Can Social Distancing Cause Anxiety or Depression?


Social distancing, along with washing your hands often, might just be the best way to avoid COVID-19. But it might just cause different troubles.

Are you a fan of the concept of social distancing? If you’re an introvert like me, it might be just up your alley.

I’ve always hated large crowds. I’ve always tried to avoid big social situations. There’s a popular Christmas party in Charleston every year that I haven’t attended in years because I feel packed into the swanky location like a sardine.

Most people I know wouldn’t miss it. It’s just not my thing.

The Centers for Disease Control has been urging social distancing to help fight the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Social distancing, of course, is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. 

Along with canceling large-scale gatherings like church services and shutting down restaurant dining rooms, some states have even closed beaches.

Doctors want people to maintain a separation of at least six feet. You shouldn’t shake hands or high-five. If you just have to touch each other, even a fist-bump is off-limits. Instead, they suggest the curious “elbow bump.”

Your love language and social distancing

But is all that really a problem? It might depend on your “love language.”

Gary Chapman identified five “love languages” in his 1992 book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. The five are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Chapman claims that everyone has one primary and one secondary love language.

I took three different versions of the “love languages” test to see which one mine happens to be. (Yes, I already knew, but I wanted to see how the different ones — here, here and here — compare.)

Well, it was unanimous: my love language is “physical touch.” describes it as “showing love through hugging, cuddling, being intimate or simply putting a caring hand on someone’s shoulder.”

The various tests also point out it can be as simple as just sitting close to someone you care about. It doesn’t have to involve real touch.

Not the kind of thing you want to be reminded about when physical touch is verboten.

The website explains that the highest possible score on their version of the test for any of the five is a 12. Their test scored me at a 10 for physical touch with a 9 at quality time.

It describes physical touch like this:

Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Appropriate and timely touches communicate warmth, safety, and love to you.

And here’s what it says about quality time:

In Quality Time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes you feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether itʼs spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.

You might well be one of the other types. If you are, you’re probably not nearly as bothered by this whole social distancing thing.

But can social distancing really create depression?

Some experts answer with a resounding yes! A recent NBC News story stated it can have “a devastating effect” on people who suffer from depression.

“The fact that there’s so much of an urgency to disconnect creates a lot of fear with people,” a New York psychologist said.

A National Institutes of Health study from the 2004 SARS outbreak, found interesting results on isolation during a health crisis. Researchers found that among 129 quarantined people who responded to the survey, there was “a high prevalence of psychological distress.” They noted symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in 28.9% of them and depression in 31.2%.

“Longer durations of quarantine were associated with an increased prevalence of PTSD symptoms,” researchers found.

The first step to fighting off any sense of depression from the social distancing seems to be the most obvious one: be aware of it. Know yourself well enough to recognize how you’re feeling. They look for ways to be active: exercise, go for a walk, clean house. Do something that gets you moving around so that you’re less likely to spend too much time alone with only your thoughts to keep you company.

This crisis won’t last forever.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.