What’s the Difference Between Social Distance and Physical Distancing

Illustration demonstrating safe social distancing while receiving a package.

The main difference between physical and social distancing is language related. But it’s remains a crucial difference to our well-being. Psychologists have argued that we don’t need to socially distance because of COVID-19 because it suggests a loss of social connection. Instead, we should be cooperating with physical distancing regulations while actively seeking contact with other people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued recommendations for stopping the spread of the coronavirus, which include limiting journeys outside the house and maintaining a physical distance of six feet from everyone. The CDC often uses the term social distancing as a catch-all for its recommendations. However, it’s a bit of a misnomer because you can still be social, whether it’s smiling and waving to neighbors in the street or staying connected with loved ones using technology at home.

What’s the Difference Between Social Distancing and Physical Distancing?

Illustration showing two friends staying connected during social distancing by using technology (laptop and smartphone).
Social Distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Stay connected with technology!

Advice has shifted from asking us to maintain social distance to advising us to keep a safe physical distance. This is because the previous message didn’t highlight the positive effect on our emotional health of interacting with one another. Social isolation can be catastrophic for an individual’s well-being, with vulnerable groups like older adults, disabled people, and those in recovery, particularly at risk.

That said, you could look at social distancing in terms of reducing the amount of time you engage in the public. Going to the grocery store in one big trip, for example, instead of a series of micro-trips. Working from home instead of going into the office. Staying clear of large groups or attending events with more than 10-15 people.

Physical distancing, on the other hand, is the distance you maintain between yourself and others around you. For instance, while standing in line at the grocery store.

The Importance of Community for Mental Health

Scientists have suggested a similarity between the harm associated with social isolation and smoking. Loneliness can lead to several mental health conditions and puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to coping with emotional challenges. When you speak to friends, family and acquaintances, you get the opportunity to release how you feel and to receive reassurance from someone else. That’s why community — even if it’s a virtual one — is essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay Connected — But Keep Your Distance

There are plenty of ways you can thrive within your community while keeping a safe physical distance. Here are some ideas, just in case you’re stuck:

  • Outdoor exercise
  • Video chat via services like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts
  • Virtual quizzes, movie nights and gigs
  • Gaming online
  • Indoor nights out with housemates — movie nights, restaurant nights and pub quizzes
  • Join a virtual meet-up group
  • Volunteer in your community

How Can You Fight Boredom in Quarantine?

Illustration of two women watching an online lecture on their laptop.
Online workshops and eLearning are two ways you can fight boredom while social distancing.

Of course, you won’t be spending every minute of every day talking to someone. We’ve all got more spare time on our hands, so here are some healthy and productive ways to use it:

  • Sign up for a distance learning course
  • Learn a musical instrument or practice singing
  • Record a podcast using your phone
  • Write in a journal
  • Write a story
  • Take photographs of nature
  • Paint or draw pictures
  • Get out in the yard and do some landscaping
  • Start a garden
  • Cook or bake
  • Volunteer

Six Ways to Stay Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Illustration of a couple doing yoga and meditating at home while their cat sits perched at the window.
Exercise, yoga and meditation are great ways to help fend of boredom while social distancing.

While scientists work hard to discover a way to contain the virus, we must adapt our daily lives so society can continue to function. To stay healthy while doing what needs to be done, you can start by considering these six suggestions.

1. Only Make Essential Journeys

The lockdown restrictions mean that you have to be more organized. Instead of going to the shops a few times each week, make a list of everything you need and go once a week. Of course, you’ll need to leave the house to get medication, exercise and assist vulnerable people. But, if we all spend more time at home, we can hopefully minimize the chances the virus has to spread.

2. Maintain a Safe Physical Distance

Remember to practice physical distancing (not social distancing) by keeping six feet away from others when you’re in public. Show respect to those you walk past on the street by taking a wide berth, but nod and say hello. Provided you take the necessary precautions, people generally don’t pose a threat to you from a safe distance.

3. Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

PPE, such as face masks and disposable gloves, provide an additional shield against airborne particles and potentially contaminated surfaces. Using this type of equipment can potentially lower the risk of transmission by guarding the wearer’s hands, nose and mouth, which are the three potential areas of transmission. It’s also a great way to show the community that you’re protecting their health and yours.

4. Wash Your Hands Frequently

Handwashing should take place much more frequently than it used to. Be sure to wash your hands before and after eating and after using the bathroom, as you usually would. Now, you should also do it after touching your face (try to avoid this as much as possible) and after coming into contact with unsanitized surfaces.

5. Use Hand Sanitizer When You Don’t Have Access to Hand Washing Facilities

If you don’t have access to handwashing facilities; for example, if you’re shopping or at an appointment, use hand sanitizer. It must have an alcohol content higher than 60% to be effective, according to the CDC. Also, bear in mind that it’s not as effective as washing your hands, so don’t use it as a replacement.

6. Cough and Sneeze Into a Tissue

For most of us, this is standard practice. However, under the current circumstances, it’s even more vital than ever that we protect others by coughing or sneezing into a tissue. Droplets from the nose and mouth are a common way the virus spreads, so not using a tissue potentially puts the people around you at significant risk.

It’s important to protect the health of others and flatten the curve during these difficult times, but it’s just as crucial that we stay connected. By thinking of the six feet of space we keep between each other as a physical rather than a social distance, we recognize our emotional need to live within a community.

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