Mental Health

Social Distancing without Social Isolating

physical distancing - social distancing without social isolating
Protecting your physical health doesn’t have to come at the expense of your mental health. Staying connected with others is not just recommended for our mental well-being, it’s vital.

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Social Distancing. It wasn’t long ago that I didn’t know what that term meant; now I’m all too familiar with it.

I’m sure most of us would prefer to return to our state of ignorance, to go back to a time when social distancing wasn’t a part of nearly every conversation, every news article, every update from our favourite coffee shops and stores. This is the reality we find ourselves in, though, and now there is no going back.

I’m not an extrovert. I’m an introvert who spends most of her time at home. And yet even I am feeling the sting of the imposed isolation we find ourselves in.

Social Distancing vs. Physical Distancing

The thing I don’t like about the term “social distancing” is how inaccurate it is. At a time when we need to connect as a community and support one another the most, implying that we need to remain socially distant is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful.

I couldn’t agree more with what Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D. says:


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“I’ve really had enough of this term ‘social distancing.’ That is not at all what we are looking for, is it? It should be ‘physical distancing.’ In these times of rampant loneliness (especially for seniors), disconnection, and lack of empathy and compassion, we need the opposite — social connecting. And we need it under these circumstances more than ever. Let’s be creative in finding new ways to come together.”

I was encouraged when I learned that the World Health Organization is shifting its terminology from “social distancing” to “physical distancing” (watch here) because, as infectious disease epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove says,

“Keeping a physical distance…that’s absolutely essential, but it doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family…We say ‘social distancing’; were changing to say ‘physical distance’ and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected…Because your mental health going through this is just as important as your physical health.”

physical distancing - social distancing without social isolating

Ways to Socially Connect while also Physically Distancing

This past week has pushed me into finding new ways to connect with friends, family, and my surrounding community.

I’ve sent more messages, made more phone calls, and spent more time on video chat than ever before. I’ve also gone outside my comfort zone and given social gaming a try.

Since we’re all in this together, I thought I’d share some we all can practice physical distancing while still remaining socially connected:

1. Make more calls, send more messages

This is number one for a reason. As Dr. Kerkhove points out, thanks to major leaps in technology over the past decades, we now have multiple ways to connect with people who are not physically in front of us.

  • Have a video chat using services like Messenger, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, and many other services.
  • Send messages via online services or SMS, catch up, share some GIFs, and send virtual hugs.
  • Make a good, old-fashioned phone call. This is particularly important when it comes to older generations who may not be as tech-savvy. Don’t leave them out; phone calls aren’t really *that* bad.

Remember: all of the above can be done as a group, too. So set a time to have a video call with your friends, have your grandparents on speakerphone, and set up a Messenger chat group!

2. If you need support, try virtual counselling

Staying connected with your counsellor is just as important as staying connected with your loved ones.

Virtual sessions are not the same as in-person; I get it. But in times like these, something is always better than nothing. (recommended reading: Facing the Long Road of Anxiety During a Global Pandemic)

If you already have a counsellor, check with them to see if they are offering virtual appointments; many offices who typically don’t, are now making these types of accommodations.

If your counsellor isn’t offering virtual sessions, ask if they can refer you to someone who is. 

For those who don’t have a counsellor yet, search for someone in your area who will meet virtually. There are also online companies that offer virtual counselling exclusively, just make sure you are aware of their policies and that they have credible, certified therapists in their system.

3. Connect online through games

Playing games online with friends (or strangers) serves two purposes: it keeps you connected and it provides a healthy distraction.

There are many ways you can play games online and they don’t just have to be video games! 

Here are some of the ways I do it:

Board Games

Play board games online with friends or strangers using Board Game Arena (free) or Tabletop Simulator (paid). Some of my favourite games that are available on Board Game Arena arena: Tokaido (2-5 players), Jaipur (2 players), SushiGo (2-5 players), Kingdomino (2-4 players), and Reversi (2 players).

Play board games via video calling. There are some games that work well with video chat. The one we play often is Railroad Ink. As long as one person owns the game, the camera can face the dice and each player can draw on their own self-made grid. Other games that can work for this with a little bit of effort are Telestrations, Pictionary, Hangman, and Charades.

Video Games

Many video games can be played online with friends or strangers. Personally, I have only played Animal Crossing socially (10/10 recommend, especially if you’re prone to video game anxiety — there is no death, no required activity, and generally no stress). I do, however, know some people who are big into online gaming and they offered these suggestions:

  • Minecraft
  • Stardew Valley
  • Terreria
  • Pummel Party (similar to Mario Party and allows remote multiplayer)
  • Runescape
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Overwatch
  • World of Warcraft
  • Forza Horizon (open-world car racing game worth checking out!)

There, of course, are many more games you can play. I recommend checking Steam if you are into PC Gaming as they are offering games for free and at a discount right now.

As a side note: I recently purchased Baba is You and it 100% lives up to the hype. It is an excellent puzzle game that is meant to be played solo *but* you can play it co-op if you have multiple people in the same room (family, roommates, etc)  Currently it’s available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

4. Visit through windows (from a distance)

I know this may sound strange, but these are the times we are living in (for now).

I have seen posts about people going to visit grandparents and friends who are in quarantine and practicing social distancing by standing outside the window and chatting on the phone. 

This is a great idea (as long as you are staying safe and abiding by the laws of your local government regarding going out and recommendations by health officials).

My parents recently arrived from overseas and I brought them groceries to help them get through their 2-week quarantine. Waving through the window at them and talking from a distance, though strange, helped us feel a bit more connected.

5. Talk to your neighbours (from minimum 6ft/2m away)

We are all in this together and talking to neighbours, even for a quick chat about the weather, is a way to keep things feeling somewhat normal. 

Even if you aren’t close friends, engaging in small talk (just with a bit more space in between) can help normalize things and remind us that others are going through this, too. You can talk across driveways, through the fence, or even balcony-to-balcony, just remember to follow the legislation in place where you live.

6. Engage in online forums related to your hobbies/interests

I’m a baker and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the baking subreddit community lately. Everyone is sharing their “isolation baking” pictures and recipes and we all are talking about the unique challenges bakers face when supplies can be limited and there aren’t enough people around to eat what you make.

There are many other subreddits and online forums similar to this one. Find one that matches your interests and engage.

Not only will it help you stay connected with your hobbies, but it will also offer a distraction and once again remind you that you’re not alone in this. 

7. People watch from a distance

This may sound strange (or creepy) but hear me out. After self-isolating for what felt like a century, I lost touch with what was actually happening in the world around me. I hadn’t gone outside, gone to public places, or engaged with the surrounding community. To me, the world “out there” was a big, scary place filled with terrified people and toilet paper hoarders.

Turns out what I imagined was actually far from reality.

When I finally went out to get some essentials, I sat in my car eating my takeout and realized life had not come to as much of a grinding halt as I’d thought. 

Don’t get my wrong, there were fewer people out, places were closed, and people were [mostly] keeping an appropriate distance.

The important thing I needed to see, though, was that people were still there. They were picking up their subway, walking the dog, and carrying out essential tasks.

I found this encouraging during such a troubling time. Now, I try as much as possible to get out for a drive or a walk just so I can be reminded that there are other people around and that we are not living in some post-apocalyptic dystopia.

8. Watch Live Streams, YouTube videos, and Other Video Content (limit the news)

Videos and Podcasts

Another way to stay connected with the world around me has been watching videos (and listening to podcasts) that I follow. Even though I don’t know any of them personally, seeing John Oliver talk about Coronavirus, watching Philip DeFranco’s updates, and seeing other YouTuber’s videos (about Corona or not) have reminded me that life is still carrying on; the world has not stopped.

Important News Updates

I’ve also used live streams to follow the most important COVID-19 updates where I live. 

By this, I don’t mean I’m glued to the news 24/7; instead, I am only hearing it directly from the source. I am watching the Prime Minister’s daily updates (turning it off as soon as he’s done and it returns to the anchors) and the daily updates from my local government health officials.

Doing this keeps me informed without becoming engrossed. It also reminds me that there are people with more knowledge and expertise than me working hard to prioritize the public’s well-being.

Live Mental Health Support Chats

There are also organizations doing live support chats. One that I am aware of is NEDA’s Connections for those in Eating Disorder Recovery (learn more).  We will also be doing live video chats here at Libero via our Instagram account, so make sure you follow us: @liberomagazine

Hang in There

Protecting your physical health (and the health of those around you) doesn’t have to come at the expense of your mental health.

Staying connected with others is not just recommended for our mental well-being, it’s vital.

I hope some of the things I’ve listed that are working for me will work for you, too. This is new for all of us and we are all in this together. Hang in there, follow the advice of scientists and experts, and stay safe.

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Lauren is the Founder and Editor of Libero. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate mental health and body positivity. In her spare time, she enjoys makeup artistry, playing Nintendo, and taking selfies with her furbaby, Zoey.

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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.

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The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.

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