How to stay motivated with social distancing as pandemic continues to unfold

Alexandra Thompson
·4-min read
A young woman on public transport during the pandemic. A young woman in an empty public transport during the pandemic. Coronavirus. Virus protection in public transportation
Travellers must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing on public transport as the pandemic continues to unfold. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Many were undoubtedly glad to see the back of 2020, with the roll out of coronavirus vaccines raising hopes of travel, rescheduled weddings and general socialising in the new year.

Despite reasons for optimism, the UK’s coronavirus figures are bleak. More than 45,500 people tested positive for the infection on 12 January alone, with the NHS under more pressure than at any point in the pandemic.

While many likely hoped to start afresh in 2021, the coronavirus outbreak is continuing to unfold, making social distancing as important as ever while medics vaccinate the vulnerable.

Read more: The surprising health benefits of 2020

Coronavirus pandemic, senior woman in self quarantine to avoid contagion of infection by virus covid-19. Stays home looking outdoor from the window. Prevention concept
Feelings of isolation and frustration are rife amid England's third lockdown. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Boris Johnson introduced England’s third lockdown on 6 January; a drastic move that was met with both frustration and relief. The rest of the UK has similarly strict restrictions.

A study by the University of East London suggests people who break coronavirus restrictions tend not to be disillusioned or disgruntled, but just after a moment of relief.

Read more: Travelling makes people happier (here's to the end of the pandemic!)

“Therefore, the problem around non-compliance with COVID [the disease caused by the coronavirus] rules seems not to be the politicised individual making a statement, but rather the everyday person who simply needs some release from the drudgery of lockdown,” Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist working with Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

“Restricting everyday interactions and usual behaviour may be acting as a pressure cooker.

“In my practice, there have also been cases where individuals rationalise rule breaking by concluding small indiscretions don’t really matter, such as mixing households because it’s been such a long time and surely that’s okay because we’re family/outside/another justification.”

Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?

To “get a handle on those little devil-on-your-back impulses”, Dr Arroll recommends remembering why the restrictions are in place – to protect the NHS and save lives.

“Even small indiscretions can have wide ripple consequences, some that may be life-threatening for other people,” she said.

Everyone has a role to play in stemming the coronavirus outbreak by wearing face coverings, washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing.

When it comes to government policies, however, accept they are out of your control.

Read more: Waking to bad weather makes people tired

“More importantly, be aware we still have control of ourselves in that we can still make choices in terms of how we can most effectively and safely adapt to the ‘new norm’,” Liz Ritchie, a psychotherapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare, told Yahoo UK.

“We cannot change what is happening in the world, but we can change how we respond.”

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

For those feeling frustrated, try and release this emotion in a way that is safe for everyone – go for a run, sing at the top of your voice, cry if you need to.

“Whatever it is that lets out pent up frustration and emotional charge,” said Dr Arroll.

For those who have let social distancing slip amid the third lockdown, try and identify what motivated you the first and second times round.

“For instance, on a personal level did you find a gratitude diary helped?” said Dr Arroll. “If so, use this again now.

“Interpersonally, did sitting down for dinner every night with your immediate family give you something back in terms of quality of relationships during social restrictions?

“Habitually, did you find a daily walk in nature helpful?

“Write down all these personal lockdown hacks and post it on your fridge or bathroom mirror to remind you that you have a wealth of resources to draw from in lockdown three.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned the next few weeks will be “the worst” for the NHS since the start of the pandemic, with everyone having to stay on high alert.

Nevertheless, the UK’s approval of the Moderna vaccine – the third in its immunisation arsenal – provides a further glimmer of hope.

“Create a ‘to do’ list after lockdown of things you really want to do and places you want to go,” said Ritchie.

“We now have the benefit of time to really explore what we want to do in our lives and what we feel will make us happy.

“For many this can be a real lifeline, and promotes that positive and motivated mindset.”

Watch: What is long COVID?