Social distancing is critical right now as the world comes together to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. But it can also lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, or loneliness. I asked SteadyMD’s Dr. Justin Ross, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, for his tips about how to maintain a positive mental outlook during this time of uncertainty.


How can people combat loneliness and still practice safe social distancing?

Given the clear need for social distancing to reduce the spread of this virus, we are all going to need to find creative means to stay connected. Fortunately, technology provides this opportunity for many. Scheduling time for group gatherings to interact, play games, and socialize is key.

Getting out for movement, when and where possible, can also lead to a sense of connection to others who are doing the same (appropriately spaced apart). Walking or running and being able to make eye contact and say hello from a safe distance can go a long way towards combating isolation, compared to being stuck inside for too long.


What are your thoughts on COVID-19 as it relates to mental health: the challenges or opportunities for growth and self-reflection during this time?

No doubt, these are unprecedented times, with significant adversity and hardship. But it’s through challenge that we have the best opportunity to grow. We have the power to maintain and shift perspective aimed at post-traumatic growth. We can grow stronger, become more resilient, and better align with our long-term goals and visions if we look at these challenges as opportunities for growth.

Ask yourself how you want to change or grow stronger on the other side of this. Work on implementing that growth plan into your daily routines.


Do you recommend certain routines or habits to help boost people’s mental outlooks?

We are our habits, and creating new habits can be difficult. Arguably, there has never been a better time to collectively work on habit change and habit formation. Our daily lives have been upended in so many ways. This significant change can feel worrisome and bothersome for many, but it also offers a great opportunity for each and everyone of us to re-do basically everything in our lives.

The biggest boosts for our mental well-being come from meaningful movement, time spent outdoors, and learning how to utilize our breath through meditation. Each of those activities can become deliberate habits we create during this time of social distancing.


How can people maintain a sense of connection while remaining physically isolated?

Understand that connection can fostered in many different ways; it doesn’t necessarily require physical proximity. Once more, creativity is key. We have our kids writing letters to their friends. Sure, they can easily call, text, FaceTime, etc. But re-introducing the idea of a pen pal provides a new way for them to think about maintaining connection.


What advice would you give to people with existing mental health conditions like ongoing anxiety or depression during this time?

First and foremost, give yourself permission to experience your feelings. Anxiety, sadness, and depression are common reactions during times of significant uncertainly, unpredictability, or threats to our well-being. But then understand that our subsequent handling of our emotional and psychological experiences goes a long way into what comes next.

Mood follows action, and if we can purposefully and meaningfully work on adjusting our thought patterns to align our behaviors with meaning and choice, then we are more likely to navigate through this in a healthy way.


Do you have any other advice for people feeling anxious, stressed, or lonely during this time of uncertainty?

You’re not alone. Collectively, many across the country and world are facing adversity and hardship in never before seen ways. It’s OK to be upset, sad, and anxious. As best you can, work to engage in daily activities, plans and behaviors that align with you feeling your best self.


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