Keeping Connected While Physical Distancing

As we limit our in-person social engagement to slow the spread of COVID-19, we may need to be more proactive to keep social interactions a part of our daily routine. Kate Sheehan, LCSW, managing director of the UCLA Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support (CARES) highlights creative uses of technology that can go a long way toward keeping us from getting too stir crazy.

Why do we need social connection?

We are social creatures by nature. Consequently, feelings of disconnection (loneliness, isolation, shame) not only interfere with our biological functioning but can impact our mental functioning as well.

Loneliness and isolation can contribute to our feelings of depression and anxiety, which in turn take a toll on our physical health. Loneliness has even been shown to be linked to a greater susceptibility to the common cold.

Other studies have demonstrated that stronger social connections contribute to a longer lifespan, stronger immunity, and decreased rates of diseases such as heart disease.

In the best of times, researchers consider three factors to assess one’s sense of social isolation:

  • Frequency of social interactions
  • Size of social network
  • Quality of social interactions

We enjoy spontaneous and planned interactions with friends and family throughout a normal week. During physical distancing, finding a balance of frequency and quality remotely may require getting more out of the technologies you already use and maybe trying some new ones.

Try to be sure you’re checking in verbally with someone at least daily.

Here are some ideas to get you started on how to approximate in-person connections from a distance:

Share a laugh

  • Send a joke text to one of your friends every morning.
  • Videos of animals being silly always makes me chuckle.
  • Binge a Netflix series remotely, but together.

Share a meal

Zoom may not be the way we typically enjoy a dinner party with friends, but technology does allow us to virtually cook and eat together.

  • You can get your distant family or nearby friends together for a “shared” Zoom meal by propping up everyone’s phones on the dinner table.
  • FaceTime a friend while you both make the same new recipe with whatever random items you might have.
  • Check out these cooking blogs with healthy, bean-centered recipes: Forks Over Knives (vegan), Cook with Manali (Instant Pot Indian), all kinds of beans from Joe Yonan’s new cookbook Cool Beans.

Stay active

Many of us won’t just miss our workout at the gym or yoga studio, we’ll also miss the feeling of community. Working out together can give us that extra push to hold a pose a little longer, reach deep for that final set, or even just show up in the morning.

  • Learn about private Pilates lessons and group classes.
  • If you haven’t already discovered the many YouTube yoga teachers, now is a time to explore. There are also apps, such as Down Dog, that allow you to design your own guided workout.
  • If you want the support and challenge of others, check your local gym and studios for online options.

Lift the spirit       

Whatever our place of worship, chances are that our regular spiritual routine is being impacted for now. We might think about what part of our spiritual life we can recreate elsewhere:

  • For some, it might be connecting to nature. A nature walk (keeping six feet away from others) or a virtual nature immersion may help.
  • For others, prayer will be the community practice they most miss. You can create (or continue) a prayer circle in your neighborhood or across the globe.
  • For others, charitable acts keep their values and spirit aligned. Offer support to others in need.
  • Sometimes, in great uncertainty, focusing on what is certain can ground us. This could take the form of a gratitude practice.
  • Sign up for Mindful Self Compassion weekly groups with me here.

About CARES

The UCLA Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support (CARES) strives to create a community of support around children who are dealing with stress and anxiety. We do this through the creation and implementation of programs designed to help teachers, parents, and clinicians develop a greater understanding of the early signs of childhood anxiety and key strategies to help children and families build resilience. http://carescenter.ucla.edu/

Written by Kate Sheehan, LCSW, Managing Director of CARES


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