Catherine Bruce, LCSW, VIA Health Partners
With recommendations to practice social distancing in this uncertain time, many people are left feeling afraid and lonely.
Social distancing is thought to slow the spread of COVID-19 and requires people to stay at home as much as possible (Pearce, 2020). In our community we are seeing closures of schools, churches, and restaurants. For many of us, these are spaces where we connect with one another and build a sense of community. Unfortunately, at this time we have been told those spaces are not safe especially for older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and those who are immunocompromised. However, staying at home and away from other people can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation which can also be associated with poor health outcomes (“Social Isolation,” 2019). In order to combat feelings of loneliness, we will need to be more intentional than ever to engage with our support network and practice self-care.
While we are all staying at home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, here are some ideas to stave off loneliness:
Make phone calls and/or video-chat with friends and family daily.
A phone call can give us a feeling of deeper connection than texting or emailing and video-chatting feels even more like a visit! For an even more authentic social experience, consider having a standing video-chat or phone call at meals times with a loved one.
Spend time outside.
Go outside and notice the natural world going on regardless of the state we are in. Feel the sun, breeze, or chilly air on your skin and be reminded that you are an important part of a big world.
Engage in physical activity.
Exercise is associated with improved mood (Hamer et al, 2012). If you need some ideas for exercising while you remain socially distant, consider going for a walk outside or doing a quick internet search for at-home workouts. For those with functional limitations, consider typing “chair workouts” into your internet search bar to see what is accessible for you.
Continue to engage with your hobbies or learn about a new hobby.
Many hobbies including gardening, reading, cooking, and crafting can be done at home alone, but if your hobby requires others, turn again to the internet to find blogs and online communities of people who share your hobby.
Journaling and expressive art is healing and helps us understand and shape our stories (Nobel, 2018). It is normal to feel disappointed, angry, or afraid about the disruptions in social life. Journaling can help you understand and maybe even reframe those feelings.
If you need a place to start, consider these journaling prompts:
Describe your feelings of loneliness and how you currently manage them.
When do I feel less lonely? What plan can I make to feel less lonely?
Who is in my support network? What do these people offer me socially and what do I offer them?
What am I grateful for today? What can I do to express that gratitude?
Remember that our relationships, connections, and sense of community have NOT been cancelled. As we make accommodations to protect our physical health, let us remain committed to protecting our emotional health as well.
Hamer, M., Endrighi, R., & Poole, L. (2012, July 24). Physical Activity, Stress Reduction, and Mood: Insight into Immunological Mechanisms. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Romano_Endrighi/publication/230762949_Physical_Activity_Stress_Reduction_and_Mood_Insight_into_Immunological_Mechanisms/links/571a2da208ae408367bc8453/Physical-Activity-Stress-Reduction-and-Mood-Insight-into-Immunological-Mechanisms.pdf
Nobel, J. (2018, September 11). Writing as an Antidote to Loneliness. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/writing-as-an-antidote-to-loneliness-2018091414807
Pearce, K. (2020, March 13). What is social distancing and how can it slow the spread of COVID-19? Retrieved March 16, 2020, from https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/03/13/what-is-social-distancing/
Social Isolation, Loneliness in Older People Pose Health Risks (2019, April 23). Retrieved March 16, 2020 from https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks