With the recent announcement of a 21-day lockdown as a measure to tackle the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), individuals will most certainly experience a pshycological impact due to limited social interaction.
According to Prof Ankebé Kruger, an associate professor and counselling psychologist at the North-West University (NWU), the lockdown will limit our movement and activities and essentially limit our social interactions with our loved ones and friends, which can have a huge pshycological effect on us.
“Many of us were most likely preparing for the school holidays, preparing for family gatherings, socialising with friends and perhaps participating in special religious activities. But suddenly we find ourselves in an unprecedented and unimaginable situation with various uncertainties dwelling in our minds,” she says.
“One of the many doubts we have to deal with, is the question of how the lockdown will affect our lives. For decades research has been increasingly demonstrating that social interaction significantly contributes to people’s health and longevity. In addition, social interaction not only gives us pleasure, but also influences our long-term health in ways similar to adequate sleep, a good diet and not smoking.”
Prof Kruger adds that a significant number of research studies have shown that people who have social support from family and friends are happier, have fewer health problems and ultimately live longer. On the other hand, she says, a relative lack of social interaction also damages mental health.
“Emotional support associated with social interaction helps to reduce the detrimental effect of stress and can foster a sense of meaning and purpose in life, while at the same time lowering levels of anxiety and depression. Also, limited social interaction during the 21-day lockdown may contribute to people experiencing loneliness, isolation and alienation.”
Unfortunately, these bizarre times we currently find ourselves in are totally outside our control, and we have to try to do everything we can to make the best of a bad situation. She says the one thing that we can control is our thoughts or attitudes.
“Millions of people will be in the same unfortunate situation, but not all of us will behave in the same way or experience the same emotions. People entertaining thoughts such as ‘This is an awful situation and I don’t think I will be able to stand it not having interaction with my family and friends’ may experience inappropriate unhealthy negative emotions such as anger and depression. Conversely, people focusing on entertaining thoughts such as ‘This is an uncomfortable situation, but at least I can still keep in touch via phone or other online platforms’ will most likely experience healthier negative emotions, such as frustration and sadness, but at least it will be much more bearable.”
In conclusion, Prof Kruger states that although we do not have control over what is currently happening, we are in control of how we think about what is happening around us and, ultimately, the emotions we experience.
“Therefore, attend to your thoughts and make a deliberate effort to focus on what you can control.”