Preventing Social Isolation to Protect our Mental Health

We are living in an uncertain time. Today’s children will tell their grandchildren about the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and how everything stood still for a period of time: schools and libraries closed, store shelves emptied, and almost everyone stayed home. The purpose of this “social distancing” was to protect one another and stop the spread of disease. 

That’s where we are today, and putting space between us will work to flatten the curve if we all do it. With that said, there are some real downsides of staying apart even for relatively healthy people with safe homes, Internet access, and plenty of food.* Interpersonal connection is a key component to human wellbeing, and social isolation is a risk to mental health. At a time when it is absolutely necessary to socially distance, many more people than usual will experience the rippling effects of loneliness.

Depressed Teen Impacts School Performance

The good news is that there are ways to decrease the effects of social isolation. Here are some strategies for staying well while figuring out this (temporary) new normal. 

  1. Ramp up your virtual communication with friends, family members, and co-workers. This is especially effective if you can see one another, so try using apps like Skype, Facetime, and Zoom for video calls and conferencing whenever possible. We are also seeing an increase in individual and group therapy sessions taking place online so that people can start or maintain mental health care. Here is a listing of virtual recovery meetings, for example: Online AA Meetings During COVID-19

  2. Get outside. Interacting with others even from quite a distance is beneficial to our wellbeing. Waving to people across the street or when biking past them gives our brains the feeling that we are interacting and boosts mood. Try some Spring yard cleanup, pulling the bikes out of storage, or even some apartment building sing-a-longs like we have seen from our friends in Italy.

  3. Create a schedule and shared objectives. It may go without saying that people do better with routines, but did you know that working toward common goals with others is also a protective factor for health? Work on a puzzle with your roommate. Play board games or trivia in teams via Google Hangouts. Create a solo workout plan that a friend will also follow and then check in on your mutual progress each day. Plan, start, and finish a project around the house. (Give an air high-five when you check it off your list!)

Most importantly, remember that this situation is new, and we are all just figuring it out as we go. Taking daily actions to stay connected will protect our individual and collective mental health. And then, perhaps, the ways we pulled together – from a distance – to prevent social isolation will also be part of the pandemic story for future generations. 

What are you going to do to take care of yourself during this hard time? 

Blog written by Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC, therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy

*For local readers in the Twin Cities, here are some helpful links to food and safety resources:

Free meals for kids at local restaurants

Child care services division of Department of Human Services; hotline: 651-297-1304

Expanded hotspot capabilities for internet access

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