From Netflix Party to Zoom: how to handle COVID-19-related social distancing

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation, according to U of T psychiatry professor

From Netflix Party to Zoom: how to handle COVID-19-related social distancing

Social distancing and self-isolation measures have become the new norm for the foreseeable future in Toronto. These measures will help ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of COVID-19, and can save lives by not overburdening Canada’s health care system.

Canadians have been taking their studies and work to their homes. However, social distancing and its potential toll on people’s emotional well-being is a subject of concern for mental health experts. 

Dr. Suze Berkhout, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a clinician investigator at the University Health Network, explained how weakened emotional stability can be a typical effect of isolation in an email to The Varsity.

In the context of COVID-19, we might also expect other feelings to become prominent: fear relating to infection, guilt, [and] confusion around the reasons for decreasing proximity with others when someone has no symptoms of infection, as well as irritability, sadness, or even anger at the situation in general,” she wrote.

Awareness of the negative impact of social media

With newfound time at home, spending hours on end scrolling through seemingly eternal COVID-19 news feeds can be overwhelming. Jessica Valenti, an American feminist writer, asked her followers on Twitter if anyone else had “been waking up in the middle of the night to have a nice big panic attack.” One of the responders commented that she had just had her “first Coronavirus cry.”

Berkhout mentioned that although it is important to stay well informed about the situation and public health recommendations, people must balance the different kinds of COVID-19 media they consume. 

“That might mean giving yourself a schedule – only going on to certain sites with reliable information and [limiting] how often that is during the day.” Finding examples online of communities pulling together can also foster feelings of hopefulness and resiliency. 

Social connection through remote communication

It is important to remember that physical isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Dr. Heidi Kar, a clinical psychologist at the Education Development Centre advocates for the importance of a solid support system for good mental health. Similarly, according to Jonathan Kanter, the director of University of Washington Center for the Science of Social Connection, people are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after natural disasters when they have family support. 

However, only socializing through text messages lacks “the non-verbal aspects of communication that we respond to and use to understand one another,” as Berkhout pointed out. 

Setting up video calls to converse, with programs like Skype and Zoom, along with doing activities like playing music, games, or watching movies with friends and family can all reduce this disconnect.

Google Chrome even has an extension called Netflix Party that allows you to watch TV shows and movies in sync with others remotely — with a real-time sidebar chat to share your reactions and comments on whatever you’ve decided to binge-watch. 

Berkhout reminds us that “[we] also need to try to adapt and not expect everything to feel the way it would have – it’s a new ‘normal’ and one that we can embrace.” 

Solitary tasks to boost one’s mood

If you are home alone, there are solitary tasks you can do during the day that may help prevent negative thought patterns. For example, start reading the books that you’ve been wanting to read for months, journal your thoughts and experiences, and follow an at-home fitness routine to get endorphins flowing through your body.

Self-care practices like these are great methods for stress relief, emotional release, self-discovery, and building self-esteem. You might come to terms with any negative stressors that have been lingering throughout the escalating panic of COVID-19 and be able to better process them.

It can be discouraging without the normal incentive to leave our houses for tasks such as work, school, and other extracurricular activities, as our usual markers of productivity and achievement are no longer there. Berkhout emphasized the importance of maintaining a routine “so that the day itself has more certainty.” 

Ensuring that “each day has elements of relaxation… enjoyment, social connection, and feelings of accomplishment” through practices like mindfulness, physical activity, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule are all ways to decrease anxiety and improve our moods. 

“One way to help with the challenge of social distancing is to reframe the practice as part of a larger collective effort in which we are helping to protect our communities, especially our most vulnerable members,” wrote Berkhout.

Letter from the Editor: The Varsity’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Reliable news and social distance journalism

Letter from the Editor: <i>The Varsity</i>’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

When I first picked up the proverbial pen at the beginning of the year to write to you, our readers, I never would have guessed that the next time I would address you would be under such circumstances. A pandemic has made it so that our U of T community has been thrown into chaos, and many of us are dealing with stressors that we never could have imagined. During this time of great uncertainty, The Varsity will persevere in bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date news.

We have decided to cancel the print run of our last two issues of the year, but we will nonetheless continue posting PDF versions online for all to read. While we never thought that we would cancel issues because of a pandemic — we were placing our bets on the Student Choice Initiative instead — there is no reason to keep printing when our campuses are nearly deserted and, moreover, when we want to encourage them to stay that way.

However, we are continuing to produce our paper online for the purposes of documenting the times we live in.

In this issue, you’ll find print-exclusive roundups of all our COVID-19 coverage in news, as well as movie reviews to keep you company while social distancing, pieces on why you should even be social distancing, and how to be kind to yourself and practice compassion during this difficult period.

At this time, I want to give my thanks to our dozens of writers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more who have gone to great lengths to keep the U of T community informed. The Varsity is entirely student-run, which means that none of us are exempt from the confusion that all U of T students are experiencing right now.

Even though many of our masthead and contributors have had to hastily leave campus and scatter across the world, and many more are scrambling to complete assignments in the midst of upheaval, they have nonetheless managed to continue producing high-quality and valuable content because they care about keeping you informed.

I am forever in awe of the brilliant people who work at The Varsity and I want them to know that their contributions do not go unnoticed.

As such, please enjoy our last two issues of the year, made entirely by our editors while working from home. I hope you are taking care of yourselves and those around you at this time. We can all get through this together by doing our part not only for ourselves, but for our community.

Opinion: Stay away from others — it’s the ultimate form of community care

The necessity of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Opinion: Stay away from others — it’s the ultimate form of community care

Introverts like me have been preparing for social distancing since we were shy bleacher-type kids, so the break from face-to-face socializing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be a relief for many of us.

It was for me as well, at first. I’ve been staying home for the past few days, and plan to do so for at least another week. Though I haven’t previously been in contact with symptomatic people or travellers, I have commuted frequently and attended social gatherings prior to the widespread adoption of social distancing measures.

I’m thankful to have the privilege of freelancing from home and participating in online classes. I will probably go out to buy groceries, but I will only be seeing friends through my digital screens. I’ve started to catch up on some reading — not the academic kind — and I’ve been watching those weird made-for-TV movies that air on Global TV and the W Network. In the past few days and nights, I have also been going through bouts of anxiety and serious basketball withdrawal.

And yet, it is hard to stay away from other humans. Not everyone may be able to stay home and do classes online like I do, but, if you can, staying home could save someone’s life.

For the sake of our communities, it is important that we recognize this outbreak as what it has now been declared: an emergency. The number of confirmed cases in Canada is rising dramatically on a day-to-day basis, making it even more likely for you to be in contact with someone who has the virus.

That’s why people who attended a recent conference held by the Prospectors and Developers Association in Toronto must self-isolate and self-monitor for two weeks, as an attendee tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly, 20 per cent of NBA players, along with staff and officials, were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus.

It has been proven that infected people without symptoms can still spread the virus, but not as much as people who have symptoms such as coughs, fevers, and difficulty breathing. This means that if you have no symptoms, you don’t have to self-isolate, but social distancing is still important.

Even if you are not experiencing severe symptoms, there is a chance that you may pass the virus on to someone with a suppressed or vulnerable immune system who might have a higher chance of complications, including death. Hospitals also have limited capacities, and having a large influx of patients will put great strain on our health care system.

With 424 cases — and rising — in Ontario, staying away from others is the ultimate form of care that we can provide our communities with in this rapidly evolving crisis.

In the individualistic North American culture, it’s easy to get carried away with our own personal fears and start panic-buying all the toilet paper in sight. But this isn’t necessary as there will be enough supply in the coming weeks.

If you have bulk-bought things, consider sharing them with others. If you are healthy and able, consider buying groceries for disadvantaged neighbours. These are trying times for everyone, and we may not even trust our leaders to protect us. That is why we must trust each other.

So remember, keeping two metres apart from others, avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people, and staying home when you can are all acts of love. Your community is counting on you, and in this difficult time we should all keep each other’s wellness in mind.

Hadiyyah Kuma is a third-year Sociology student at Victoria College.