• Dr. Jonathan Hoffman

Mental Distancing Will Help You Stay Healthy Too

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Social distancing is a challenge, even for those who believe it’s the right thing to do. The dual purposes of social distancing are to stay healthy through the pandemic and protect others in your proximity. This can feel awkward, even rude. It’s not easy to change lifetime personal space habits!



This is also a good time to think about mental distancing. The aims of mental distancing are twofold as well--preventing runaway thoughts or emotions from ‘infecting’ your life and doing your best to ensure that any negativity or stress occurring in your own mind is not communicable to those around you. Similar to social distancing, practicing mental distancing effectively can be daunting.


One way to ascertain whether your mental distancing is sufficient is by examining your personal distress level. If you’re experiencing more distress than what would seem reasonable under the present circumstances your level of mental distancing more than likely needs to increase. If on the other hand, you’re implacable in the face of current events, well, you’re a rare genius of psychological coping, or, more likely, in denial.


Another means of surmising whether increased mental distancing is necessary is by assessing your day-to-day functioning in various domains, for example, sleep, eating habits, ability to concentrate, and self-care in general. Separating mind and functioning is fundamental to good mental health. If your functioning has been trending lower, it may be that poor mental distancing is allowing what’s going on in your mind to stomp on your life.


However, as with social distancing, it may be uncomfortable to stand back from your own mind. This is especially an issue for anyone who has habitually conflated mental experiences with self. They are not the same thing at all. While there is no precise definition of ‘self’ one that I like is that ‘self’ is what observes what’s happening in your mind and then curates this experience into value-based actions.


So, the next time you have an upsetting thought such as, “the pandemic will never end,” try rewording it in a way that increases mental distancing. Say instead, “I am having the thought that the pandemic will never end.” Notice how adding these words provides some distance?

You can practice this same skill for troubling emotions like overwhelming anxiety or despair. Stepping back will afford you the opportunity to spot your mind’s distortions, exaggerations, and minimizations and give you time to correct them.


Do this consistently and your ability to not let your mind negatively affect your behavior will grow. Try this: vow to practice a high level of self-care no matter how long the pandemic lasts. That’s a powerful stance!


At the same time, it’s important to be honest with yourself. If you’re simply exhausted and cannot mentally distance anymore, you’re far from alone in these trying times. There is no shame in admitting this, especially if you are at risk of endangering yourself or loved ones in any way. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek professional care if necessary. Telemental services are more available than ever, and please never hesitate to ask about sliding scales fees if you are in need.


Maybe one day, hopefully soon, social distancing will not be necessary. But mental distancing skills will benefit you forever.



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