By: Isabella Bifolchi
If you have felt discouraged, repressed, and anxious during the current COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. This outbreak has lasted much longer than anyone initially anticipated and accompanied severe mental health implications. As a result, our traditional milestones and celebrations have been either delayed, cancelled or altered to accommodate the public health guidelines. These include weddings, graduations, festivals, religious holidays/sacraments, birthdays, and the list goes on. In one way or another, the pandemic has forced us to put our lives on hold for the safety of our community and the world. As a society, we have been so consumed by the importance of protecting our physical health, while exceedingly neglecting our mental health. A recent longitudinal study of mental health by the National Academy of Sciences of the US concluded that a “national mental health crisis” has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic (Giuntella et al, 2020). With this said, how are we expected to cope with the dispiriting conditions of COVID?
Firstly, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Although it may be easy to forget in times of isolation, we are all struggling with feelings of fear, frustration, and/or despair. Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in some way. One of the most powerful and effective methods of managing psychological distress is through receiving social support. However, if face-to-face support is unfeasible, exploring modes of virtual communication is an excellent way to overcome these negative emotions.
A 2007 study conducted by Ozbay and colleagues suggests that social support has the potential to “moderate genetic and environmental vulnerabilities and confer resilience to stress” (Ozbay et al., 2007). In the context of the study, social support was defined as one’s emotional and/or instrumental interactions with a person or network of people. Ozbay and colleagues observed the increase in one's resilience to stress as well as the positive psychological impacts of receiving social support. The results of this study demonstrate that exposure to social support positively impacts one's resilience to stress by promoting effective coping strategies (Ozbay et al., 2007). This research provides insight on how to effectively promote resilience during challenging times, such as the current pandemic we are experiencing. Multiple studies have indicated the importance of social support for maintaining good mental and physical health.
Listed below are 4 simple ways you can support your mental health by increasing exposure to social support while remaining compliant with COVID-19 regulations:
1. Connect with people in your household
Although this may come as a given, sometimes the most supportive individuals are the ones right in front of you. Those who know you the best, such as your close friends or family members, are typically the most capable of providing effective emotional support. Simply speaking to someone who knows you on a deeper level enables more fulfilling and profound conversations oftentimes providing significant relief.
2. Make regular phone or video calls
The past year and a half have been filled with social distancing and lockdown regulations, which have hindered interacting with people outside of your household. As a result, it is crucial to develop ways to stay connected with members of our social circle. Scheduling phone or video calls is a great way to maintain contact without having to meet face-to-face.
3. Join a social media platform
In our 21st century society, social media is everywhere. It opens the door to business opportunities, relationship developments, educational advancements, and many more. One of the most gratifying qualities of social media is its ability to connect you with people and audiences whom you may have never encountered in person. People across the world who have similar interests, hobbies, and/or views are all accessible through the click of a button. Setting up a social media account provides you with the opportunity to connect with people- old and new- whose lives parallel yours in some unique way. Connecting with others over such commonalities provides emotional fulfilment and the chance to develop new relationships. Importantly, having a social media presence may provide you with the feeling of being part of something bigger, and this can be incredibly gratifying.
4. Join a virtual peer connect group
Before the world was affected by COVID-19, very few groups and clubs offered virtual programs and/or meetings. However many organizations have adapted to the current times to offer online services. Signing yourself up for a virtual book club, cooking class, or even attending an online religious service creates an opportunity to meet and conspire with people that have similar interests and ideas. Connecting with individuals who share such intimate similarities can generate meaningful social interactions that fill our lives with purpose and joy. Furthermore, joining a virtual group/club allows us to engage in the hobbies we enjoyed before the pandemic, returning a sense of normalcy and joy in our everyday lives.
Overall, despite the immense change we have experienced due to COVID-19, we must have hope for better days ahead. Further, we must find peace in the here and now. We will get through these challenging times with the support of one another.
Giuntella, O., Hyde, K., Saccardo, S., & Sadoff, S. (2021). Lifestyle and Mental Health Disruptions During COVID-19. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3666985
Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: From neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(5), 35-40.