For many of us in areas with high infection rates of COVID-19, our last 6 months have required a lot of drastic changes. With stay at home orders limiting travel, cancelling activities, and forcing work-from-home arrangements for those who are able, many people have seen a steep drop-off in the amount of interaction they have with others. While it does keep us safe by preventing the spread of coronavirus, staying home and limiting interactions with others can also cause people to feel a lack of social connection. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. It is being reported that providers have seen an increase in domestic violence and alcohol- and overdose-related issues, which seems to indicate that we need to consider alternative coping strategies to combat the loneliness and other negative mental health effects that many of us are experiencing.
So what can we do to reduce feelings of isolation, even while maintaining physically distant? The list below has eight activities to try to help maintain social interactions and improve social connectedness. As a bonus, most of these ideas are low-cost or no-cost, making them accessible options for the majority of people.
- Video chat with a friend – There are lots of free or cheap platforms available if you have access to the internet and a smart phone. FaceTime, Zoom, Skype are all great options. Video friend dates or dinner parties have become popular, but there’s always cooking dinner, taking a walk, or just normal conversation. Seeing a friendly face, even if only for a few minutes, can make a big difference in your mood.
- Communicate about random things – Think of a funny memory? Text it to your pal. Wearing a cute outfit? Send a picture. Need an idea of what to make for dinner? Ask your friend. Found hand sanitizer at the store? Please share with all of us. Goofy, mundane conversation is an essential part of communication that helps us bond with others. Your circle of friends will appreciate the effort—remember they’re all fighting isolation, too!
- Surprise a friend or neighbor with goodies – Bake a batch of cookies (wear a mask!), or make a card, or buy a $5 gift card to the local coffee shop and leave it on someone’s doorstep with a note. Small gestures of kindness like this can go a long way to making someone feel special and cared for. As a bonus, it feels great to care for others, too.
- Donate or volunteer – If you’ve got some extra time or a valuable skill to share, many community organizations are seeking volunteers to assist with pandemic-related services. Check with your local food banks to see if they need volunteers to sort or distribute donations. Many orgs also need drivers to deliver for individuals who cannot leave their homes. If you’re handy with a sewing machine you could make masks. If you’re good at building or fixing things, donate your services in-kind. And if you have neither free time nor special skills, even small monetary donations directly to the organization are extremely valuable and appreciated.
- Clean up litter – An unfortunate consequence of both people staying home more and the use of masks has been an increase in litter. If you’re able, wear gloves and take a garbage bag with you on your next walk or nature outing and pick up any trash you come across. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and take other hygiene precautions as needed.
- Make signs of support – Whether for healthcare workers or essential workers like your trash collectors or retail employees, making and posting a sign in your yard or front window is a great way to show your appreciation.
- Talk to people when you see them – This may be hard for those of us who are introverted or shy, but it goes a long way in building a sense of community and belonging. If you’re on a walk through your neighborhood, wave or say hi when you pass people. Give someone a compliment if they have a cool mask or a cute dog or a bountiful garden. Yes, we have to keep 6+ feet of distance, but we can still make friendly small talk.
- Say thank you – Leave a “thank you” card for your mail carrier or delivery person, or anyone else who provides a service at your home. If you have the supplies available, a goody bag of refreshments (such as a bottle of water or Gatorade and a sanitizing wipe) would be much-appreciated on a hot day. Simple recognition of the work others are doing goes a long way in improving their day—and yours.
Although we’ve made progress with reducing the rates of COVID infection, experts indicate that we’ll likely be under some level of stay-at-home orders for the foreseeable future. With these tips, we can help reduce those feelings of loneliness now and keep ourselves connected moving forward.