Authorities and medical experts are advising everyone to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, and by association self-isolation, is the act of increasing the physical space between yourself and others. By doing this, we all reduce the likelihood of getting infected or of infecting others. This is extremely important. If we can reduce the spread of Covid-19, we can reduce the strain on our healthcare system. Hospitals will not be overwhelmed all at once and hospital staff will be less burdened. In a global pandemic, social distancing saves lives.
What the authorities may not have told you, however, is this: social distancing is hard.
It’s a full blown lifestyle change. It’s resisting a natural human impulse within all of us to physically connect with other people. That’s not easy, even for people who might be naturally accustomed to living in a similar way. Connection has benefits for not just our mental health but our physical health as well. Furthermore, loneliness and isolation has a negative impact on our immune system. Ironically, it could seem like we are being asked to do something that makes us more likely to get sick.
Again, the importance of social distancing during this pandemic can not be overstated. If you have the time, have a look at this article by Tomas Pueyo or this article by Jonathan Smith. It is clearly something we need to be doing and immediately. However practicing social distancing does not mean we have to sacrifice our social connectivity. It just takes a little creativity. So what are some ways to stay connected while also practicing social distancing? Here are some tips:
1. Call Someone. On the Phone.
There was a time when phones used to only do one thing. They still do that thing. However, texting has become so popular that we often forget our phone is also a phone. Texting is convenient and fast but we lose a lot of the richness of communication with just texting. Things like the tone of our voices, sarcasm and jokes, the timing in what we say, bantering back and forth and the rhythm of conversation, and many others. This is not to say we shouldn’t be texting at all, far from it. But don’t underestimate the power of a good phone call. Just hearing someone’s voice as opposed to reading a text can be far more touching and profound. Call someone you’ve been meaning to get in touch with. Or maybe call someone whom you know would truly appreciate the gesture. Now is the perfect time.
2. Quarantine Movie Night
I wish I could claim this idea for myself but it belongs to a friend of mine. It’s brilliant. You get a whole bunch of friends on a chat server (Discord or Messenger work really well). Then you all pick a film you want to watch on a streaming service that you all have. Then you pick a time (we chose 21:00) and everyone starts the movie at the same time. Then you can chat about—or heckle—the movie on the chat server. My friends and I were surprised at how it made us all feel connected, as if we were all in the same room. As if our spheres of reality were syncing up. I highly recommend it. No pausing the movie though. This formula could be used for lots of things that utilize the Internet, which brings me to…
3. Use the Internet to connect, but…
Try to use the Internet in more creative ways than just social media. Social media is a double-edged sword. We can reach out to many people, maintain friendships, and exchange ideas quicker than ever before. We should definitely keep doing that. But excessive use of social media can be not so good for our mental health, especially when it becomes our only outlet. Plus, social media can be a hotbed for a lot of disinformation about the pandemic. There are so many different ways to utilize the Internet.
For example, the Dropkick Murphys streamed a performance on St. Patricks Day for all to watch for free as a measure to encourage people to not go to the pubs. You could live stream anything and have people tune in, be it a musical performance, the reading of a book, or even a quick tutorial on how to make something you love to cook. Take an online course with a friend you know and form an online study group. Build a shared music playlist (Spotify or even YouTube is good for this). And by all means, share other ways of using the Internet in creative ways with everyone you know.
4. Go outside, have a leisurely walk, and say hello to everyone you meet
Important Note: Authorities are advising anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 to stay home, so we strongly encourage you to skip this tip if that is the case.
One of the guidelines to social distancing is that we have to stay at least 2 metres apart from anyone whom we don’t live with. This means that it is perfectly acceptable to go outside for a walk. It’s actually quite nice outside for this time of year. The traffic is low, the weather is mild, and there are other people out there going for a walk as well. This strategy is fantastic for three reasons:
- A change of scenery from your home will invigorate your senses and break the monotony of being in the same space for too long.
- You’ll get a little exercise which will help with mood and health.
- You will have a chance to meet your neighbours and feel a sense of community.
As long as you abide by the two-meter distance rule, there’s no reason why you can’t meet new people. You could even schedule a time to meet with your friends somewhere. Keep in mind, we are still in the early stages of this. The rules may change, and we should always follow the government’s instructions. But for now, this is definitely a good option. Even in Italy where the measures to stop the spread have been extreme, people have still found ways to connect with their neighbours.
5. Learn to live with those you live with… again
Some of us who live alone will have to weather this pandemic physically by themselves. To those of you I extend my deepest and warmest sympathies. Reach out, use some of the tips above and find new and novel ways to connect. Remember that you are not alone.
But for those of us who live with one or more people, things are going to be very different. Fortunately, there will be lots of opportunities to be social. However, it may be more than you’re used to or more than you wanted in the first place. Sometimes this means revisiting and reevaluating the ways we communicate. We may need to learn new ways to express our concerns and share space together. Check in with those you live with on a weekly basis and try the following:
- Begin with sharing 3 or more appreciations with each other.
- Ask those you live with how you have soothed or reassured them. Ask if they have any requests for how to do better.
- Take turns naming something you are worried/frightened about. The listening partner should then reflect and validate this without offering solutions or problem solving.
- Ask those you live with if they have gotten enough space or alone time this week. If not, ask what could be done differently.
- Share some of the ways you have tried to show love this week.
- Ask if anyone is bottling their feelings instead of naming them. If so, agree to slow down. Reassert that you are all on the same team. Name those vulnerable feelings and validate them.
- Ask if there is anything left unfinished, anything you feel you can’t move on from, or if anyone has needs that haven’t been voiced yet.
- End by naming one thing that you admire and appreciate.
(The above tips were borrowed from Morgan Johnson who is amazing and certainly worth following on Instagram)
Social Distancing ≠ Social Isolation
By all accounts, we may be in this for the long haul. We are all in this together, and people everywhere around the world are finding new and creative ways to connect while still practicing social distancing. Remember: social distancing does not mean social isolation. In fact, many authorities are rebranding the term as physical distancing to emphasize that distinction, which may be a better way to frame it for yourself. We live in an age that affords us so many opportunities to stay connected and now is the time to take advantage of it.
Best wishes to everyone. Stay healthy, stay strong, stay two-metres apart from each other, and by all other means, stay connected.