Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation, says a WVU nurse-practitioner, who's offering 10 tips to avoid the blues while the nation attempts to flatten the peak of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Governor Jim Justice today issued an executive order directing all restaurants and bars in West Virginia to limit service to carry out, drive-through, and delivery operations.
As residents of West Virginia prepare for the social distancing that's being recommended to slow the spread, they're filling prescriptions, rescheduling appointments, and stocking up on groceries.
But they may not be thinking of ways to keep from being emotionally isolated, says Laurie Theeke, a nursing professor at West Virginia University and a nurse-practitioner at WVU Medicine.
“Social isolation is very harmful to health and contributes to poor health outcomes, especially for older adults,” Theeke says.
She's provided the following 10 suggestions about how to stay connected and prevent loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Identify your vital connections
“These are connections that you view as essential to your health, well-being, and quality of life. This could be a broad range of people, including friends, neighbors, and family.”
Make sure you have contact information
“This includes phone numbers, mailing addresses, and email addresses for vital connections. This way you can call, email and—yes—mail things to people you want to stay connected with on a regular basis.”
Evaluate your connectivity resources
“Do you have a cell phone? Consider using FaceTime to talk to someone rather than just calling. Being able to see the face of another person can make you feel more connected. Do you have a computer? If so, is there an online blog or group you could join to help others and stay connected? Do you have a walkie-talkie set? It might sound odd, but sometimes playing with this type of old-fashioned connection can be a fun way to get in touch with people.”
Make a schedule
“A schedule helps us to stay on track and will help you to feel engaged throughout the day. Include items in your schedule that help you to stay connected. For example, put it on your schedule to call a different neighbor each day if that helps. Add calling a child or parent daily. These types of scheduled contacts will help you get through the pandemic and help you to feel good about your proactive approach to maintaining social ties.”
Engage in positive health behaviors
“Make every effort to stay healthy because it is known that a lack of sleep and exercise will contribute to loneliness. Know that foods like fruits and vegetables contribute to hormones that increase your happiness. For many, social distancing means cooking at home, so plan for healthy meals.”
Consider helping other people as much as you can
“Helping others makes people feel better. Is there a list of people that you can connect with by phone in an effort to help them feel more connected? Make a list and call them. Ask them if it is okay to check in daily.”
“People in Appalachia corner the market on crafting and do-it-yourself projects. Plan to use the time you gain from social distancing to start an at-home project or get back into a hobby. We know that engaging in creative activities can help to prevent feeling lonely. It is hard to be lonely when you are enjoying doing something.”
“Staying at home to social-distance doesn’t mean that you can’t be outside at all. You can take a short walk, sit on the porch or wave to a neighbor. As the weather warms up, consider starting some seeds for an upcoming garden.”
Have a virtual movie meetup or book club
“Plan to read the same book at the same time as your friends or relatives, and then call or group-chat to talk about it. Watching the same movie can provoke discussion, too.
Connect with healthcare
"Call now to find out what your providers are doing so that you can still receive care. This may be through telephone visits, online support groups, messaging through your electronic health record, using call-in numbers or having e-visits. Your providers can do many things by distance, so check to make sure you know what is available.”
Looking for more information on loneliness? WVU provides the following links:
- From Loneliness to Belonging–WVU Magazine
- WVU study suggests loneliness can hinder management of diabetes, hypertension
- WVU nursing researcher intervenes between patients and loneliness
Our thanks to Wendi MacKay, Director of Communications and Marketing School of Nursing, for her reporting of this story.