“I feel like there’s a slight confusion between social distancing and social isolation”, says psychology student Nokhez Usama. “We have to keep our distance from each other, but I think it’s important to stay connected. Don’t socially isolate yourself. I know a lot of people are doing that. But talking to each other helps.”
Frenk Peeters, professor of Clinical Psychology, agrees with her. “I think we should increase social connectedness, and there are so many possibilities to do that. Call each other, use FaceTime, use WhatsApp, play games online. Some of my colleagues now take coffee breaks together on FaceTime. They agree on a time to call each other and chat about things other than work, like they would usually do at the coffee machine.” “You could also use Zoom to study together”, adds Usama. “It might feel strange at first, but at least you won’t feel alone.”
And don’t be too hard on yourself, advises Peeters. “It’s normal that concentration in times of change is perhaps more difficult. You need some time to adapt to it. I’m not going to write a brilliant paper that wins me the Nobel Prize now, and that’s OK. But try to add structure to your day. Go to bed at a normal time and get up in the morning at a normal time. Set goals for the day, but keep them small and realistic. Don’t drink too much, don’t do drugs, but make sure you have enough time to relax.”
What are their tips for people who feel very stressed and anxious about the whole situation? “Limit your time searching for information on the virus. And stick to sources of high quality”, says Koen Schruers, professor of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology. “And remember, if you’re a little bit anxious, that’s good. It keeps you from hanging out with lots of other people and getting infected.”
Peeters and student psychologist Liesbeth Mouha also advise people to go out for walks – as long as they stick to the rules, that is: keep 1.5 metres apart from one another at all times and avoid crowded places. Students’ appointments with the student psychologists won’t be cancelled, says Mouha, but will take place online or be held by telephone instead. “If you want to make an individual appointment, it’s still possible. As usual, though, we advise you to call your GP if it’s urgent.” The UM psychologists are currently working to make their other services, including workshops, available online as well.
A question from the chat: how do you cope with feelings of guilt about being in a safe environment when your loved ones aren’t? “Try to make yourself useful from a distance”, says Schruers. “It’ll help them and it’ll help you. Call them more often or order groceries for them.” “Your own home is the safest place to be right now”, says Usama. “Help them make their home their safest place to be.”
And how about dealing with anger directed at people who put others at risk by ignoring the guidelines introduced by the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)? “Show respect and be a role model”, says Peeters. “Some people are allergic to instructions. It triggers them to do exactly the opposite”, says Mouha. “Instead of instructing people, we can inspire people. We can show them how we do it.”
Watch the whole webinar: