Even if you haven’t heard it enough, we’re going to repeat it again: Stay at home. Practice social distancing. Flatten the curve.
But an unintended consequence of our efforts to slow a pandemic and keep our communities healthy is a real problem: loneliness and social isolation. As state and local governments issue quarantines and stay-at-home orders, many of us are living a new normal without in-person social interaction — and that can take a toll on our mental health.
Do not get this bug. Not as deadly as a flu-bug, but bedbugs are a bitch!
Making matters worse, researchers have found that people who don’t feel connected to others over the long term are more likely to catch colds, experience depression and live shorter lives. One study even calculated the health risks of social isolation as equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was already widespread, with a national survey showing that more than 70 percent of young people and millenials and half of seniors felt lonely.
So how can we combat this new — hopefully short-term — reality of social distancing and isolation? Here are some tips to improve our health and stay connected.
Make a plan to connect with friends and family
Before the pandemic, many of us probably took for granted regular social interactions with our loved ones. Connecting could be more casual, and there were fewer concerns about meeting face-to-face. But with social distancing and sheltering orders, it’s become a lot more difficult, if not impossible and even unsafe.
Yet, simply saying you’ll stay in touch and actually connecting with loved ones, whether it’s over the phone, video or some other technology, are very different — and you may forget to find time. That’s why it can be so important to make a plan to connect with your friends and family to ensure you’re staying in touch to stave off loneliness. Just like in elections, where studies have shown that making a plan to vote increases the likelihood that you’ll show up to cast your ballot, be sure to make a regular plan to connect.
Plan a virtual happy hour
The coronavirus pandemic has spawned a new phenomenon: the rise of the virtual happy hour. People across the country have taken to FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts and other platforms as a welcome way to share a drink (non-alcoholic drinks are always welcome!) with friends while we social distance.
- Pick your video platform (Zoom, Google, Skype, etc)
- Set a specific time for the event
- Encourage your friends to bring a drink of their choosing
- Make a plan for the conversation
- If needed, gently guide the conversation
But watch out for “Zoom bombing”
Another phenomenon — and really unfortunate unintended consequence — of our new social distancing is the “Zoom Bomb.” As millions have shifted to working and learning from home, the popular video conferencing platform Zoom has become the go-to software for remote business, school and other activities.
The increased use of the platform has become a ripe target for hackers, who have exploited vulnerabilities in the software and taken over group video chats with hateful or obscene content. The FBI recently issued a warning that malicious actors could steal personal information over Zoom.
Start or join a book club
Book clubs are cropping up everywhere during the coronavirus pandemic. Although many libraries have already closed, digital books are plentiful, so if you’re an avid reader (or not-so-avid, but want to become one), starting or joining a book club with your friends and family can be a great way to stay connected.
Not sure where to begin? Bustle has you covered with 10 tips on starting a digital book club.
Just want to join an existing book club? You’re in luck. Lots of virtual book clubs — each with unique themes and book choices — are welcoming new members across the globe. Here are ten suggested book clubs from Time. Or, you can join the “Quarantine Book Club” where you can chat directly with authors over Zoom.
Look out for those most at risk during this time
Even though we personally may feel isolated or lonely right now, there are others who may need our help, too. They are people in our community who could be suffering from mental health issues or chronic illnesses, our elderly neighbors who need basic necessities like groceries or medication or someone who is low-income or facing financial difficulties.
If you can, check on them and offer your assistance. They are feeling isolated and anxious too. They may not have internet access or family members who can assist. Here are some additional tips to help communities experiencing loneliness from AARP.