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Coping with the stress of social distancing

Image of person alone in room Service members and their families will quarantine at Fort Knox if they come into contact with a person potentially infected with COVID-19. (U.S. Army photo by Eric Pilgrim)

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Social distancing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now in place across the nation in response to COVID-19. It’s understandable that during this time, people may experience increased anxiety and stress levels as they limit social interactions and spend long stretches of time at home. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA recently issued a tip sheet with advice and resources to support behavioral health during periods of social distancing or quarantine that result from a disease outbreak.

Ways to Cope

  1. Limit COVID-19 media consumption: Avoid 24/7 watching of news programming for updates on COVID-19 because it may lead to increased anxiety.
  2. Find credible news sources: Constant media reporting during a public health crisis may create impressions of increased risk and danger to people. Look to credible sources issuing guidelines and recommendations, such as the CDC and World Health Organization, which often serve as the primary source for media outlets. Sign up for emergency alerts through local governments.
  3. Use technology to connect with others: Talking with loved ones while in isolation can help reduce levels of anxiety and boredom. In today’s digital age, there are a variety of ways to stay in contact with people, including phone, email, text, and social media. Video calling platforms allow face-to-face interactions from the comfort of your home. Playing online games with friends and family can also offer an engaging way to feel connected.
  4. Practice self-care: Physical health can play a role in mental health. Take time to relax by stretching, practicing deep-breathing exercises, or meditating. Enjoy fun activities. Keep a journal listing the positive things in life.

Anxiety and fear over personal health or the health of loved ones are typical reactions to a global pandemic. Other feelings can include anger, frustration, and boredom over the uncertainty of when life will return to “normal.” Be aware that in situations of high stress and loneliness, some people may experience symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Anyone experiencing a concerning or significant level of anxiety or stress, or if any of these symptoms last for two or more weeks, should call a health care provider or behavioral health professional.

For more information, including a helpful list of resources and hotlines, refer to SAHMSA’s four-page publication, Tips for Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation During an Infectious Disease Outbreak.

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This Practice Management Guide does not supersede DoD Policy. It is based upon the best information available at the time of publication. It is designed to provide information and assist decision making. It is not intended to define a standard of care and should not be construed as one. Neither should it be interpreted as prescribing an exclusive course of management. It was developed by experts in this field. Variations in practice will inevitably and appropriately occur when clinicians take into account the needs of individual patients, available resources, and limitations unique to an institution or type of practice. Every healthcare professional making use of this guideline is responsible for evaluating the appropriateness of applying it in the setting of any particular clinical situation. The Practice Management Guide is not intended to represent TRICARE policy. Further, inclusion of recommendations for specific testing and/or therapeutic interventions within this guide does not guarantee coverage of civilian sector care. Additional information on current TRICARE benefits may be found at www.tricare.mil or by contacting your regional TRICARE Managed Care Support Contractor.

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