Pandemic and panic; social distancing and social isolation.

We are living through a #pandemic right now. The Coronavirus, which most of us South Africans had scarcely thought about a mere two weeks ago, is now the topic of almost every conversation and feels as though it controls most of our daily lives.

Management strategies are rightfully focussing on #socialdistancing and careful hygiene in order to slow the spread of the illness, protect the most vulnerable members of society from infection, and help the health care system cope with the large number of anticipated cases.

For most of us this means #lockdown: working from home, no school for kids, and keeping social contact to a minimum. For those of you who are still keen to risk it, restaurant hours and pub hours are reduced in any case. Sports events are cancelled, and gyms have way too many surfaces and sweaty bodies in confined spaces to be a viable place for most people.

Emotional responses vary widely: severe anxiety and panic about job security, infection of a vulnerable loved one are common states. On the other extreme others seem indifferent, are almost proud of their indifference, and continue their lives as if nothing is happening. Most of us have mixed feelings. We are worried, yes, but we hope for the best and long for an end to this all.

#Lockdown presents us with some unique psychological challenges. We face fear and uncertainty, the possibility of economic loss, a loss of personal freedom, the potential loss of vulnerable or elderly loved ones, a sever curtailment of recreational possibilities, and so on.

This represents a loss of our normal coping mechanisms. We use socializing, gym, even work or school, as coping tools that help occupy us productively, enhance self esteem, and distract ourselves from unwanted thoughts and feelings. When our normal coping mechanisms are no longer available we are vulnerable to depression, anxiety, or other symptoms. We also face the very real possibility of finding ourselves slipping into unhealthy patterns of coping, such as emotional withdrawl, substance abuse, or other addictive behaviours (e.g. pornography, online shopping).

Psychotherapy is a known and effective coping mechanism in and of itself. Talking to a therapist is proven to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and addiction, while building up resilience and healthy coping skills. If you ever had any doubts about taking the step to starting therapy as a regular part of your life, now is the time.

Throughout corona lockdown and beyond I will be available to offer therapy and counselling to those in need. President Ramaphosa has indicated in his recent speech the importance of maintaining access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in this is of course mental health care. A useful article on mental health and coronavirus can be found here:

The single best antidote to stress, anxiety and depression is meaningful social connectedness. The best advice I can give it to maintain meaningful contact with friends and loved ones. Social distancing is not the same as social isolation.

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