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Staying Socially Connected When You Have to Physically Distance

The pandemic has certainly made it hard to spend time in the company of others. Social distancing remains one of the best ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. But the ongoing lack of social interaction may be wearing on your mental health. Here’s why it’s so important to stay socially connected right now and how you can do it safely.

Why we need social interaction

As social creatures, we often seek human interaction. But the pandemic has put some serious restrictions on our social lives. Not seeing family and friends in person may be one of the most challenging changes. It may lead to loneliness, when you feel like you have no connection or support with those around you.

If you’ve been feeling lonely lately, you’re not alone. Even before the pandemic, experts noted that loneliness was a growing mental health problem in the U.S. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that more than one-third of people ages 45 and older felt lonely. Those most at risk for loneliness: older adults who live by themselves and who lack social connections.

Although older adults may be more prone to loneliness, it’s a mental state that can affect all age groups. Ongoing research shows that many people, especially younger adults, are feeling lonely during the pandemic. Prolonged feelings of loneliness can raise your levels of stress. They can also exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Loneliness can affect your physical health, too. It’s been linked to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. In fact, some studies suggest feeling alone may be as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking.

How to stay safely connected

Feeling more connected to the people in your life can help prevent loneliness and other mental health problems like depression and anxiety. And with today’s technology, you can safely stay in touch while keeping your distance. Try some of these ideas to foster—and even strengthen—your social circle:

  • Schedule a weekly or monthly check-in. Block out time in your calendar to regularly call, text, or email family and friends. A little catch-up can go a long way to build your relationships.

  • Plan a game night. You can use platforms like Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and Houseparty to play old-school games like Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit. Or share your screen for some web-based gaming through companies like JackBox Games.

  • Watch a movie with your favorite film critics. You can set up a video call to interact while you’re all tuning into the show. Or try Teleparty, an app that synchronizes your group’s online viewing and allows on-screen chatting in real time.

  • Visit a cultural institution. Many museums, aquariums, and other places have expanded their online offerings. Tour an exhibit with a friend while chatting on the phone.

  • Start an exercise program. FitBit and other fitness tracking apps can help you cheer on your friends while being physically active.

  • Move your hobbies online. For instance, start an online book club or exercise group. Or take a virtual cooking class with your fellow foodies.

If you’re not a fan of Zoom meetings, video chats, or social media, you can still stay connected with family and friends. These low-tech ideas may help:

  • Write a letter to a family member or friend. You may find a pen pal.

  • Encourage children to send letters, pictures, or stories to their grandparents and other family members.

  • Mail small gifts or care packages to loved ones.

  • Bake some goodies and leave them on a friend’s doorstep.

  • Chat with neighbors and others from a safe distance. Make sure you always wear a mask to protect yourself and those around you.

If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility, talk with the staff to learn how you can stay connected. Window visits or FaceTime calls may be required. Or you may be allowed inside if you are COVID-19 negative, wear a mask, and socially distance.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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