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Home > News > 2020 > April > What to expect and how to cope with physical distancing

What to expect and how to cope with physical distancing

physical_distancing_Converted.pngA major impact of physical distancing, quarantine and isolation is that people are currently cut off from their regular routines for an indefinite period. 

On top of this, how we communicate with others has been turned upside down as physical proximity and touch are important human needs we use to maintain relationships, even in small ways. 

For example, physical communication, such as handshakes and leaning in close to listen to someone are natural behaviours that are important parts of our relationships. 

What to expect from physical distancing

Common sources of stress and anxiety during this period can include a decrease in meaningful activities, sensory stimuli and social engagement, financial strain from being unable to work or having a partner unable to work and a lack of access to normal coping strategies such as going to the gym, attending religious services or physically catching up with a friend. 

Psychologists have found that during periods of social distancing people may experience: 

  • Fear and anxiety about the health and safety of yourself, family and friends; obtaining food and supplies; balancing work, finances and caring responsibilities.

  • Depression and boredom from the disruption in daily routines, work and school may result in feelings of sadness and low mood. 

  • Anger, frustration or irritability at the loss of agency and freedom.

  • Stigmatisation if you are or have been sick or have been in contact with someone who is sick. 

Shifting focus and accepting what can’t be changed

It is important to remind ourselves that although we are unsure when this situation will end, it is only temporary and to accept that there are some things we cannot change. 

By reminding ourselves that “we can do this for now and it will pass”, and intentionally shifting focus to what can be done ‘today’  or what is in our control, we can find new and interesting (and maybe humorous) ways of communicating and going about daily tasks.  

This could include activities from group video chats to virtual trivia nights with friends and family, to following along with online home workouts.  

Verbal communication is therefore critical at this time as words now need to convey what we may have done physically before. 

Developing ways of verbally expressing feelings and intentions can be difficult for some. 

Try thinking of what you do to physically communicate a feeling or intention and then what words can be used to convey this. 

For example, instead of shaking a colleague’s hand, verbally saying “I’m pleased to see you”. 

However, as we get used to physical distancing take it easy on yourself and others, remember it make take some time and don’t feel pressure to feel ‘normal’ too soon. 

Union support 

Along with the industrial support and advice our union can offer, we encourage all members to look after their mental health and wellbeing during this pandemic. 

Some general strategies can be found here

A full list of mental health and wellbeing resources, including a comprehensive list of mental health support contacts can be found here


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.