From our experts: Maggie Travin is a psychologist at Mary Free Bed.
In times of confusion, fear or panic, the most natural thing to do may be to lean in — both physically and figuratively — to those you love. There are few things more comforting than a warm embrace from a family member. However, during this unique time we find ourselves in, it’s important to follow healthy experts’ recommendation to “social distance” to slow the spread of COVID-19.
On the other hand, it’s important to recognize that we are fundamentally social creatures, and there is immeasurable value in social connection. Isolation impacts our physical and mental health, which can affect our overall health and wellbeing. There’s ample research to show that isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness, which can greatly increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Isolation can even have adverse effects on physical health.
Because of our need for social connection, there’s been a call within the mental health community to exercise physical distance rather than social distance. While it may seem like a play on words, the difference in the message is fundamentally important. Creating physical distance slows the spread of a virus, while social distance takes away one of the most meaningful parts of being human. It’s important to take care of ourselves both psychologically and physically, which (among other things) means staying connected with those we love.
With this reframe of a simple concept, we can use our energy to promote what most of us need – connection. It’s a time for creativity, not social retreat.
- Take walks outside with ample distance between you.
- Use a video chatting service, make phone calls or send texts, and send videos to loved ones and friends.
- You could even reach out to start the counseling you always wanted to but never had time to do. Many clinics are offering telehealth services to provide you with an additional level of support.
- Practice relaxation techniques to help manage stress. Calm or Headspace are a couple of options.
- Engage your kids. Anyone up for a TikTok battle? Many social platforms are having meetups to make sure people are staying engaged.
- You might even consider temporarily (or permanently!) adding to your household. Many animal shelters are looking for foster homes for pets. And there are few things better than snuggling with a furry friend while watching “Tiger King” on Netflix.
The possibilities to stay connected are endless.
While distancing recommendations vary from state to state, keeping physical distance can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and help flatten the curve to reduce pressure on our health care system. During this anxiety-provoking time, it’s important to do all we can to cope with the uncertainties we face. Get physical exercise, practice mindfulness and gratitude, but also stay connected with those you love. You need it, and so do they.