Coping to a new norm during the COVID-19 pandemic can present many social challenges.

As human beings, we are hard wired to be innately social. While we know social distancing can help to minimize the spread of the virus to protect ourselves and others from being infected, it can be equally difficult to gauge the impact of social isolation and the possible effects of loneliness on the population as a whole. As we are faced with separation due to social distancing, it is important to look for alternative strategies to fill the need for connectedness and decrease anxiety and the negative impact stress from social isolation can cause.

The following are some practical ways we can stay connected to those we love and build a new sense of community in the face of these challenging times.  

Connecting through virtual visiting

If you have access to it, technology can be a safe and accessible way to help us stay in touch. Most smartphones allow us to use video capabilities to see others in real-time. While it does not replace face-to-face interactions, the ability to see how loved ones are doing—even if it’s on a screen—can help to combat loneliness and separation. Seeing someone’s facial expressions can remind us we are not in this alone.  

In cases where video capability is not available, we can still engage with others by talking over the phone and checking in even remotely. Showing genuine interest in others even by phone can help us to truly listen to feelings that may be a sign of someone’s present need. Simply picking up the phone can be the most practical way to help us reconnect and maintain positive relationships with others.  

Connecting to family

It can be disappointing when family gatherings or social events cannot take place due to social distancing. It is hard to avoid feelings of sadness regarding missed milestones or important social traditions. During these times of enforced isolation in our homes, it does not mean that your social life has to disappear. Consider hosting a virtual family game night to stay connected. There are many downloadable virtual game apps through iOS and Android such as Scrabble Go, Yahtzee, and Connect Four, to name a few.   

Conferencing applications are another great way to connect to friends or loved ones across the street or across the miles. Web conferencing apps with screen sharing apps are growing in popularity and many are free! While many businesses use these platforms to share information across groups of people, the options are plentiful to initiate a family meeting or even a small family reunion. Popular apps such as Skype, Zoom or Instagram Live Sessions are just a few. You do not have to feel alone.  

Connecting through learning

While the outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in many schools and universities shifting to distance learning, it does not mean these opportunities to connect with others and learn new skills are meant just for kids. As you are staying home and looking for ways to keep you and your family connected and engaged, consider picking up a new hobby or learning a new skill.  Video conferencing can be a great way to pick up a new language, learn to cook a new favorite dish or fix that leaky faucet. The one thing we can control is the idea of staying positive and promoting our creativity. It is never too late to start learning. You never know if you will uncover a hidden talent too!  

Social distancing may have impacted the way we connect to cultural experiences, but just because your favorite library, museum or zoo is closed does not mean these venues are inaccessible. Dive into a new book by checking out a local library website. Many local libraries offer e-books and audiobooks online for loan. Even more, start an online book club or chat room with those who share your passion for reading. Now is the time to read everything.  

Ever want to see precious works of art up close? Take a virtual museum tour. Many world-renown museums offer online self-guided, “walk-through” tours of famous exhibits. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, The Louvre and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are just a few of the places to “visit” while you stay indoors.  

Be in nature with the host of wildlife living at some of our prestigious zoos. Many nationwide zoological and aquarium programs offer “home safaris” or livestream camera views on their websites. Walk through virtual trails or view behind-the-scenes footage of some of our true national treasures. Stay connected through the web to daily Facebook Live Feeds that many zoos have to offer.  

Connecting to community

It is not just you and your family that need to feel connected, but others in the community. Taking time to show support for those in your community can also increase your sense of purpose and well-being.   Interested in serving within your community during this time of need? Local senior centers, youth programs and church groups may have needs to reach out and call shut-ins to check-in on their well-being. Community organizations may have volunteer opportunities that you can participate in from your home. First responder agencies may have wish lists of area needs for donations of supplies. The gift of your time to make phone calls, research a specific community need or set-up a donation drive can fill you with purpose.  

Perhaps most importantly, social distancing does not require anyone to shut down from having meaningful relationships with those most important to us. The key is protecting you and your family’s health. Continue connecting virtually when necessary. Together, we can get through anything.  

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