As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to work its way through the country and the world, more and more states are issuing stay-at-home orders to help curb the spread of this disease. By practicing social distancing—staying home whenever possible, limiting gatherings of large groups of people, staying six feet away from others, etc.—we can limit the spread of the disease through human-to-human contact. But there can be unintended consequences when we limit human connection.

Social distancing can lead to loneliness and social isolation, which can have negative effects on your mental, emotional and physical health. Based on a variety of studies, it’s believed that social isolation can have the same negative long-term effects on your health as smoking or obesity. The New York Times even mentions a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that found that social isolation can increase your risk of dementia by 50%, your risk of heart disease by 29%, and your risk of stroke by 32%.

While social distancing is essential for stopping the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important that we don’t forget about our mental health in these unprecedented times. Here are a few things you can do to prevent social isolation and loneliness while social distancing.

1. Find Ways to Stay Connected

This is probably the biggest, and most obvious, way to combat isolation. Smartphones, tablets and computers help connect us to the world, and they can help keep you connected to friends and family. Just because we’re apart doesn’t mean we can’t be together. Texting, emailing and social media are great ways to keep in touch, check in on others from afar, and maintain regular social connections.

However, humans crave face-to-face interaction. Facial expressions, voice inflections, body language and other nonverbal cues are important for bonding, so video chatting is really the best way to maintain those important connections with close friends and family. There are plenty of video conferencing apps out there for your smartphone or computer, so seeing the face of a loved one is as simple as placing a phone call.

Speaking of phone calls, if you don’t have access to video conferencing apps, having a simple, five-minute telephone conversation with a dear friend or family member can do wonders in the fight against social isolation.

2. Share Your Interests

For many, social distancing means working from home and not leaving unless necessary. Being cooped up in your house can make you feel cut off from the rest of the world, but this time at home can actually be a great opportunity to explore your hobbies and interests and share them with friends and family.

If you’ve always wanted to try an interesting arts and crafts project but haven’t had the time, now’s your chance. When you’re done, post the results on social media and encourage your friends to share their own projects. Did you finally get around to making an old family recipe? Give a close family member a call and tell them how it went. Is there a book on your shelf you’ve always wanted to read? Start a book club with your friends and talk about it.

Take this opportunity to look inward and explore yourself. Not only is it a great way to pass the time, but it’s also a good excuse to engage with those around you who have the same interests.

3. Find Ways to Get Outside and Get Active

To fight social isolation, it’s highly recommended that you add some form of physical activity to your day—preferably outside. The coronavirus has an easier time spreading indoors, so going outside, getting some fresh air, and being active is a great way to interact with the world around you while staying safe.

Besides helping to stay in shape, exercise is also great for your mental health, as jogging, walking or biking releases mood-boosting hits of dopamine. Additionally, spring is a time of rebirth. While the temperatures continue to rise, getting outside to take in the sights, sounds and smells of spring can inspire feelings of hope. And be sure to spend time in the sun soaking up some vitamin D—it can actually help fight depression and other chronic illnesses.

4. Do Something Meaningful

In times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to only focus on one’s self. However, it’s important to remember there are always others out there who are less fortunate and who are facing unique challenges during this unprecedented time.

Monetary donations are a great start, but consider giving the gift of your time. Do something for others in need. Go grocery shopping for a sick friend. Take your elderly neighbor’s dog for a walk. Send pizzas to the local hospital or medical center for their overworked staff.

It’s always important to give back, but it’s especially true now. Doing something meaningful for the people around you can help inspire a greater sense of community and connection.

Other Considerations

The above list is in no way exhaustive. There are plenty of other things you can do to prevent social isolation and loneliness while practicing social distancing. Spending time with pets (or even getting new ones), interacting with online communities, and working around the house can keep you engaged and feeling connected.

While physical health is of the utmost importance during this crisis, it’s also important to not forget about your mental health. Get creative in finding ways to connect with others, and support your overall wellness by working to prevent social isolation.

Connect with Wealth Enhancement Group on social media to see how others are using their time while social distancing.

Tiffany Beard

Tiffany Beard

Vice President, Financial Advisor

CFP® Tiffany is driven to work closely with clients and help them understand how they are positioned financially with respect to important life goals, such as retirement and estate planning. She began her career in the financial services industry in 2005. Prior to that, Tiffany spent two years teaching English in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in part to pursue a passion for the French language. She joined Wealth Enhancement Group through the 2018 partnership with Retirement Strategies, Inc....Read More