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Feeling lonely while social distancing?

While social distancing is crucial to slow the spread of COVID-19, isolation from family and friends can take its toll on your physical, mental and emotional health.

“Usually our daily routines put us in contact with other people who can support us,” says Mark Flanagan, LMSW, MPH, MA, a Piedmont outpatient oncology social worker. 

When going to the office, taking a workout class or socializing in person with friends is no longer an option, you may feel like you’ve lost your sense of community and support. While the current situation is far from ideal, there are several ways you can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Helpful ways to cope with loneliness

Flanagan suggestions the following intentional ways you can combat the adverse effects of loneliness:

  • Make a list. Write down the names of everyone in your network, even if you haven’t spoken in a while. In addition to your close family members and friends, think of relatives who live far away, friends from school or previous jobs, members of your faith community, and neighbors. The act of creating a list can help you see that you do have community in your life, even when you are physically separated from others.

  • Reach out. Stay in touch with the people on your list through video chats, phone calls, texts and emails. If you’re part of a group, such as a support group or weekly yoga class, consider starting an email chain so you can maintain that sense of camaraderie.

  • Seek support online. If you feel like you could use extra support right now, many counselors are offering telehealth visits. Now is a great time to check in on your mental health and work with a therapist to gain the coping skills you need both now and in the future.  

  • Be intentional about social media. While social media can be a helpful tool for staying connected with long-distance friends and relatives, Flanagan recommends not using it absentmindedly when you are bored. Set limits for how often you check social media and who you will and won’t follow.  

  • Spread positivity. Flanagan says it’s important to share positive words and affirmations in your conversations and social media posts. “When you start giving to others, even just words of affirmation, you tend to have a deeper sense of gratitude and openness, which reduces your blood pressure, heart rate, and negative mood states,” he says.

  • Take care of yourself. Now is the time to prioritize your well-being. This includes regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods that give you energy, going outside for a walk if you can safely do so, meditating, praying, journaling and enjoying your favorite hobbies.

There’s still hope

“It’s important to remember that this will pass sooner or later,” says Flanagan. “The world has gone through many different challenges, like disease outbreaks, war and uncertain times. For better or worse, these times always pass. That doesn’t mean this time isn’t significantly challenging, but if we focus on what we can control and do things that are good for our health and the health of those around us, we have an opportunity to grow and even thrive during these unique times. It’s essential to look toward the future and begin building for that future. You can always have hope – hope is the rock that remains no matter what.”

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