In the past week, our lives have changed dramatically. Weddings and international flights have been canceled. Schools have shut down. Restaurants have closed. And, for the vast majority of us, isolation has become the new normal.
In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus taking the world by storm, experts have begun advising people to practice something called social distancing. The term means exactly what its name implies—in order to prevent the spread of a very contagious virus, we must avoid being in close physical proximity to one another.
Research on previous pandemics has shown social distancing is incredibly impactful when it comes to containing the spread of diseases.
The problem? Humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted among us crave social interaction, plus research shows loneliness can have a detrimental effect on our health. We’re not meant to spend days (or even weeks) on end holed up binge-watching Love is Blind on Netflix. (Not saying this from personal experience or anything…)
Struggling with social distancing? Below are nine tips to help you thrive during this uncertain time.
1. Talk to one friend each day.
This is something I practiced long before social distancing became the new norm. I work from home and my spouse occasionally works night shifts, which means I spend significant time alone. I always make sure to talk to one friend or family member each day.
Although GChat and texting are perfectly acceptable, I always prefer to hear someone’s voice on the phone or see them through FaceTime.
“You don’t need to meet anyone to feel connected,” says Viktor Sander, a social psychology consultant with SocialPro based in Sweden. “It’s all about reciprocally opening up to each other, sharing experiences and making the other person feel heard. And that’s something you can do over the phone or internet.”
2. Send someone you love a handwritten letter.
Your return on investment will take some time, but it’ll be well worth it. Grab a notecard you have lying around (or order some cute ones on Etsy) and send a handwritten note to a family member or friend on your mind. Not only will the letter brighten their day, but it’ll likely spark a conversation once they receive it in the mail.
3. Foster connection with those you’re stuck at home with.
Being confined to our homes all day every day is a challenge. Our routines are completely broken up—we can’t take our daily yoga class, meet friends for dinner or chat with co-workers over happy hour drinks. Although it’s easy to think of what we’re missing out on, it’s also important to consider what we’re gaining through this unexpected time at home.
If you’re stuck at home with a significant other, kids or a roommate, focus on how this unexpected time together can strengthen your relationships. My husband and I have used this extra time to completely clean out our condominium. We tossed or donated four garbage bags full of stuff, laughing and chatting the entire time. We’ve tried to eschew Netflix-binging when possible and opt for puzzles and playing poker instead. This situation is by no means ideal, but we’re trying to make the most of it by searching for the positives.
4. Reach out to friends who have depression or anxiety.
Social isolation is hard for everyone, but it’s particularly trying for those dealing with anxiety or depression. “Depression has a way of isolating people and having a pandemic on top of it can make the rationalization to shut down even more powerful,” says Caroline Madden, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Burbank, California.
Madden says people with depression often prefer texting over chatting on the phone. Consider texting your friend just to let them know you’re thinking about them. “Even if you aren’t getting a response, don’t stop reaching out,” she says. “A ‘You don’t have to respond—I just want you to know that I’m thinking about you’ is a great message.’”
When it comes to your anxious friends, stray away from talking about anything coronavirus-related that will worsen their anxiety. This means not texting anything about COVID-19 unless it’s breaking news, like city-wide restaurant closures. It’s also important to avoid being overly cheery. “Don’t try to minimize their anxiety with positive talk,” Madden says. “It tends to come across as unsupportive.”
5. Have a family member read your child a bedtime book through FaceTime.
If your children are used to more social interaction with family members and friends, consider having one of their grandparents, aunts or uncles read them a bedtime book from afar.
“FaceTime and Skype are great tools to visually connect with others,” says Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. “They give us the emotional connection we need via facial expressions and tone of voice.”
6. Have a virtual watch party with friends.
Bummed you can’t head to your bestie’s apartment to watch your weekly show? Binge-watch a new Netflix show from the comfort of your respective couches instead.
Adina Mahalli, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant with Maple Holistics based in Farmingdale, New Jersey, recommends having a remote Netflix party. Simply pick a show or movie, and watch it at the same time. (If you have Google Chrome, you’re in luck—there’s a feature called Netflix Party that allows you to stream a show at the same time as your friends.) Then, do a group video chat once it’s over to talk about it.
“This is a great way to stay connected while giving yourself the illusion that you’re spending time with friends,” Mahalli says.
Sick of watching TV? Host a virtual book club instead.
7. Stream a class.
For many of us, daily socialization involves not only chatting with our co-workers and spending time with family and friends, but also heading to our daily barre class or knitting group. Keep the socialization alive through a virtual class.
Jessica Meyrowitz of Chappaqua, New York, teaches a virtual knitting class, for example, in which all participants knit from the comfort of their homes. “I instruct participants each step of the way, and they are able to socialize with the other video conference attendees,” she says.
Some cooking classes are offered virtually, too, and fitness studios have also begun offering remote exercise classes through services like Zoom. If your studio isn’t hosting virtual classes, consider partnering with a fitness buddy and committing to the same outdoor workout (i.e. running 2 miles) each day.
8. Participate in an online community.
I’ve always been a lurker on Reddit, meaning I frequent the same subreddits but rarely comment. In the past week, I’ve become an active participant in a few groups, and it’s added a healthy dose of socialization to my day. I look forward to chatting with people who have shared interests and have found a sense of community on certain subreddits.
When I say there are subreddits for everyone, I mean it: expectant moms, gamers, medical students, gluten-free eaters, makeup addicts—you name the topic, and there’s a subreddit for it.
9. Learn to love solitude.
Social isolation makes many of us feel uncomfortable. In fact, one study found people would rather undergo electric shock (really!) than sit alone with their thoughts.
There are countless benefits you can reap from enjoying your own company. Research has shown people who find comfort in solitude are more open minded, conscientious and agreeable, plus they’re typically less depressed.
If you’ve struggled with spending time alone in the past, take advantage of this unexpected solo time. Do something that forces you to sit with your thoughts, such as completing a puzzle, crafting or going for a long walk in nature.
When I first began working from home two years ago, I struggled with the isolation at first. Now, I can happily spend an entire day or two alone, and I’m better for it.
Related: Unlocking the Power of Solitude
Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash.com
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.