The psychology of ‘social distancing’

As the days and weeks drag on and social distancing becomes more of a way of life than a new-age concept, so do the calls from public officials for every New Yorker to do their part to flatten the curve. 

But even with these exhortations, it seems like some people cannot or will not get the message. But why?

Experts say that part of the reason for the defiance of social distancing is that it’s antithetical to how we were raised and how we’ve survived every other recent crisis.

“What have we been told?” said Dr. Jeff Gardere, a clinccal psychologist. “Go out and live your lives, show that terrorist, show that enemy that they can’t change your life… but the rules have changed completely.”

Those rules have some in a state of denial, while others think they don’t apply to them. And then there are those who simply show defiance in the face of adversity. 

“We don’t want to be told what to do,” Dr. Gardere said. “There’s a belligerence in that kind of independence.”

The last time a major academic journal studied self-isolation was during the SARS and Ebola outbreaks in 2009 and 2010. Now, the journal Lancet is looking into the long-term psychological impact of coronavirus. 

“I definitely think this is going to trigger a lot of post-traumatic stress reactions,” Dr. Gardere said. “Depression, anxiety, nightmares, avoiding situations that remind us of the trauma of COVID-19.”


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