “In my classes, we talk about stress and coping, and in a situation like this where there is a lot of uncertainty, it’s good to remember to take it ‘one day at a time,’ and that they have everything they need right now.”

Schneider said now is a time to focus on relationships and try new things.

“This will eventually end and now is really the time for you to connect with people and to continue those relationships,” Schneider said. “Now is the time for you to engage in some activities you’ve maybe been putting off or some things that you’ve wanted to try but just haven’t ever really seemed to have time.”

He encouraged students to stay active and maintain as much structure as they can. People should go outside, get some sun, shower in the morning, eat regularly and get dressed as usual.

“Our bodies like consistency,” Schneider said. “While this is going on, keep yourself active, keep your body active.”

A helpful practice is free association journaling — a therapeutic tool — which can be done for as little as five minutes a day.

“Get some paper, put a pen down, and go,” Schneider said. “Don’t lift it up, don’t worry about spelling or grammar, you just go. That helps you to get some of those thoughts out.”

Along with journaling, Brannon said prayer or meditation can be helpful in whatever form it might take for a person.

She noted that it’s important to remember that the current practice of physical distancing is in no way personal.

“If someone moves away from us, it is not because they want to ‘avoid’ us, but because they have been told to do that,” Brannon said. “It’s also helpful to focus on the fact that our own distancing from others, and their distancing from us, is something that we are doing because we care about ourselves and other people and we want to protect everyone’s health.

Even before the pandemic, Brannon said, we were all part of a supportive community in Manhattan and at Kansas State University.

“Even though we may be physically isolated, we’re not ‘alone,'” Brannon said. “We are all in this together, and we will get through this together, as we have been for things in the past. Students should remember that the faculty really do care about them and are trying their best to rise to the occasion and minimize the stress students feel.”

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.