Social Distance, Not Social Isolation: How to Stay Connected While Social Distancing

Woman with child (wearing masks) reading a book sitting on a bench 6 feet away from another gentleman (also wearing a mask) looking at his tablet.
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To help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, many people cover their mouths and noses with face masks, wash their hands, wear personal protective equipment in the workplace and, most important of all, practice social distancing.

Lately, there has been a shift in referring to social distancing as physical distancing. Why the shift? It’s to emphasize the need to stay connected to one another, even when physical closeness isn’t possible.

This is more than just a philosophical shift in terminology. The unseen impact of social distancing for months can take its toll on your mental health and emotional well-being. Humans, after all, are social animals and require a certain level of social interaction. So, understanding the difference between social distancing and physical distancing can improve your mental health during the global pandemic — and beyond.

Keep reading to learn more about the effects of social distancing and ways to maintain physical distance without giving up the social bonds and relationships that make life meaningful.

What Is Social Distancing?

According to the CDC, social distancing means avoiding physical contact with people outside your home.

Follow these rules to adhere to social distancing:

  • Maintain 6 feet of space between you and other people
  • Do not meet in large groups
  • Avoid mass gatherings

Social distancing is one of the steps to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus instituted by state governments and public health organizations trying to flatten out rising infection rates.

When you do go out in public for groceries and essentials, face masks and other PPE can help protect you from contracting the coronavirus.

Ways to Stay Connected

Despite the inconvenience of wearing face masks and not being able to hug your grandparents, there are many ways to stay connected while staying safe from the virus.

1. Organize Neighborhood Events

Social distancing starts for many people as soon as they leave their yards. Driveways and sidewalks form natural boundaries without preventing communication across the backyard fence.

Temple health suggests the following ways to get kids involved:

  • Inspire a neighborhood “gallery walk” by decorating your driveway. If you live in the city, choose a sidewalk square to create encouraging chalk art for your neighbors. Rural communities might decide to add some color to local roads to show solidarity.
  • Play tic-tac-toe on the sidewalk with a neighbor. (Wear face masks and maintain social distances.)
  • Devise a photo scavenger hunt where kids can spot items like decorations, balloons and flags and post them on social media.
Young boy playing with his baby sister, both are writing with chalk on their deck.
Playing together is one way to stay connected and prevent a feeling of social isolation.

When organizing these types of events, remember to follow the CDC’s guidelines for gatherings and community events during COVID-19.

2. Reconnect with Family

How many times have you wished for more time at home with your family? Sure, you can work on the “honey-do” list, but don’t forget to incorporate quality time with those you love.

Besides preparing and eating meals, here are a few ideas to gather the troops together:

  • Dust off or purchase puzzles and games
  • Play Wii or other interactive video platforms that get you moving
  • Teach the kids basic cooking and other skills such as laundry and cleaning
  • Plant flowers and vegetables in window boxes or gardens
Image of a happy family (father, mother, son and daughter) having fun reconnecting while cooking food together.
Reconnect with family and friends to prevent social isolation.

3. Experience e-Learning and Local Attractions

Universities, zoos and museums have opened up new opportunities to deliver their offerings digitally – and many, free of charge.

And there is always your local public library, which may be offering digital library cards for those who do not have one. Your local library will have plenty of digital media for you to “check out,” including movies, audiobooks, magazines and e-books. Libraries may also offer free subscriptions to online learning courses, including Lynda.com, Duolingo, Gale Course and Udacity, among others.

Technology to Help You Stay Connected

We all need to feel connected. Technology can help make sure that social distancing doesn’t turn into social isolation. Billions of people are already on social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, to name a few. Laptops, smartphones and tablets combine with videoconferencing apps, allowing virtual face-to-face interaction with friends and relatives:

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Google Duo
  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • FaceTime
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Slack

Most platforms have free versions of the software, letting as few as two and as many as ten people interact at once.

Caring for the Elderly

According to the American Psychological Association, the elderly are among the most severely impacted by social distancing.

Although the advice is intended for psychologists and their patients, the following tips can also help relatives and friends ease the loneliness of seniors in eldercare who can no longer receive visitors, dine together or participate in activities.

Practicing proper social distancing, a younger boy wears gloves and a mask while delivering groceries to an elderly lady, also wearing a mask.
Minimize contact with others and wear gloves to protect others, incl. older people.

These suggestions also extend to seniors living alone, who may be struggling to cope with the unexpected isolation:

  • Stay in touch. Reach out to loved ones in senior care facilities. There are plenty of free apps and programs that make face-to-face communication possible, including Zoom, iPhone’s FaceTime and even Facebook Messenger.
  • Encourage older patients to participate in online sites that match their interests. com and retirementlifematters.com are two good ones.
  • Promote connections with younger people. Whether it’s grandchildren or volunteers from a local elementary school, video chats with younger generations can help break up the day for seniors in long-term care.
  • Help keep older relatives safe. Giving older relatives a reason to stay safe can help keep them home. For older adults living with family members, protecting young children and spending time with them helps the time pass productively.

Get Out and About Safely

Social distancing makes it impossible to gather together for sports or extended family dinners. However, here are some creative ideas for connecting without infecting:

  • Video chats and phone calls
  • Send electronic postcards or go “old school” and write letters
  • Hiking while keeping physical distances of 6 feet
  • Game with family members who aren’t sick
  • Virtual movie night — create watch parties on social media and comment on what’s happening in the movie
  • Video gamesenable you to connect with people around the world
  • Walks around the neighborhood help you connect with nature. Avoid passing too close to other pedestrians, and keep to the sidewalks if you stop to chat with a neighbor. Face masks on, please!
Photo of people standing 6 feet apart while waiting outside to enter a store.
Practice proper social distancing while out and about. Wear masks and stay 6-feet apart whenever possible.

Since the gyms are closed, it may be time to explore yoga, meditation and other mindfulness techniques that help you clear your mind of the coronavirus pandemic. There are plenty of online yoga guides and “classes” – through subscription as well as free – that you can take part in.

If you are thoughtful and want to drop off toilet paper and other supplies to friends, do it from the curb or porch steps. Remember to wear face masks and personal protective gear, even if you don’t plan to come into close personal contact with others.

Practice Physical Distancing Correctly

As states start to ease restrictions, more businesses will open, presenting a temptation to everyone suffering from cabin fever. Go out if you have to for groceries or other supplies. Remember to stay safe.

If you have returned to work, follow basic safety guidelines to protect yourself and those around you.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) from face masks to gloves and gowns can help reduce your contact with surfaces that might be infected with the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
  • Limit your time in public. If grocery delivery or pickup is available in your community, use it to reduce your time out. Try to limit your trips to the grocery store or drugstore to once a week instead of every two or three days.
  • Maintain social distances. Some stores have taped off the gaps to help patrons stay safe. Adhere to these guidelines.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you. Use hand sanitizer before entering and immediately after leaving the store. Most stores have wipes to clean carts and baskets prior to use. Squirt hand sanitizer on one to thoroughly wipe down the cart. Make sure it contains at least 75% alcohol.
  • Wash your hands. Thorough handwashingis the best defense against the virus.
  • Cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw tissues away immediately.

Taking the proper precautions in public helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus and can eventually lead to flattened trends in new infection rates. However, while we are still in the midst of the global pandemic, let’s encourage one another and be in it together. Social distancing is a vital part of this strategy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of technology to stay connected.

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