We as humans are very social beings. Even the biggest introvert will crave human interaction and conversation, so the current shelter-in-place restrictions during the COVID-10 outbreak can be challenging for many. According to Ridhima Ohri, a psychotherapist for the Bethany Medical Clinic of New York, social distancing can even have serious effects on our mental health.
“Social distancing can lead to a lot of mental distress and especially trigger anxiety and depression,” she said. “Isolation can be daunting, and can often lead to an increase in alcohol consumption as well as a change in eating habits.”
As the social distancing restrictions continue for weeks or even months, it can have a significant effect on your physical health, too.
“Getting used to the ‘new normal’ is a big adjustment which can trigger mood lability, which means one might have emotional responses which are irregular,” said Ohri. “This can also lead to increased fatigue, lack of motivation, increased irritability, and increased stress.”
7 Ways to Connect With Other People While Abiding by Social Distancing Guidelines
Being isolated from other people, especially your family and loved ones, can be difficult. Luckily, you can combat its harmful effects by making extra efforts to socialize in creative ways.
“Keep reminding yourself that physical distance does not mean there has to be a social distance,” advised Ohri. “There are a lot of ways to stay connected with your loved ones.”
Here are seven ideas for being social while also following social distancing best practices:
1. Schedule group calls
While email and social media makes it easier than ever to connect with friends and family, nothing beats seeing their faces. To stay connected, set up recurring video calls using tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Facetime. You can even invite multiple people so you can recreate large family get-togethers.
2. Have a Netflix watch party
Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to give up on movie night. Whether you want to discuss the train wreck that is Tiger King or watch episodes of The Office for the 100th time, you can use Netflix Party to watch movies and shows with your friends online. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback so you’re all watching it at the same time, and there’s a group chat where you can talk about the action on screen.
Schedule a time for you and your friends to watch a new show or movie, make some popcorn, and relax.
3. Join an online book club
If you’re under shelter-in-place orders, you may be spending more time reading books than you usually do. If that’s the case, you may find joining an online book club rewarding. Whether you talk about books with strangers or connect with friends or family, book clubs can encourage insightful discussions and can inspire you to keep reading. And, many are free to join.
4. Put together care packages for loved ones
If you have friends or family members that are struggling right now, especially people living on their own, sending them a care package can brighten their day. And, it can give them something physical to look and touch that makes them think of you.
You can send a soft blanket, a favorite book, a journal, a puzzle, or a favorite picture of the two of you. Or, you can be practical and send elusive treasures like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
5. Volunteer to help your neighbors
Check out your neighborhood Facebook and NextDoor app groups. You may have neighbors that are unable to get to the stores because they’re immunocompromised or have limited mobility. If possible, offering to help them get groceries or essential supplies can allow you to make a real impact in someone’s life. Not only will you make a personal connection, but doing something good for someone else can make you feel better, too.
6. Do group remote workouts
While lounging on the couch all day may be tempting at this point, physical exercise can work wonders for your mood. And, it can be an opportunity to catch up with friends.
If you’re able, schedule group workouts that you can do with friends remotely. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Zoom home workout: Pick a workout video on YouTube and follow along with your friends on Zoom. You can work up a sweat while laughing and talking with friends at the same time.
- Plan calls for walks: If you’re in an area where you can walk safely, call your friends or family when you go out for a walk. You’ll get to enjoy some fresh air and catch up with your loved ones.
- Track your steps: If you have a FitBit, Apple Watch, or other fitness tracker, you and your friends can use an app like StrideKick to create teams and compete against one another. Set a deadline, and whoever has the most steps at the end wins.
7. Participate in an online support group
If you’re having a hard time coping with the current situation and need additional help, consider connecting with an online support group for people affected by the coronavirus outbreak:
- The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI): NAMI hosts online discussion groups where you can talk with others and encourage one another. To participate, you need to create a free NAMI account.
- TalkSpace: TalkSpace is currently operating a therapist-run Facebook group that is completely free. You can get tips and receive guidance from a licensed therapist and talk with other people. There is even a group specifically designed to help people stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health
Following social distancing guidelines — while necessary to reduce the impact of COVID-19 — can be hard on your mental and physical health. By using these tips, you can maintain social connections while still following safety restrictions.
If you’re having a tough time coping, Ohri recommended being kind to yourself.
“Keep repeating to yourself that, ‘You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation’,” she said.
If you feel like you need additional help, contact your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Even with social distancing and quarantine procedures, many therapists are offering telemedicine so you can talk to someone from your own home. Or, you can contact 211.org to get connected to local free or low-cost mental health services.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.