Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator
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Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator

Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator

Strange Days Indeed

To quote the great John Lennon, “Nobody told me there'd be days like these…Strange days indeed”.

When I first heard about the corona virus I, like many others, assumed it was part of the media hyperbole that we are bombarded with these days. That it, in fact, was just another version of the flu and we were making a big deal out of nothing. Of course, we now know it is a lot more serious than many of us originally thought. The devastation that we are seeing in Italy and India is frightening.

It is often hard to turn away from the news feeds when such a crisis is occurring, but for our own sanity, we need to disconnect and reconnect with those that we love.

Social (Physical) Distancing

The government, the media and health professionals are telling us we need to practice social distancing. I think this is a really poor choice of words. What they are really asking us to do is to practice physical distancing. We are allowed to socialise and as social animals we need to socialise. A large percentage of our brain has evolved not only to enable us but actually require us to socialise. We know people who are socially isolated become depressed very quickly. Socialising is extremely important, especially in times of stress.

To stop the transfer of the virus we need to stop physical contact. I think the message would be much clearer if they called it physical distancing because that is what is required.

Everybody is stuck at home

Here in Australia, most kids are home from school, most people are working from home and there are many restrictions on where we can go. As a result, many of us are spending a lot more time on devices to help us through this troubling time. While the Internet and modern devices are making it possible for school kids and teens to continue their schooling and for many of us to work from home, we still need to be cautious and aware of the amount of time we’re spending on a screen. We need, more than ever, to actively schedule time away from the screens for our children and ourselves.

Why do we need to limit screen time?

There is ample research now showing that the more time you spend on a device, the greater risk you have of anxiety, depression, stress and even suicidal thoughts. We also know that screen time increases the likelihood of attention deficits, effects memory, affects our ability to maintain attention on a task, and may result in overall decline in intelligence. I've written about this in other articles, so if you're interested, you can read more about it there. These things are even more important to be aware of in our current situation.

Earlier I mentioned how important social contact is and how a loss of socialising can cause depression and other disorders. How then do we socialise when we're all stuck at home if we’re not using devices? Well, first, I’m not saying “NO DEVICES”. I’m saying, be mindful and ensure you also have device-free time. And second, there are lots of options and I will mention a few here.

What to do?

Spend time talking to the people you live with. This is a great chance to catch up with those closest to us. Often we forget to have deep and meaningful conversations with those we see every day. Spend some time talking with your kids about their dreams and aspirations. Talk to your partner about how they’re coping with the current situation, about what they would like to do after this is all over, and about where they think this is all headed. And call people on the phone, friends and family, who are not living with you. Chat with them, old school, without the screen, about how things are going. And try not to focus too much on the current situation. Talk about the future after all this is over. Or positive changes that we can make right now.

Board Games

Board games and puzzles are a great alternative to the screens. And the best thing is that most kids today haven't had much exposure to this type of play so we adults have a potential advantage when it comes to Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Scrabble and Checkers! And of course, a game of cards with the family is a fantastic way to spend a few hours reconnecting. Take the opportunity to spend more time playing, whether you have kids or not.

Get Outside

In Australia at the moment, we are still allowed to go outside, so take the opportunity to go for a walk (with or without a dog), or go into the backyard for a bit of gardening. It is so important to continue getting outside on a regular basis. Being outside lowers stress and anxiety and decreases depression. Sunlight is also required for our bodies to create vitamin D. And vitamin D is required for our immune system to function at its best, which is very important at the moment. We all need to get outside as much as we possibly can – but not at the expense of physical distancing.

Read Books

Another great old school activity is reading books. Not reading on a device, but an actual physical book! It is great for your health and well-being as it decreases stress, decreases anxiety, increases intelligence and memory and is a fantastic way to relax. We now know that the brains of kids who learn how to read from books contain more connections than those who learn to read on a screen. So, reading to children from a book or getting kids to read from a book is great for their brain development and everyone’s health and wellbeing. Read aloud to someone in your household – even if you don’t have kids, reading to another person adds a depth to a book and connection.


Why not try journaling? These are strange times. Perhaps what you write might be of interest to somebody in the future, or even just something you look back on when this is all over. Journaling is a great way to decrease anxiety and increase productivity. There is also some research on how it can improve sleep, which is another bonus.


I must admit at the beginning of this crisis, I spent a lot of time watching news feeds on my laptop. I was getting more and more anxious and was doing very little in the way of physical activity. Once I realised that this was happening, I decided to set up a schedule limiting the amount of time I could watch news feeds each day. Now I'm feeling much more in control of this situation. Schedules are important because they help us keep track. I create a schedule each afternoon/evening before I finish my work for the day. This helps me concentrate on what's important and gives me a good idea what I'm doing each day.

Disconnect to Reconnect

I don't know when this is going to end. I hope it's sooner than later, but I suspect it is probably later rather than sooner. We need to look after ourselves and our loved ones. We need to remember what's most important: and that is always connection to each other.

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All the best!
Dr Mark Williams
Neuroscience Professor, Author, Speaker & Facilitator

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