Customers wait in line keeping social distance at Pennywise Super Centre at Trincity Mall, Trincity.

In the campaign for social distancing there seems to be a good measure of success among most of us. As always, there are errant ones and there are those whose restlessness is at times threatening to self and community.

Social distancing as a requisite action in this pandemic has seen more advanced and prosperous countries floundering with premature arguments and campaigning for “opening the economy” dismissing science which suggests more people could die or be infected if we cancel stringent measures too early.

The US push to “open up” states notably began with some professions that need recalibration of service delivery since, by their execution, they cannot adhere to the required or recommended social distancing, beginning with staying six feet apart.

Hairdressers, barbers, tattoo artists, in-dining restaurants all offer service delivery that are up-close-and-personal. And because the issues include the infectiousness of Covid-19, asymptomatic spread, inadequate testing and surveillance, it is worrisome to me and should be to every public health practitioner, what the impact could mean in terms of mitigating the virus spread.

Meanwhile, what I coined as social media distancing is another level of protection and self-defence I find indispensable in this period of global lockdown, self-isolation, and quarantine; a measure which I believe augers well for mental well-being now and always.

Covid-19 has exposed the need for better management of our time spent on social media activities, and more so, because of some of the abuses and excesses to which we are exposed daily.

We all have social media friends who either are not coping well, who over post both worthy and negative stuff, and some who are involved in toxic exchanges about the local politics and the State’s management of this crisis.

So last month, in a Facebook post, I asked for practical tips on social media distancing. I offered this discussion starter: “I have used customised posts by selecting who participates in my conversations. Anyone else used their privacy settings for distancing/control?

“Privacy settings offer control at different levels. With all the angst police and antsyness I am deciding which posts are public. But from among those who have befriended me there are issues and so I gently use social-media distancing.

“Distancing on social media also means that you can reduce your personal intake and engagement. Yesterday was an anomaly. I talked to friends all day. But my new control is using the tools mid-morning and late evening into night.

“I use social media also for games and other interactive stuff so if I decide to engage I navigate to those, avoiding the invasion of people into my mind-space,” I concluded.

One of my friends said, “I have had reason to use controls during these times. Some keyboard warriors have high levels of toxicity and I refuse to be contaminated.”

She said she has had to use all these and recommended them as the top choices for distancing

• Hide post

• Snooze

• Unfollow

• Unfriend

Another girlfriend said, “Both friends and family members fall into the people I practice social-media distancing from. It’s not about hiding what they see when I post, but it’s about protecting my mind from absorbing any negativity they share. It tends to be too much for me, and I have come to appreciate privacy settings in a huge way.

“Sometimes,” she continued, “for people I “Unfollow”, I visit their walls infrequently just to see if there’s any improvement in what they post. Sadly, things remain the same, so the “Unfollow” option remains as well.”

After the last upgrade to my device in April, I noticed a feature called Digital Wellbeing and Parental Control. I always knew I had parental control options but was curious about the wellbeing premise. I discovered that I am able to put a daily or weekly time limit on any application to which I subscribe. I am overjoyed.

We simply need to regularise our exposure to all media and created outputs on COVID-19. Research has shown that participating in the news or excessive intake of details of a disaster can be as traumatic as experiencing the event itself and may result in mental disorders and illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and even somatic difficulties.

Vicarious traumatisation—experiencing the effects without having to directly go through the threat or danger—is a real issue in disasters for first responders and, the science has shown as well, for those of us who over-consume tragic news.

Clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, PhD, says that as consumers “we experience an indirect, but genuine, physical response, just like you would if you were responding to a trauma and the symptoms could include panic, difficulty concentrating, and shortness of breath” (bustle.com).

Caroline Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health with Distinction (The UWI).

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