Loneliness

Preventing Loneliness in Times of Social Distancing

4 tips for connecting without physical contact.

Posted Mar 12, 2020

Over the past few days, we have learned that a potentially very effective way of slowing down the spread of coronavirus entails minimizing the amount of physical contact we have with other people. The premise is that “social distancing” can buy us valuable time to contain the disease: Hospitals might be able to manage resources more effectively, scientists could develop a better understanding of how the virus spreads, and pharmaceutical companies might develop vaccines and treatments.

So, many of us are starting to work remotely, college students are being sent home, and travel has slowed down considerably. A few hours ago, Broadway shows were put on halt. Clearly, we’re gaining more distance from one another! But with this distance also comes isolation, which means you might start to feel lonely. And we know that loneliness can be very detrimental to our mental health, in particular as it fuels symptoms of depression and anxiety (Lim et al., 2016)

We were already in a “loneliness epidemic” before coronavirus, so more than ever, we have to be proactive in our fight against loneliness. We have to take charge of our social lives and make sure we’re still connecting with others and getting that oxytocin rush that is so important for our emotional health (Kosfeld et al., 2005).

And by the way, this is super important even if you live with other people and will be in isolation with them. You can still be lonely, even if you are with others! This is because we meet our emotional needs through lots of different social interactions with a wide range of people—not just the folks we live with. So, today, I’d like to share a few tips on how to make sure that you can continue to have a healthy, fun, and rewarding social life during these uncertain times of social distancing.

1. Text (and call) more!

This might sound super obvious, so it’s easy to downplay its importance, but I strongly recommend being very purposeful and diligent about reaching out to people in your life. Right now, we’re so preoccupied with figuring out if we need to work from home, whether schools are open, or how much food we need to buy that we forget to touch base with friends and family. And when we do, it’s to talk about coronavirus, which might not be that helpful in the long run: Even if it provides us with information and reassurance, it can also make us feel more stressed.

So, as we gain more clarity about this disease and its impact, try making a conscious effort to text and call the people in your life more—and to talk about other topics! Also, don’t forget to set up chat groups with more than one person—having more people will ensure that the conversations will keep going!

2. Schedule virtual hangouts.

If you are not able to hang out with your friends in person, then do it virtually! For example, you could have a drink or eat a meal while FaceTiming. You could also watch a TV show or movie simultaneously and take pauses to text each other about what’s going on. Or you could do a mindfulness meditation together over Zoom—why not! You could also play video games together—even if you’re not into gaming, this might be the time to splurge on a console and start having virtual adventures with your friends!

If you’re hesitant because you have the sense that “it won’t be the same,” let me tell you something: People in long-distance relationships have been doing this forever! And yes, it might not be the same as being in the same physical space, but it can be a very good substitute (and in some cases, it might be more fun, who knows?).

3. Leverage social networks.

Another way of making sure you’re keeping your social life well lubricated is by spending time in social networks. But not necessarily to talk about coronavirus or other issues that might increase your stress levels. Rather, you could focus on other fun topics that might bring excitement into your life. For example, you could participate in Reddit threads about your favorite TV show, join a Facebook group about a hobby you have, or make TikTok videos about something you find fun. You could also start your own threads or groups and build a whole new community!

4. Go on virtual dates.

If you’re currently on dating apps, you know how the drill: You swipe, they swipe, you chat for a bit, and then you set up an in-person date. Well, make that date a virtual one! Grab a drink, a coffee, or a meal over FaceTime! Seriously, why not (or any of the suggestions from above)? 

I know it might not be the same as a “real” date and that it might be tempting to “wait it out” until this is over, but there’s nothing like the present! Also, this might be the time to try sexting or phone/video sex. It might not be for everyone (nothing ever is when it comes to sex), but you might surprise yourself—or your partner!

Hope you find these helpful. I’ll be building on them in a follow-up post as we continue to figure out ways of fighting loneliness and isolation. 

As always, please remember that the information on this blog is for educational purposes only, and it does not constitute medical advice. If you—or people in your life—are struggling with mental health problems, please reach out to a mental health professional.

References

Kosfeld, M, Heinrichs, M., Zak, P., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673-676.

Lim, M. H.,Rodebaugh, T. L.,Zyphur, M. J.,Gleeson, J F. M. (2016). Loneliness over time: The crucial role of social anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125, 620–630