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How to Cope with Social Distancing During the Pandemic

By Samuel Nordberg, PhD
Chief of Behavioral Health
Reliant Medical Group

It’s undeniable that social distancing has helped to “flatten the curve” and save lives during the COVID-19 crisis. However, there is a psychological cost we pay when we lose so many of our everyday connections with people. The toll is especially hard on those who had fewer social connections before the pandemic.  Unfortunately, this is often the case with many seniors.

A recent report by the National Institute on Aging indicated social isolation and loneliness are linked to an increased risk of many chronic illnesses including high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Researchers hypothesize that social isolation can also weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of contracting an illness. So although social distancing is the right thing to do at this moment, we need to be mindful of the potential health consequences it can create and work to counteract them.

One of the most difficult things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has taken us out of the daily routines we enjoy so much. Whether it’s going to the gym, eating at a favorite place for lunch, or visiting relatives on Sunday, these activities can be fulfilling. For this reason, it’s important for people to develop new activities they find fulfillment in. In general, these activities should not be overly challenging, and they should also generate a sense of accomplishment. Unless you enjoy a challenge, you may want to avoid activities that increase stress and frustration. Some activities to consider include:

  • Drawing and painting
  • Knitting
  • Meditation
  • Scrapbooking
  • Cooking new recipes
  • Woodworking
  • Puzzle-solving

While finding new activities is great, it’s also important to keep your social connections strong, even if they can’t be in person. Many people enjoy keeping in touch with loved ones using Facetime, Zoom, Facebook Portal, and other online services. If you have an elderly parent or relative, it can be a good idea to help them with these platforms so they have a way to enjoy family and friends, even it is only virtually for the time being.

Here are some other ways to stay engaged while social distancing:

Pets – Pets can be a great source of companionship for people of all ages, especially during a crisis. Adopting a suitable pet can provide real benefits for both young and old in their emotional well-being. Just make sure you aren’t overwhelming yourself with new responsibilities. And remember, the pet needs to fit your lifestyle when you begin to resume your more typical lifestyle.

Music – Listening to music (or playing a musical instrument) is also a great way to make the day more rewarding. Music that can be enjoyed by all generations is just a click away using Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube and other online sources. Musical instruction is also readily available through apps or online.

Working Out – Just because health clubs are currently closed doesn’t mean you have to give up your exercise routine. Walking or jogging can help you stay in shape and many exercise classes are available online that anyone can take advantage of. Exercise has been demonstrated to have more significant positive effects on mood than medication. It is an extremely good way to help yourself feel better.

Mind Games – It’s important to exercise your mind whether you are young or old. Games like WordBrain and Luminosity can help keep your brain sharp and may even help ward off dementia in the elderly.

It’s important to remember that social distancing will affect some of us more than others. Many people will find it just a minor frustration, while others will have real problems trying to cope each day. If you notice a friend or loved one is struggling emotionally due to the COVID-19 crisis, let them know that support is out there, whether through their primary care provider or a mental health support line. It’s more important than ever not to ignore signs of anxiety and depression – especially in times like these.

How to Cope with Social Distancing During the Pandemic

About Samuel Nordberg, PhD -Chief of Behavioral Health

For Dr. Samuel Nordberg, it was the events of September 11th, 2001 that led him to ultimately decide to become a psychologist. “On that day I was at work in the World Trade Center,” he explains. “9/11 more or less changed my life. I decided to leave my job in the financial industry and pursue something that would give me more meaning and purpose in my life.”

Dr. Nordberg eventually decided to go back to school,...

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