Social Distancing is Not Social Isolation

woman practicing social distancing by sitting on her couch working on a computer

While it is important to keep physical health front of mind in wake of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, don’t forget to prioritize your mental health and well-being as well. As most of the workforce transitions to work-from-home mode, social distancing may bring feelings of extreme anxiousness and worry as the population limits interaction with others. 

For optimal health, it is important to note the distinct difference between social distancing and social isolation. Social isolation and loneliness can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical, mental, and cognitive health, according to a study featured by the American Psychological AssociationBelow are healthy strategies to maintain communication with family, friends, and coworkers while practicing social distancing.  

woman working from home practicing social distancing

What is social distancing?  

Social distancing is when individuals try to avoid physical contact with other people, according to BBC. This means avoiding public places like restaurants and shops, as well as canceling unnecessary travelThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 so hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by the number of people in need of medical attention, according to National Public Radio (NPR).  

What is social isolation?  

Social isolation or self-isolating means cutting yourself off from the rest of the world, says BBCEven though the CDC recommends people avoid physical contact with one another, this doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of communication entirely. It is important to continue to stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers through digital platforms. This will have a positive impact on your mental health and overall well-being as society adjusts to this temporary state of normal 

older man talking on the phone and looking at tablet

Social distancing does not mean self-isolatingSelf-isolating can have negative impacts on one’s health and well-beingA recent study found loneliness and social isolation to be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. The same study concluded a lack of social connection increases health risks as much as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day or developing alcohol use disorder  

Self-isolation will lead to feelings of loneliness which have been found to raise levels of stress, anxiety, and depressionimpact sleep, and in turn, harm the body, explains Nicole Valtora, PhD, an epidemiologist at Newcastle University. These effects can lower one’s immunity to fight off infections 

man feeling depressed because of social isolation

How to practice healthy social distancing  

Virtual coffee meetings with coworkers  Utilize your company’s collaboration tools to set up a recurring daily or weekly meeting for 30 minutes to catch up on how your team is doing. This is a great opportunity to ask questions, provide support, post interactive activities, and share helpful articles.  

Phone calls – Maintaining communication with family, friends, and coworkers while practicing social distancing may take some coordinating, but the positive effects on your mental health are worth the effort. Frequent check-ins are a good way ease tension and release built-up anxiety.  

woman working from home practicing social distancing

Video and FaceTime calls – video chatting provides a deeper level of communication that phone calls can’t provide. Turning on your webcam can help coworkers and family members see nonverbal behaviors such as mood, facial expressions, and eye-gaze. Observing non-verbal behaviors can make communication clearer and more effective, according to Psychology Today 

Get some fresh air – At this time, spending time outdoors is permitted and encouraged. Taking a walk, gardening, going for a bike ride, and hiking are good ways to de-stress during social distancing. Spending a mere 20 minutes outside is shown to have a positive effect on mental health and well-being, according to recent study 

city park

Additional creative ideas to maintain relationships while social distancing from Psychology Today: 

    • Watch a movie or show with a friend via video chat.  
    • Start or join a virtual book club. 
    • Enjoy lunch with a coworker via video chat or phone callShare cooking tutorialsinteresting articles, and Pinterest boards with coworkers via a teamwork platform.  

As employers and employees, we share a mutual responsibility to support one another during challenging timesWith the proper use of technology, we can ensure the mental health and well-being of our workforce, friends, and family does not suffer while engaging in social distancing efforts and slowing the spread of COVID-19.