Humans are intensely social beings. In more isolated communities, studies have shown that loneliness and a lack of regular, meaningful contact have the same detrimental effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, highlighting just how important it is for us as functioning human beings to keep in touch with family and friends.
In the wake of news that encourages self-isolation to avoid worsening the spread of pandemic COVID-19, more people are grappling with the idea of spending extended periods without such meaningful contact, which can contribute to mental and physical health setbacks. In an age of constant connectivity and technological advances, however, there are plenty of ways you can stay connected, no matter how far from friends and family you may be.
Although there's a clear social isolation component to this approach, it’s more helpful to think of social distancing more as ‘physical distancing’, which translates to keeping a set distance from another person. In the case of COVID-19, that space is around two meters but in other instances, such as living away from family and friends, the distance could be much longer (and, additionally, feel much longer).
In the case of health reasons, the easiest way to practice social distancing is to remove yourself from public places where space is at a premium where people usually gather including (but not limited to) public transport, restaurants, bars, and theatres, as well as social get-togethers with friends.
Although it can seem counterintuitive, it is possible to stay connected to friends and family while keeping your distance. An important distinction to make is the one between social distancing and physical distancing; once you absorb this distinction, the route to staying connected becomes a little clearer. Although Friday evening drinks together might be off the table, drinks with the same friends over a video call isn’t—so don’t discount the opportunity to socialise just because you’re doing it digitally.
Here are a few practical ways you can create a feeling of connectivity when you’re keeping your distance.
Your average day has a lot of structure that you might not consciously cultivate or even realise. The time you get up, leave the house, arrive at work, take your lunch, have that afternoon coffee or cook your evening meal all work to create a natural structure around your day.
Without these key markers of time, you might end up feeling a little lost with time altogether. Although you don’t have to keep to a strict schedule (unless that suits you), it will help somewhat to maintain a similar schedule to what you naturally had when you were heading off to work or had more spontaneous access to the world outside. If you’re a morning yoga person, continue to do this albeit on the bedroom floor. If you’re working from home, maintaining a similar work schedule to keep yourself connected with your profession and colleagues (pivot the morning meeting to a Zoom call, maintain the afternoon coffee with a friend but over Skype).
Maintaining a sense of normalcy helps to keep you connected to yourself, leaving you tethered to what makes you you, on a daily basis.
Whether this is in the form of following positive pages on Instagram or simply turning off mainstream media, it’s time to cultivate a little sunshine, even if you don't have unlimited access to the real deal right now. Create a log of things you're grateful to have—including health, a home to work from or family members to call in a crisis - and keep in touch, digitally, with sources that give you a boost. Outlets such as Positive News or Matters Journal are good touchpoints for those moments when things seem a little dreary.
Post a few inspirational quotes around your home to keep spirits high. Add your own favourite to a Canva template such as Mustard and Olive Chic Lifestyle Blogger Quote Social Media Graphics or Bisque and White Traditional Life Quote Instagram Post and post it somewhere in the house to remind yourself any struggles are only temporary.
Just because you're spending more time at home, doesn’t mean that you should curl up on the couch for every waking hour. Moving and exercising should still scaffold your everyday routine, whether that be that bedroom floor yoga or balcony squats. And yes, you can and must go outside.
“The key thing is that you are going to want to go outside, and I am concerned that people are misconstruing social distancing as a recommendation to not get fresh air,” public health researcher and primary-care physician Asaf Britton explained in The New Yorker. “And I don’t think that is healthy for people. It is really a matter of maintaining as much personal space as possible.”
South Koreans have felt the benefits of digital connectivity for nearly a decade. Mukbang, an amalgamation of the Korean words for ‘let’s eat’ (‘mukja’) and ‘broadcast’ (‘bang song’), is the online transmission of live video where people are shown eating a staggering amount of food. The sensation is said to owe its popularity to its ability to make isolated people feel less alone. You can cultivate a similar connection with your loved ones, despite the distance. About to watch your favourite show?
Call a friend, leave the phone on speaker and start the show or film at the same time, allowing you to comment and banter as though you were watching it together. Create closed groups for friends on social channels that share everyday encounters just the same as you would if you physically crossed paths. Don’t cancel your book club meeting - hold it over Zoom instead. Once you start replacing physical interactions with digital ones, you’ll instantly feel more connected.
The world is still turning out there and just because you’re keeping away from others, doesn’t mean you should forget that. Keep in step with natural rhythms as much as possible. Watch the sunrise or sunset, lie down in the grass, watch busy ants going about their business on your driveway - all of these things work to remind us that things are still happening as they always should and always will and that this, too, shall pass.
You know all those things you’ve been complaining you don’t have enough time to do? Now’s the time to do them. Staying connected to your goals keeps you in touch with the here and now, as well as the future after post-isolation—don’t forget that this is a temporary storm to weather. Read War and Peace, learn Spanish, clean your pantry or shed the excess clothes from your wardrobe—whatever you’ve been putting off or decided is too difficult to tackle amongst your other social and professional commitments, now’s the perfect time to tackle them. Add the accomplishment to the fridge or somewhere prominent to remind you that you’re still capable of achieving things even though you’re limiting your time outdoors and with others.
Want to tick off some of those bucket list goals? Use a Canva template to keep yourself on track, such as Purple and White Week Goals List Maker Interactive Instagram Story or Gray Simple Rectangle Mind Map and stick in on the fridge or somewhere similarly prominent.
The quickest route to boosting our own happiness is to help cultivate it for other people. Some studies even show that practicing altruism can cut mortality rates by a staggering 44%. In a time where we are physically cut off from our communities, it’s more important than ever to keep a connection for those who might already be isolated and need additional assistance. The campaign of #viralkindness is a great place to start - do a letterbox drop of these nifty cards that put yourself forward as someone who can assist more compromised and isolated members of the community in times of crisis. It could be a grocery shop of necessities or a simple phone call - these measures can do wonders for those who are struggling.