Social distancing need not be emotional distance

Monidipa Saha

Covid-19 pandemic has made our lives harder than before. Suddenly we had to radically narrow down to basics, trying to avoid an invisible threat that has been spreading across the world. While we are at it, we are developing depressive disorders. 

Emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, restlessness, insomnia, and loneliness are exhausting and bring out the worst in those who are suffering. It can feel like an evil force trying to attack our inner strength by torturing us. Depressive disorders are impatient beasts, and now they are howling louder than ever. 

As we are stuck at home, rather than resting in comfort, our depression is exaggerated by heartbreaks and scary updates.

Understanding the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic with mental health issues cannot be examined by the usual tactics. We need a more compassionate approach to fight the 'beast.' It is reasonable to expect that our depressive disorders will be sky high in this situation. 

Compassion involves adopting the mindset to commit to the alleviation of suffering. A compassionate approach can lessen our anxieties and enhance the sense of well-being. There are several benefits of practicing compassion. Empathizing with others can make us feel less lonely. 

We need to reach out to others in need. Practicing empathy can keep depressive disorders within our limits. Regulating emotions in times of stress can be overwhelming. Listening to stories of those who are suffering, engaging in selfless acts, observing the empathetic actions, and imagining yourself in another person's shoes are examples of acts of compassion. Some of us are naturally compassionate, and it is a skill that can be cultivated as well.

Our new norms include practicing social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine. Now we have plenty of time to act compassionately with ourselves. A lot of our trauma comes from our inner battles, so, focusing solely on ourselves can be the first step of compassion. It is a lot to take when almost every one of us is coping with stress, anxiety, and fear in our own ways. 

Cutting ourselves some slack in practicing self-compassion may result in reducing stress. While we battle our inner demon, we may practice donation or charity as an act of compassion. A supportive letter or getting in touch with a long-lost friend may decrease the feeling of social isolation. Our social distancing does not have to be an emotional distance.

As many of us are working from home with foods in stock in pantry while we practice social distancing from a safe environment, we need to be compassionate towards those who have lost their jobs or are out of work or have no choice but to continue working. Many of us with depressive disorders are struggling with necessities. 

Empathy, kindness, helping others in need are acts of compassion and can be a steppingstone towards self-help. We all have our apprehension, but that does not mean we should lose our kindness in the face of a crisis.

During this social distancing period, we can practice listing down those scenarios where our depressive disorders trigger us. Next, to the list, we could write down how to reframe or reinterpret those feelings. Billie Jean King (tennis player) once said, "I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion."

The most crucial skill to defeat depressive disorders is to develop awareness. It is important to remember that sometimes compassion requires practice to be effectively instigated. COVID-19 Pandemic gave us some extra time on our hands, and we can start practicing compassion to fight our own battle of depressive disorders. 

Monidipa Saha is Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, American International University- Bangladesh (AIUB)