Social Isolation and Our Mental Health during Distance Education

by İTÜ | Apr 07, 2020
Mental health is another issue just as important as physical health in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mental health is another issue just as important as physical health in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. ITU Psychological Counseling and Guidance Center Coordinator, Psychological Counselor Cem Demirbaş shared his detailed recommendations for protecting psychology and increasing psychological resilience during this period.

First of all, we all should know that the outbreak caused by COVID-19 virus is abnormal for all of us. Therefore, it is normal and necessary for us to feel anxious and stressed. You may feel more frightened, anxious and stressed both due to the uncertainty about the virus and changing, uncertain circumstances (staying home, online education, etc.) 

Instead of focusing on uncertainties and uncontrollable conditions during this process, getting correct information about the pandemic and taking the necessary measures will bring your anxiety to a more functional level. In this process, trying to get more information, watching too much news or reading in order to eliminate uncertainty will increase your anxiety more. It is very important not to forget that information from untrustworthy sources with unknown basis may not be correct and to obtain information from reliable sources (Ministry of Health, World Health Organization).

We must accept the fact that there is and will be uncertainties not only in this process, but as long as we live. You can perceive this process as an opportunity to learn to tolerate uncertainty.

Saying “nothing will happen to me / us” and denying the situation or writing disaster scenarios as if we will die tomorrow, seeing ourselves as victims and panicking are two ends of anxiety, both are unrealistic and disrupt our functionality. Instead of saying “there is nothing to be afraid of”, we should accept those emotions and remind ourselves that it is normal to be afraid, panicked and even cry from time to time.

Few Tips That Can Relieve You

-       You can add things that are good for you to your daily plan at home, that you enjoy doing and that will make you comfortable (books, music, games, TV series, pictures etc.).

-       Staying in touch with your loved ones (talking on the phone or video talking) when you feel lonely or stressed for reasons such as not leaving the house or being away from your loved ones, makes you feel supported by strong social relations and helps you remember that we are connected by unseen ties. It may also be good to make plans to cherish the bonds between you at the earliest opportunity.

-       Too much pressure to be planned or structured to-do lists can increase your tension. Sometimes it may be better for you to let go and go with the flow. Besides, it will be good to try to carry on your routine, nutrition and sleep as much as possible, even if you are at home.

-       Physical activities lower our stress levels. You can stay physically active as long as you are at home with the applications you can download on your phone and videos you can use via online sites. You can do exercises like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, pilates, cardio exercises.

-       Thinking about the things that calm and relax you in your hard times and the way you overcome difficult situations and transformations in the past allows you to remember your own strength and adaptability skills.

-       Humor is one of the best ways of coping skills. Whatever happens in your life, always allow for humor. You can do activities like watching funny videos or reading cartoons you love.

-       You can write your feelings and thoughts, keep a diary or write a letter to yourself to read next year regarding what the whole process has taught you, what you realized, the decisions you made and the things you would do differently now.

Social Distancing and Its Effects

The desire to socialize is inherent in all of us as human beings, and we have to give up this desire to protect the physical health of both ourselves and those around us, in the environment of widespread outbreak, which has become pandemic (Covid-19). Therefore, as advised by health professionals, providing protection is possible with social distancing. Of course, protecting our physical health is vital, but this situation, which is against our nature, can affect our psychological health.

First, let's examine the effects of social isolation. According to a study (Hawkley, Capitanio 2015), the effects of social isolation include depression, poor sleep quality, decreased functionality, decreased cognitive abilities, and even reduced immune system. Therefore, it is extremely important to combat these adverse effects first.

One important thing that can be done in combating depression is planning an activity (NHS, 2018). Being able to go out of our home in a very restricted way does not mean that we are completely devoid of activities. Among the activities we can do individually at home are exercising, drawing, reading etc. A quick research on the internet about these and similar activities can offer many options. It is important that we devote time to our activities in order to protect ourselves both spiritually and physically, even it comes with a very heart. Apart from that, it is important to connect with people in the fight against depression. Though not physically, we can easily establish this connection through the media these days. It is also important to be in remote communication with those around us in order to protect ourselves. 

As mentioned before, social distancing also has an impact on sleep. Our sleep may be different from our daily routine these days. Sleep quality is important both for our immune system, which we need and for our psychological health. The main things we can do to improve our sleep quality is to stay away from blue light emitting screens such as telephone, or television before going to sleep, to plan regular sleeping hours, to keep out of our bed during the day and to try to use stimulant substances such as nicotine and caffeine carefully before bedtime. It is possible to research on the internet about sleep hygiene for more detailed information.

Apart from these, the other vital issues we should pay attention to are nutrition habits and substance use. When we experience social distancing, our eating habits can be particularly impaired. For this, consuming healthy foods as much as possible and creating a regular meal routine can protect us mentally and physically. It should not be forgotten that substance use (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.) may increase during these periods. Although this increase may sometimes go unnoticed, limiting substance use perhaps becomes more important than ever in this period. Finally, as a society, we and everyone around us can experience loneliness during this period. Let's not forget that feeling a little anxious and lonely is extremely normal and possible. It will be protective for you to know that you are not alone and to continue communicating with those around you. Based on the principle that there is no physical health where there is no mental health, we have to protect our mental health in the same way as we are trying to protect our physical health these days. 

We are always with you

You can get psychological support if you feel constantly anxious, panicked, depressed and are unable to relax. As ITU Psychological Counseling and Guidance Center, although we cannot meet face to face due to social distancing, we are happy to assist you via teleconference. Just send an email to to get an appointment with us.

To watch the video by ITU Psychological Counseling and Guidance Center Coordinator, Psychological Counselor Cem Demirbaş on “Our Mental Health in Social Isolation and Distance Education Days”, click here.