The Unexpected Benefits of Social Distancing and COVID-19

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When the time change happened earlier this month, I expected to be grouchy as usual (spring forward has never sat well with me). I did not expect, however, to be thrust into an alternate dimension. None of us did. The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed life as we’ve known it within the span of days. Suddenly, there are all these rules about how people can socialize, who they can interact with, what activities they’re allowed to do, and the list does on. The restrictions are unprecedented for Americans that are accustomed to enjoying quite a lot of freedom in their daily lives. 

Social distancing and lockdown measures feel confining and stressful.

If you’ve spent any time in Miami at all, you know that our city operates at a frenzied pace second only to New York City. Everyone’s always rushing about. Busyness, being productive, and immediate gratification are as much embedded in our local way of life as Hispanic culture. The new measures heighten that pitch. People felt more stress and anxiety than ever about the coronavirus, their loved ones, their health, and getting basic supplies (TP, anyone?). But now two weeks in, I’m hearing many people say that, yes, they’re stressed, but in some ways, they’re also less stressed.

So that got me curious. How are people less stressed and worried during an emergency? 

I think that half the answer lies in that this is part of how they respond to trauma. (But that’s a whole other blog post.) The other part of the answer is that social distancing and lockdowns have forced many Miami residents to slow down and live much more simplified, intentional lives. Something they may not have ever considered doing otherwise.

Here’s what my family, friends, neighbors, clients, and strangers in the checkout line (while practicing social distancing) are citing as benefits of this new normal:

Less commuter stress and road rage

It’s the first thing people mention, hands down. They marvel that they can drive from West Kendall to Coral Gables in well under an hour. And no one’s cutting them off, tailgating, honking, or cursing up a storm. It’s like driving in a small town.

Less workplace stress

Some people work in hostile work environments. Yes, they’re still working from home, but not having to be in the physical proximity of toxic bosses and co-workers is a huge relief for many people. 

Eating Healthier

Restaurants are closed, as are all the places people are normally running around to and from. That means they’re not hitting the fast food drive-thrus for a quick bite. For many this means cooking healthier meals and eating at home.

Spending Less

Eating out, shopping, bar hopping, clubbing, etc. are expensive. Just two weeks in, people are realizing how their behaviors have been affecting their bank accounts and contributing to their financial stress. This experience is helping them evaluate what they can do without in the future.

Exercising More

The average person can only stare at a screen for only so long. Same for staying indoors. With not much else to do, people are going outside and exercising. Even those that have exercise equipment at home. The streets in my neighborhood are full of people going for walks with their dogs, doing home-schooling P.E with kids, biking, going for jogs, doing yoga on front lawns, and rollerblading (yes, those still are a thing!).

Being in Nature More

And guess what? Nature doesn’t know there’s a pandemic; the natural just keeps doing its thing. By exercising outdoors, people are exploring nature more. They’re noticing the trees, flowers, and hearing the birds in their neighborhoods. They’re watching cloud shapes in the sky with their kids. All of these help promote mindfulness (i.e. being present in the moment), conscious living, and re-regulates your nervous system (especially if you’re anxious, irritable, etc.). They’re also getting their daily dose of sunlight which has many benefits including stronger bones and immune system, and better mood. The latter is because it stimulates the body’s opiates called endorphins that help alleviate stress and pain. 

Sleeping Better

Sunlight entering the eyes goes into the brain and helps re-sync the body’s circadian rhythms, improving sleep. This is very important now as so many of us are spending increased time in front of LED screens which cause sleep dysregulation. (If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out my process to clean up your sleep hygiene.)

Improved Personal Relationships

With all the daily extras that distract us stripped away, people are spending more time with their nuclear family and connecting with their extended family and friends. They’re cooking meals together, eating together, learning together, exercising together, playing together….you get the point, lol. And that means they’re talking with each other more, getting to know each other at a deeper level. Sexless couples are reconnecting. (Yes, that’s real and very common!) People that have been neighbors for years have spoken for the first time. We’re social creatures, folks. Real-life, high-quality relationships help us stay emotionally and physically healthy. 

Appreciating the Arts More

People are getting bored of movies and running out of TV shows to watch. Many of them are turning to other forms of entertainment like crafting, painting, sketching, singing, playing instruments, and writing (like yours truly ;)). Others are taking virtual tours of famous museums, attending online concerts, watching Broadway shows online, or reading/listening to books. 

Enjoying a Greater Sense of Accomplishment

Suddenly people are finding the time to do the things they’ve been putting off or wished they had more time to do. Cleaning the garage, reorganizing the closets, pressure cleaning the driveway, replanting the flowerbed, starting on the idea for a book, learning a new skill, or re-prioritizing your self-care – people are getting reacquainted with things that were once important to them and it feels good. It’s not so much about accomplishing tasks as it is about keeping commitments that you’d set for yourself long ago. It provide a boost to your self-esteem. 

So it seems that there are some positives to COVID-19 and social distancing. 

In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth returning to.

Dave Hollis

People reflecting and reassessing their “normal” lives during this time of social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus. And finding some aspects of their “normal” lacking. I hope that you take the time to consider if there are parts of this “new normal” you’ll keep and which parts of your “normal” life it might be time to let go of. 

Less flash and fluff. More substance and depth.  

Making those changes for yourself and your family isn’t easy as we’ve all experienced in the last few weeks. It can be uncomfortable and there’ll be pushback. But it is possible to sustain these changes and live more simply, more intentionally. Call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult if you’re looking for support. We’re here to help – it’s our specialty. 

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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