The Importance of NOT Socially Isolating While Simultaneously Practicing Social Distancing

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By Jaimie Hutchison
Social distancing is the important strategy of physically separating ourselves from one another to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus. Social isolation, on the other hand, is often physically isolating ourselves (which we are doing) AND emotionally isolating ourselves, which we cannot afford to do.

 

The WorkLife Office hosted a webinar titled "The Importance of NOT Socially Isolating While Simultaneously Practicing Social Distancing" with Jaimie Hutchison to discuss the information below.  Click here to view the video on Spartan365 with transcript (Requires MSU NetID) or watch the embedded video below.

Click here to download and share our webinar flier.  Requires MSU NetID

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By Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC

Social isolation and loneliness are linked to deteriorating physical, emotional, and mental health. Some of the effects of social isolation include higher stress levels, increased vulnerability to chronic illnesses, increased risk factors for those with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, our levels of social isolation were already high in many populations, including older adults who live alone more in the US than anywhere else in the world. Additionally, young people are more disconnected interpersonally than ever before due in part to the increase in electronic means of connecting. We also have an increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression spanning all generations in the US.  So, what does that mean for us now? Our human instinct is to seek comfort in groups, whether it is family, friends, co-workers, our groups of religious affiliation or volunteering. For most of us, those activities will temporarily cease, at least in person. Therefore, we all need each other now more than ever. We need to use this time to find new ways to connect in authentic ways, and quickly.

The MSU WorkLife Office is offering a set of webinars and programs via Zoom where you can ask questions and share best practices about how you are managing the multiple demands of family and work while socially distancing from others. Please view our website for more information about these sessions. Additionally, although working remotely, we are still answering calls, Teams chats, and emails. You are not alone. We understand that this crisis is perhaps the most strain that has ever occurred between your work and life. We are here to help you navigate those challenges. Be sure to take care of yourself, and reach out to others.

What else can we do? If you know someone who lives alone, an elderly family member or neighbor, a colleague who is a single parent, someone who is at an increased risk for the effects of the Coronavirus, or … anyone you care about. Reach out. Here are some things that can help.

  1. Try to connect face-to-face using technology. Skype and Facetime are good examples of this. Can you Skype a grandparent? If you haven’t tried to use Skype, now may be the time to learn! For work, you can use Zoom or Teams to see each other and read those facial expressions while meeting. Even sending someone a video that you recorded on the phone will promote social bonding and support, as they can see your face. Consider this for older teens or college students.
  2. Try having a digital dinner or lunch meeting. Get together just as you would have and talk, check in, play some trivia, or do something else that allows you to be a part of a group, from afar.
  3. Although face-to-face interactions using technology are best, you can send a genuine email thanking someone for something they did. Write some notes to local nursing homes with people who cannot have visitors. A few minutes of your time could brighten someone’s day.
  4. Create online communities. Do you have sports parents that you usually see several times a week? A book club? A Girl Scout Troop? Create a Facebook Group or group chat just for those people to show them that you are still engaged. Don’t forget to do this for your kids, too (more on that in a minute).
  5. Look into digital support groups. There are groups online for single parents, those facing differing medical diagnoses, caregivers for seniors, etc. This could be the perfect time to reach out and join a group that could add value to your daily life.
  6. Go for a walk, and keep your physical distance, but wave to every car that passes, wave to neighbors you see, and remember that strengthening existing relationships or building new relationships is what is going to get us through this. We need each other now more than ever.

I was talking to someone about the struggle that most working parents are going through today. It is a lot. I want to take a moment to think about the impact of the social isolation of our children, too, of all ages. First, let’s think about school-aged children. Most are used to being surrounded by a class of people, friends and their teachers and other staff who care about them and for them each day. They are used to academic work and enrichment activities like music and art. This virus has put a screeching halt to everything including sports, scouts, musicals, archery, science club, you name it. So, even if your child is old enough to be alone while parents work, they will need connection and structure. My daughter is 13, but I can’t imagine her being alone all day every day for weeks to come without my interacting with her. It just isn’t healthy. Social isolation is real, and we need to find ways to lean in and make this work for every family member in our home. Our little ones are used to a similar structure at daycare or with their nanny. If this is hard for us, how is it for our younger ones that have not yet developed the coping skills that we have? Let’s build structure for them, manage our stress together and continue to support one another the best we can. I wrote a blog about working at home with children that may be a help at this time as well.

We are all in this together. May we practice flexibility and creative problem solving like never before, while staying a supportive community of Spartans at the same time.

 

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Sources

Barth, F. D. (2020, March 15). The coronavirus-required quarantines and social distancing aren’t easy when you live alone. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/amp/ncna1157336

Killam, K. (2020, March 12). How to prevent loneliness in a time of social distancing. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-loneliness-in-a-time-of-social-distancing/

Klinenberg, E. (2020, March 14). We need social solidarity, not just social distancing. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-social-distancing.html

Novotney, A. (2019). Social isolation: It could kill you. American Psychological Association, 50(5), 32. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

Queensland Government. (2018, June 25). Avoiding social isolation. https://www.qld.gov.au/community/getting-support-health-social-issue/avoiding-social-isolation

Sacks, E. (2020, March 16). Social distancing could have devastating effect on people with depression. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna1157871

Torres, S. (2020, March 13). The danger of social isolation during a pandemic. San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/The-danger-of-social-isolation-during-a-pandemic-15127998.php