Before 2020, it’s unlikely most people had ever heard the term “social distancing.” These words could have been mistaken as a suggestion to steer clear of social networking for a while, but COVID-19 has made the phrase well-known as an illness-prevention strategy.
No matter how adept you are at measuring a six-foot space between you and other people, social distancing and stay-at-home orders can be difficult. Research has shown that a lack of social connection can raise the risk of depression, increase inflammation in the body, and harm overall health.
Introverts and extroverts alike can begin to feel isolated after spending too much time away from other people, especially when it isn’t by choice. If you find yourself unable to interact with people as much as you normally would, here are some things you can try to avoid becoming socially isolated.
Technology can be a blessing and a curse. If there is any time to embrace technology, it may be when you have limited physical contact with other people. A video call can give you the face-to-face interaction you might be sorely missing. Some research has found video calls can keep people connected and help decrease loneliness.
“Social bonds don’t just make people feel good emotionally—they also impact physical and mental health,” says Dan Bushnell, administrator at Gramercy Court Assisted Living. “Maintaining even a virtual connection with others can help you manage the stress that can come with being physically isolated.”
Find support groups
Support groups are great ways for people to connect with others who are going through the same thing as them. A pandemic can be traumatic, and dealing with that alone can be hard. If you have to stay home, you may be able to find support online from others in the same situation. You don’t even have to look for a formal support group. Connect with others from your neighborhood or city online to get information specific to your area, swap ideas, and even share supplies.
Keep in touch with family
Whether your family is close by or far away, they probably seem halfway across the world when you can’t visit them. Don’t let the physical distance come between you and the people you love. Call regularly, send text messages and pictures, or even send an old-fashioned letter. Keeping the connection strong is even more important when times are hard.
Stay connected with coworkers
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to start working from home. While it could seem fun to work in your pajamas every day, people might not expect to miss the daily interaction with coworkers. Spending time with coworkers can actually be good for your health—if you have a good work environment, of course. You can keep that connection strong by chatting online, scheduling video conferences, and holding team-building exercises.
Lower your stress
It’s easy to become isolated when you are weighed down with stress. Of course, lowering your stress during a time of crisis seems easier said than done. Concerns about illness, the economy, or caring for yourself and your family don’t just go away when you want them to. Work to alleviate fears by staying informed about what you are facing and the options you have for support. Talk to your bank or landlord if you don’t know how to pay the rent or other bills if you are furloughed or laid off. Find out what aid might be available. Then, try some stress relief tactics to help your body and mind cope with what’s going on.
Frank Holloway, president of Advanced Management Company, said communities can play an important role in helping residents get through hard times. AMC’s properties strive to create a positive culture that focuses on the well-being of residents, he said. The close-knit relationships in these communities are especially important during a crisis, helping residents have a connection with others. Holloway said communities have found creative ways to stay connected, with activities like yoga, video game tournaments, and remote painting classes.
“We are all working through this together, and we want our tenants to know they are not alone,” Holloway said. “Our priority is finding ways to support our residents with both physical and social needs.”
Pandemics are the stuff of scary films and history books. Going through something like this in real life is new—and hard—for everyone. While you are social-distancing to prevent the spread of illness, don’t let yourself retreat into social isolation. Make sure that while you go through it alone, you also go through it with your family and friends (from a distance).
A version of this article was published by OC Register. It has been republished here with permission.