The term social isolation is on everybody’s lips. I would argue that it’s far more accurate to refer to it as physical isolation. Yes, physical isolation is sadly still necessary to continue to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Isolating includes working from home when possible, using delivery services for groceries and other necessary items, banking electronically, and exercising at home.
But how do we deal with the unavoidable negative health consequences? Studies have long shown a link between social isolation and depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, and poor cardiovascular function, not to mention impaired immunity. Until the arrival of this COVID-19 pandemic, isolation had been more common as we age. Now it affects all of us regardless of age, gender, race, and socioeconomic group.
It’s important to remember that physical isolation does not require social isolation. I urge you to use your phone and your computer to virtually explore new opportunities. Platforms like Zoom allow us to see our friends, play games, and attend worship services. Take a class, tour a national park, enjoy a symphony orchestra, view theater, check out online books from your local library, and view zoo or wild animals.
Consider joining local neighborhood websites (such as Nextdoor.com) to stay in touch with neighbors and local happenings. Perhaps you live with others or are a caregiver - discuss what will happen if either of you develops symptoms. Who would you call on for help? Please speak with those you trust about your concerns and about how you are feeling. Ask your medical professional or clergy about counseling opportunities. Online AA meetings and other online support groups are plentiful.
Note the huge value of pets for companionship and comfort. Numerous studies demonstrate the physical and mental health benefits derived from having a pet. Indeed, shelters are reporting a significant increase in pet adoption during this crisis.
Clearly we all must do our part to physically isolate and “flatten the curve.” Let’s enlist technology to keep our physical isolation from leading to social isolation. Our phones and computers can keep us from being alone. Technology can help us learn a new skill, exercise, pray, and simply communicate with family and friends. I urge you to use everything at your disposal. My guess is that our efforts to connect now will remain in place and make our lives richer, even as we slowly emerge from this temporary crisis.