Staying socially connected while social distancing – It is possible, important, recommended

The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) silently entered our daily lives and none of us have been the same since, especially those individuals who are social by nature. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” People are no longer gathering in groups, sitting in movie theaters, going to school classes inside their classrooms, having play dates or meeting socially for coffee, and it’s a measure being taken to help protect people. Yet on the flipside, some are experiencing loneliness, which is concerning in itself. The Health Resources & Services Administration reports that loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a quarter of the U.S. population – and 28 percent of older adults – now live by themselves.

So, what can individuals do to stay connected and battle loneliness while adhering to the social distancing guidelines?

According to Amanda Hathcock, EAP counselor at the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, the majority of individuals are now being asked to do what those who live states away from their families or partners have been doing for some time – maintaining long-distance relationship with people who are important to them.

“Everything has changed and it changed very quickly,” Hathcock said. “All of the sudden routines at work and home were disrupted, people stopped meeting up with friends, stress built up and it was one thing after another. Combining that stress with the anxiety and uncertainty of the coronavirus itself, creates an unhealthy setting. Now the feeling of social isolation makes it even harder on individuals’ mental well-being.

“The silver lining though, is that history has proven time and again that long-distance relationships between family members, spouses, partners and friends can be successful,” Hathcock explained. “‘Long-distance relationships’ today may mean across town or around the block or even next door, but the principles remain the same in regards to keeping that connection healthy. There are many ways individuals can share their time with their friends and family without literally sharing their space. Creating new ways to stay in touch is beneficial to all involved, as it can help reduce loneliness, anxiety, depression and more. Now more than ever, we really do need to stay connected to each other. And doing it this way is beneficial to both our mental and physical well-being.”

Sticking together while apart

Below are some suggestions from Hathcock on how to keep your social connections connected while staying at home.

Via technology:

  • Video calls – there are many programs – such as FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, Zoom and WebEx – available for video calling. See “The best video chat apps to turn social distancing into distant socializing” by Tech Crunch for more options. You will need an Internet connection and a device with a camera; most smartphones and computers are able to make and receive video calls.

    Using the platforms above to host virtual book clubs or dinner parties is another idea. Many work teams are now holding meeting via Zoom or WebEx. Add an extra bit of fun to your video calls by dressing up in costume! Always wanted to go to a meeting as Iron Man? Now’s the perfect time!  

  • Digital gaming – through apps, consoles or streaming services, gamers can continue the fun with their family members or friends, but from their own unique locations. For game ideas, see The Guardian's list of the 25 best games.

  • Online groups – stay connected virtually without the video aspect by creating online groups for your family, friends, neighbors, etc. where you can socialize like you would in the breakroom or park; or focus the group on a certain subject, like gardening, books or music. For instance, Bruce Barker of the Neon Cactus in West Lafayette, is providing piano bar fun through his “Basement Cactus Quarantine Show” live from his basement every Thursday night from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.

  • Take classes online – currently many types of classes can be found online, from exercise and yoga to scholastic and cultural classes. For instance, Purdue Recreation & Wellness is offering Virtual RecWell, a weekly updated collection of video classes on group fitness, wellness, cooking and more aimed at building strong bodies and minds. In response to COVID-19, these resources are open to everyone – even those who do not have RecWell memberships. (Note: RecWell financial counseling, wellness coaching and nutrition consultations are for University students only.)

  • Make a phone call/send a text or email – reaching out via phone to check in on others is a good way to stay connected. If you’re unsure of whom to contact, try calling a local nursing home or assisted-living community and ask to speak to someone who might need cheered up. Text messages, emails and phone calls are easy ways to stay connected.

Non-tech options

  • Write a note – receiving mail that isn’t a bill is somewhat rare in today’s world. Write a note to someone you’re close to or someone you haven’t seen in a while, leave a card on a neighbor’s porch, write to your kids’ teachers (if applicable).

  • Join in on a bear hunt – neighborhood “bear hunts” are popping up on social media quite frequently these days. Based on the children’s book, “We’re Going on A Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen, many communities have organized scavenger hunt-like outings for the kids (and adults) in their neighborhoods by placing a teddy bear in a window of the house. Take a walk or drive through your neighborhood and be on the lookout for bears!

  • Have a conversation with those in your home – talk about anything … create a list of questions to ask your family members, tell stories about things from the past, etc.

“We’re used to being connected to others at some level,” Hathcock said. “Once everyone is able to return to some semblance of our past normalcy, I hope individuals will remember what they’ve learned during this time and continue to check in, communicating and keeping those relationships priorities.”