How to stay connected while social distancing

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While social distancing is necessary to ‘flatten the coronavirus curve’, feeling psychologically disconnected is seriously bad news for your mental health and wellbeing. Here’s how to stay connected while isolating at home.

Feeling lonely and blue stuck at home during the coronavirus crisis? You aren’t alone. 

‘Throughout history and across cultures, being forced into social isolation has often been regarded as the worst form of torture,’ says STRONG Australia Psychologist Sarah McMahon

‘Famous experiments conducted over the 1950s and 1960s by Psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated that feeling loved and connected is far more important to our wellbeing than having our basic physical needs met.’

In that heartbreaking experiment, baby monkeys were taken away from their mothers and raised in lab cages. While isolated, the monkeys showed disturbing behaviours such as circling their cages and harming themselves. What’s more, when they were introduced back into the group, they had no idea how to interact with their peers. 

But there is something you can do to reduce the iso-blues. Numerous studies indicate that having high-quality social support can enhance our resilience to stress. You might be physically apart from your work bestie and training buddies during this time, but it doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally isolated, too. 

Here’s McMahon’s top five tips for staying connected and looking after your mental health during social isolation:

1. Connect with an online fitness community. Miss catching up with your gym buddy in between sets? There’s a plethora of virtual fitness communities available through apps and social media, where you can access live zoom at-home workouts, online personal training sessions and chat rooms for all your health and fitness banter needs. It’s a great way to keep moving and meet new people with a common interest, while staying safely inside.

2. Join an online book club. Did you let your New Year’s resolutions slide? This might be a good time to set new goals, such as finishing a book every week or fortnight. Not only will you get a rush of endorphins as you accomplish the task, but reading a good book will also activate the same parts of your brain that make you feel socially connected. For an extra positivity boost, find an online forum where you can discuss your latest and greatest reads.

3. Rekindle lost hobbies, or find a new one. Many people have extra hours in the day that would usually be spent commuting to and from work. Finding a hobby or taking an online short course are productive ways to utilise your spare time, and will make you feel far better than sitting around watching Netflix.

4. Schedule virtual lunch or dinner dates. Videoconferencing allows you to eat with friends and family members located anywhere in the world, while sitting in your own dining rooms. Seeing other people’s faces, even if they aren’t in your physical presence, will help reduce any negative feelings associated with social isolation. The best part? There’s no dress code.

5. Consider going old school. Need a break from the virtual world? Pen your thoughts to paper – because journaling is your mental health’s best friend – or post an old-fashioned letter or postcard to your loved one.