How does social distancing affect our mental well-being?

As the Greek philosopher Aristotle (4th century BC) wrote in his “Politics” man is a social animal, in that he tends to aggregate with other individuals and to constitute himself in society.
Attachment theory (Bowlby) argues that the search for closeness to another human being is an innate predisposition on which social development depends. Bowlby argued that early social development is a shift from simple systems to increasingly elaborate systems; the ways in which these models are developed by the child are the result of the interaction between the specific environment and the degree of general development of the child. Identification represents a fundamental aspect of the socialization process, occurs in the child who, after having formed a deep bond with certain people, wishes to stick to their behavior and avoid disapproval. The child tends to incorporate their behavior patterns, identifying with them. Our social life is based on these foundations: through the expansion of this behavioral pattern to the innumerable interactions we have during our life.
Sociality is therefore indispensable for human living. According to social psychology (George H. Mead), each of us is inserted in a social context that participates in the construction of the self-image, which is thus conditioned by the relationship with others, which in turn is constantly changing. The social context provides us with continuous feedback on what we are through the opinions of others. We live in a global era, where everything is constantly evolving and perennial changing, where a trend that starts in a village lost in nothing can be followed by the whole world in a few days, where something you buy new today can be old tomorrow. Today’s sociality sends us infinite and changing feedback every moment: the world determines us and we are able to determine it in turn. Everything happens at an impressive speed, with an infinite amount of means. The current world changes at the speed of light and we, as “social animals” change together with it. But what if all of this suddenly freezes as it is now?

The Lockdown

As we have just said, the human being born, grows, lives, thinks and acts in a social environment. Man is used to making his own choices, through cognitive processes, in environments where he is used to making them. When in a new situation the risk is that cognitive processes are based on untested mechanisms. You can act through cognitive bias or cognitive heuristics. Cognitive biases are constructs based, outside of critical judgment, on erroneous or deformed perceptions, on prejudices and ideologies; often used to make decisions quickly and effortlessly. The heuristics (from the Greek heurískein: find, discover) are, unlike bias, intuitive and hasty mental procedures, mental shortcuts, which allow you to build a generic idea on a topic without making too many cognitive efforts. These are fast strategies that are frequently used to quickly reach conclusions. In both cases, the risk is error. For this reason, in a unknown situation to us like this, we are more exposed to wrong decisions / actions and dysfunctional emotional states.

Isolation in everyday life

#stayathome. Ok, we are responsible citizens and responsibly we stay at home. And now? We stay home and interact only with our roomates. But who are your roomates? Where do you live? How bi is your apartment? How many bathrooms do you have? Do you feel comfortable with the people you live with? How used were you to stay at home before the lockdown? Can you go now to work or not? If you can go to work, you have a reason to go out but you are definitely exposed to a risk. And what you con do if you can’t go there? Smart working! Ok, smart working it’s a good solution. But it depends on the situation you have at home; do you live in a studio apartment with yor boyfriend/girlfriend? Do you live with your parents and grandparents? Do you have 3 children who don’t go to school and can’t go out to the park to play? Not everyone has a study with a mahogany desk and the family photo above where you can work in comfort! These examples, posed through peremptory and almost provocative questions, are just some of the thousand that could be done. The goal is simple, to make it clear that in addition to the (already quite large) problem of social isolation there is also home confinement, but above all that there can be various types; some better, some worse. As just said, each situation has its pros and cons. Let’s see in general, based on what is indicated by the American Psychiatry Assosacion what are the greatest risks to mental health due to social isolation and home confinement:


  • Fear, anxiety, uncertainty about the future
  • Altered risk perception
  • Sensations towards a new, unknown, mysterious threat
  • Fear towards an enemy that is: invisible, potentially deadly, potentially carried by our loved ones or by ourselves.
  • Fear of incubation or asymptomatic carrier
  • Somatization with hypochondriac reproduction of symptoms
  • Fear that supplies will end, access to basic necessities, any assistance.
  • Concerns for loved ones and friends who are far away


Forced continuous proximity can lead to an increase in family conflicts, especially in large families or who live in restful environments with many shared spaces. This can lead to an increase in feelings such as irritability, anger, nervousness, agitation.

The loss of the usual routine (e.g. normal domestic and work activities, work, shopping, travel) associated with limited social and physical contact with others can lead to feelings such as boredom, frustration, emotional flattening.

Prolonged isolation can then lead to a loss of the “social spirit” with a tendency to self-isolation and avoidance. Furthermore, the following may be pressing: insomnia and / or alterations in sleep-wakefulness, somatization.

Excessive exposure to media reports on current events can heighten feelings of anxiety and fear.

These are the recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association to promote psychological well-being during quarantine:

Use sources of information as a beneficial intervention.

Using clear and understandable sources of information can help to calm us down and to correctly observe the indications.

Limiting their use and using reliable sources, incorrect information can increase stress.

Facilitate communication with loved ones.

Knowing the conditions of loved ones can have a strong impact on the emotional health of quarantined individuals and improve adherence to it

Organize appropriately with food and water reserves. To avoid going too far to shop or make unnecessary trips that can expose you to avoidable risks.

Reduce boredom and isolation. Organize the day by planning activities that can help fill in empty spaces, reduce boredom, avoid focusing on negative news and feelings. Social networks and digital media can help reduce boredom and a sense of social isolation. However, exposure to them must be limited in terms of time.

Take care of ourselves and your body. Do regular exercises, eat and drink healthy, try to sleep regularly. Keep in touch with loved ones and try to support each other.

Matteo Innocenti M.D.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is presented for informational purposes only, in no case can it constitute the formulation of a diagnosis or the prescription of a treatment, and do not intend and must in no way replace the direct doctor-patient relationship or specialist. It is recommended that you always seek the advice of your doctor and / or specialists regarding any indication. The information disseminated on the Site is published after careful checks of the sources, carefully chosen and updated and official as far as possible.
However, it is not possible to guarantee the absence of errors and the correctness of the information disclosed.
The Site and its authors neither guarantee nor assume responsibility for the information in any form reported.


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