As America begins to open back up, the news all around us seems to portray re-entry into society as we knew it as a seamless process that most Americans have chosen to undergo as normal. This past weekend, the Old Town Scottsdale bars were crowded with lines out the doors and local lakes were packed with kayaks and campsites that did little to acknowledge the social distancing norms of just a few short days before. I was in a healthcare facility last week where temperature checks were required prior to entry. I felt safe. I felt secure. Then, as I was leaving, a young lady was admitted with a fever as the nurse practitioner responded, "Don't worry. It's probably just hot outside," and allowed her to pass on through. Although I am not personally afraid, I cannot help but wonder if we are ready to just jump back in to previous social norms. This sudden, somewhat unanticipated transition has left me with more questions than answers, more hesitations than certainty.
As we re-enter society as we knew it, just what is the social-emotional impact of quarantine norms? What is their potential long-term affect on us as typical functioning humans? What does it mean to re-enter society during this time? How can we best support each other?
How Quarantine Manifested depression
Before we dig into the long-term impact of quarantine norms, and how we might effectively consider re-entry into American society, we must first understand the relationship between these norms and clinically defined depression. As most of us can readily observe in our own personal lives, there is often a direct correlation between action and mood. For example, a phrase I often use at work is, "Let's walk it out!" If something stressful happened, or if we've simply been sedentary for too long, we take a quick lap around the building, releasing endorphins and basking in a quick dose of Vitamin D from that hot desert sun. We can change location and change our mindset. A little physical activity goes a long way.
During these days of social distancing, however, we have been asked to refrain from normal routines and the performance of typical behaviors that might otherwise allow us to get out of our little rut. Being asked to socially disengage as well as avoid our normal activities are withdrawal events that are (traditionally) highly correlated with depressive behavior. Thus, unless we work extra hard to compensate for this adverse impact in our daily routines, depressive behavior will likely abound. And, let's face it. When we have to work even harder to pick ourselves up to walk around the run block, or Zoom with a friend, it's less likely to happen. Instead, we revert to Netflix and minor self-loathing as we stare blankly into the fridge. Eventually, feelings of anxiety and depression sneak in to our lives, despite our best intentions of keeping them at bay.
So, knowing that we already probably carry some minor depressive symptoms and more than a little anxiety with us as we re-enter the real world once again, what can we anticipate once we have one foot back out the door?
The mental taxation of thinking explicitly about every little item we touch and if we are maintaining appropriate social distances and whether or not it's safe to order delivery has put a damper on the simplistic socialization and care-free purchasing of the past.