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Social distancing: Local clinician weighs in on best practices

Health News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Social distancing is becoming the new normal as the federal government encourages people to combat the spread of the new novel coronavirus.

WSAV.com NOW sat down with Whitney Owens, a local clinician at Water’s Edge Counseling in Savannah, to learn more about social distancing and ways to cope with it.

Social distancing defined

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.

Social distancing has been recommended by federal and public health officials to combat the spread of COVID-19.

In turn, many people are working from home, schools are shifting online, and bars, restaurants and other large public venues continue to close.

How to develop a social distancing mindset?

Owens says it’s all about changing your outlook on your current situation.

“It’s really easy to think, ‘Oh, I’m stuck here. I can’t do anything.’ But instead think, ‘Wow, what are all of the things I’ve been wanting to do that I haven’t gotten to do because I’ve never had the time,” she explained.

What’s also important is creating and sticking to a schedule while at home, especially if you have young children. Creating a schedule helps keep you and your children from going stir-crazy.

For example, if you’re a business owner, Owens says now is a great time to work on things you never had a chance to, like a website.

“Start thinking about the things you can get ahead on, instead of thinking about what you’re behind in. Use this as a time to slow down, rethink and put your time into some other things,” said Owens.

Tackling anxiety while social distancing

Therapists and clinicians, like Owens, say it is expected for people to begin to feel more anxious during very stressful time periods like this.

Owens says a majority of Americans already experience anxiety disorders. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, however, more and more Americans are beginning to experience anxiety disorders, many for the first time.

The worst thing to do is to ignore feelings of anxiety, says Owens. In order to overcome anxiety, it is important to acknowledge it.

“Saying, ‘You know what? It’s okay that I feel anxious. I have no idea what’s going to happen and that’s okay,” she said.

“Just giving yourself that grace or that acceptance like for yourself to be anxious,” Owens added.

Accepting feelings of anxiety allows you to develop best practices in order to overcome those feelings.

“Make sure you’re eating healthy. Make sure you’re going to sleep and not binging on TV shows,” says Owens. “Taking extra precautions to do things that are kind of the opposite of when you’re anxious [that] will really help with the anxiety.”

Finding a balance

There is a constant struggle to stay calm and well-informed as you’re listening to every press conference, every case update and every closing, each a little more nerving the previous one.

Still, Owens says it is extremely important during chaotic times to live in the present moment and to not think or try to live in the future.

“We can sit and play the ‘What if’ game all day long,” said Owens. “And if you do that, you’re going to set yourself up for failure and anxiety. So trying to be present in where you’re at and not looking at the future and then basing it on the facts.”

She also warns that constantly being plugged in will only feed into more anxious tendencies, especially while being at home and quarantined.

“We want to be mindful and understanding that these are the symptoms, here’s how to be intelligent and smart about it. But don’t get into such a panic that that’s all you’re thinking about,” says Owens.

What can you do to stay occupied?

Learn to play an instrument. You bought that guitar in college to impress your crush, but it’s been sitting in your spare room gathering dust. Search YouTube for tutorials on beginner’s guitar and piano. There are also apps that can break down the steps.

Read. All those books you’ve been buying just to put them on a shelf and forget can now shine. While you’re catching up on your reading list, see if any of your friends would like to start an online reading club.

Get artistic. There are a ton of YouTube tutorials on the basics of drawing, but if that’s too hard, you could always buy some coloring books for grownups.

Get some sun. There’s nothing like a little Vitamin D to chase away the social isolation blues. If you’re working from home, consider taking your lunch break on the porch or in the backyard. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

Write. Maybe you have a novel or screenplay idea that you keep meaning to finish, but never have the time. That time is now. Check Facebook for writers’ groups to get feedback and encouragement.

Start running. Just because your gym closed doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising. Apps like Couch to 5k help you easily adjust from never running to pounding pavement like a pro. Nike Run Club and Runkeeper help you track your runs and give you audio cues when you reach certain times or distances. If you need extra motivation, Zombies, Run! allows you to exercise while also playing a game.

Staying connected while social distancing

The federal government is recommending to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, but Owens still says it’s important to continue to stay connected with others.

She recommends setting up daily FaceTime calls or traditional phone calls with friends and family members.

Establishing a set schedule of communication with others is important because she says it allows for someone to better adapt to social distancing, especially if you suffer from a mental health issue.

If you, or someone you know, are suffering from mental health issues during this time, online counseling appointments are available with most counseling services.

You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Stay connected with the latest updates on the coronavirus here.

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