Mental Health

Staying connected while social distancing

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You’ve probably heard it a million times because it’s true: humans are social creatures. Itcan be hard to adjust to our new reality of social distancing as we weather the Covid-19 pandemic. Feeling isolated can take its toll on mental health, which is why it’s important to find healthy means of coping and staying connected at this time.

Luckily, social distancing really means physical distancing. It does not preclude other types of social and emotional connections. Jamil Zaki, a researcher and professor of psychology at Stanford University, suggests shifting our mindset.

“We should think of this time as ‘physical distancing’ to emphasize that we can remain socially connected even while being apart,” Zaki said in a Stanford News article. “In fact, I encourage all of us to practice ‘distant socializing.’ Ironically, the same technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together.”

Sure, nothing beats face-to-face communication, but if we’re thinking of this time as one of distant socializing, the possibilities are endless, especially with the variety of technologies and social media available. In fact, coming up with new ways to stay in touch may help us be more intentional in our relationships.

For starters, check in with people in your life – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even those that you’re not used to communicating with on a regular basis. For those in your circle – the people that you’re close to – scheduling regular video or phone calls can help, especially if you live alone. It’s a chance to catch up, share laughs or release what’s on your mind.

Dr. Jacobson, Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, encourages tapping into your circle of family and friends. She’s been doing phone and video calls to reconnect with people she hasn’t spoken to in a long time. Now is a great time to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. If your time is limited, even a short text is a thoughtful way to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Sending a simple “how are you?” can go a long way by making people feel cared for and opening up an avenue for further connection.

Continue social traditions online or indoors, or start new ones. The activities you used to enjoy before social distancing can definitely still happen.

Of course, it’ll be an adjustment, but happy hours, date nights, book club meetings, movie nights, dinner parties, children’s play dates and casual hangouts are possible at home or through Zoom, Facetime, Skype and other video calling apps.

Spending more time indoors creates new opportunities to bond with your family or household by cooking and eating meals together, gardening, watching movies or having game nights. You can find new projects to work on together, such as a home improvement idea you never got around to, or crafty DIY projects with supplies you have at home or can order online.

You can also find creative ways to celebrate special occasions together. Anniversaries, birthdays and graduations can be just as special at home. You can dress up, exchange homemade cards or gifts and organize a group video call to get family and friends involved. Some people create video montages and virtual birthday cards by compiling short video clips and heartfelt messages from friends and family. People are even getting married over Zoom!

Revisiting past celebrations and sharing fond memories are another strong connecting force. Old photographs, videos, and other objects with sentimental value can be soothing. Dig up keepsakes, gifts, or cards and letters from loved ones. Just remember to focus on the positive memories, which can be a cheerful reminder that there are people who care, and can inspire hope for creating more fond memories in the future.

Dr. Jacobson also recommends tapping into shared interests as another way to connect with people. The internet is thriving with forums, social media groups and online classes. Finding communities with similar interests is a great way to meet new people and feel less alone these days.

Volunteering is another way to connect with people while helping others. There may be opportunities to distribute free meals or deliver groceries to the elderly or other vulnerable populations. Just remember to always adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines when you go out! Wear a mask or some type of face covering, avoid touching your face, and stay at least six feet away from others.

Since so much of our connections are online now, remember to be wary of your limitations and set healthy boundaries. The internet and social media can get overwhelming, fast. You can set boundaries by managing expectations for yourself and others. Phone calls don’t have to last hours if you don’t want them to. And if you need a break from your phone, that’s perfectly understandable, and healthy.

In order to limit your screen time, Dr. Jacobson recommends only checking your phone at certain times during the day or setting a time limit for how long you spend online. In addition, limit your news consumption to trusted sources, like the CDC. Social media and news sites and channels may provide a constant stream of updates, but we don’t have to tune into these all day. Doing so can feed the anxieties and fears you may already have about the pandemic.

Lastly, focus on the good if you can. There are many stories of people doing good work: donating supplies, collecting food, advocating for disadvantaged groups. This may be an unpredictable time, but there are many small things to be grateful for, like the ways that technology allows us to stay connected with each other.

That’s where Alpha can help. We’re continuing to connect with and support patients online. If you’re feeling isolated, stressed or anxious, our team is here to talk things through and provide mental health treatment tailored to your needs. And of course, it’s all from the comfort of your home.

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