More Canadians are finding themselves in self-isolation at home for weeks at a time, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, says this can seriously disrupt our daily rhythms, and deprive us of the regular human contact that is essential for our mental health.
According to Joordens, many people under lockdown eventually yearn for the relative mundanity of going to work, taking a lunch break, and sitting down for dinner with the family at regularly scheduled intervals.
“All those things, they add a sort of structure and a heartbeat to our day that kind of moves it along, and moves us along through it,” he told Cross Country Checkup.
“Very often people feel kind of like a boat whose anchor has been pulled up. They’re kind of drifting a little bit, not sure what to do.”
Joordens is currently in self-isolation himself at his home in Toronto, as is his wife, who just returned from a conference in New Orleans. One person tested positive for the virus at the hotel she was staying at.
He says they’re doing well but acknowledged it’s early days.
Joordens isn’t aware of any studies or experiments that would accurately predict the social or mental effects of millions of people under weeks of social distancing or self-quarantine.
He said several studies have shown severe situations like solitary confinement in prison “can really shake a person right down to the soul” when prisoners are restricted from any human contact for long periods of time.
“If this sustains long enough, it’ll kind of make new habits of being, that I worry we’ll … lose a little bit of our humanity just out of fear of this.”
Tech keeps us together — to a point
To get a better sense of what awaits millions of Canadians in self-isolation, just ask Italians.
The country is under near-total lockdown, as officials desperately battle to contain the virus that has already claimed over 1,400 lives.
Yesterday, videos emerged on social media of Italians holding impromptu musical gigs, singing with their neighbours from their balconies to battle the ennui.
Joordens, whose main research focus is in electronic educational technology, says communications technology, especially video call software such as Skype or Zoom, can help stave off the mental effects of self-isolation — but it only goes so far.
“I think we can create deep interactions, but it’s not the same as human-to-human,” he said.
Joordens suggested that taking an online course could be a useful way to pass the time in self-isolation while also giving you a morale boost for finishing a new task.
He also warns against being “obsessive compulsive” about consuming a deluge of harrowing pandemic news.
“One of the good things people can do is make sure they maybe budget two or three hours a day to kind of plug into the news, but budget … greater time to escape it in some way,” he advised.
From sports stardom to self-isolation
Joordens and his wife had hoped their favourite sport — Formula 1 racing — would survive the spate of shutdowns that have taken place over the last week.
But the shoe finally dropped Saturday afternoon, as Formula 1 announced they were cancelling their Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix. The season isn’t expected to start until May.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” he said, his voice tinged with resignation.
Margaret MacNeill, an associate producer of critical studies of sports media at U of T, says the mass shutdown of sports events will be felt by a wide swath of people, from fans who build their personal schedules around games to event and venue staff.
For superstar athletes, she said, the shift from a public life to potential self-isolation could challenge their very sense of identity.
But as long as athletes aren’t among the cases of the most seriously ill, MacNeil thinks it could be a chance for rest and renewal away from their gruelling training and travel schedules.
“The culture doesn’t have to go away. The physical training is going to change, but there are things they could do to renew their bodies, to renew their minds and to renew their social relations,” she said.
“Lots of lots of positive stuff could come out of that.”