COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is a reality right now. Although positive social support can improve our capacity to cope with this stress, but now, we’re being encouraged to keep a social distance from others to minimize the spread of this virus.
In advanced countries, many people are facing isolation if they are suspected of having COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who does. Those who appear to be healthy are directed to practice social distancing; a range of strategies designed to slow down the spread of this disease. Social distancing also help to protect vulnerable groups from becoming infected by not getting too close, avoiding acts like kissing, hugging and shaking hands.
Social distancing has seen the cancellation of significant events of more than 50 people, while smaller groups and organizations have also moved to cancel events and regular activities. Also, many workplaces with the capacity to do so have asked their staff to work from home.
It’s crucial to observe social distancing at this time as this will slow down the spread of COVID-19, but will result in fewer face-to-face social interactions, potentially increasing the risk of loneliness.
Social distancing and self-isolation will be a challenge for many people because humans are innately social.
From history to the modern-day, we’ve lived in groups – in villages, communities, and family units.
While we know social isolation hurts our health, we don’t know much about what the effects of this compulsory (and possibly prolonged) social isolation could be.
But, we expect that it could increase the risk of loneliness (a feeling of being socially isolated) in the community.
Recent reports have indicated that loneliness is already a significant issue for Australians, including young people. Also, loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of earlier death; from 26% to 29%.
Socially vulnerable people, such as older people, are likely to struggle more through this uncertain period. And if the elderly are forced to self-isolate, we currently don’t have contingency plans to help those who are lonely and (or) have complex health problems.
While we can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions, we need to be flexible and think creatively in these circumstances.
So you might ask, how do I stay connected physically and psychologically during this self-isolating or social distancing period?
WAYS TO STAY CONNECTED DURING COVID-19
Equipping the older people – Older people may be more susceptible to feeling lonely if isolation is a compulsory choice. We can provide them with technology if they don’t already have access or teach them how to use their devices if they are unsure. For those still living at home, we can; engage a neighbor to check in on them, show our support by finding time to make voice calls or, more preferably, video calls.
Controlling one’s anxiety – Research shows a period of uncertainty, and a lack of control in our daily lives can lead to increased anxiety. In times like this, we must support one another and show compassion to those who need it.
Fortunately, positive social support can improve our resilience in coping with stress. So use the phone and other e-connecting gadgets, and if you can, gather a group of people to stay in touch with.
But while using the phone on social media, be aware that other people may likely involuntarily pass their anxiety over on others by posting wrong information, so do not believe all you read on social media until you check it up on verifiable handles or Watch it on the news.
Furthermore, even remotely, we can help reduce loneliness by showing genuine interest in others, sharing positive news, and old memories with one another online can enhance our relationships.Look into how you can interact with others without putting your health (or theirs) at risk. You can even speak to your neighbors from over a fence or across balconies. We’ve seen this in Italy.
Carefully check up on your loved ones – For those with no access to the internet or who cannot easily use the internet to shop online, check-in with your friends and family regularly. Wherever you can, assist people in your life that may be more vulnerable, spend the time connecting with the people you are living with. If you are in a lockdown situation, use this time to improve your existing relationships. Showing kindness to others not only helps them but can also increase your sense of purpose and value, enhancing your well-being.
Exercise and Meditate – Manage your stress levels. Exercise, meditate, and keep to a daily routine as much as you can. It’s not just family and friends who require support, even you.
This period is stressful for everyone – and we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for. So get thinking, take considered action, and be creative to see how you can help to minimize not only the spread of COVID-19 but its social and psychological effects too.