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Staying Social in the Age of Social Isolation

Living in the time of COVID-19 is challenging. We are all constantly wracked with anxiety, concerned about our health, the health of our loved ones, and worried about the future. Those of us with children are struggling to juggle homeschooling/entertaining our kids all day while working from home. In typical times of stress, we find balance and relief from spending time with friends and family. Today, however, it is different. We cannot go to our friends' house or send our kids to play dates for a break. We are all, rightly,staying in our homes. Feeling like we have lost our social supports leads to increasing anxiety and stress.

Humans are social creatures. We need interaction with others. Studies have shown that strong social networks are protective and keep us heathy. When children experience a lengthy period of without social interaction, they can develop impaired cognitive function, sleep disturbances and depressive symptoms. Young adults develop poor sleep, have greater risks of cardiovascular disorders and even have an increased risk of suicide. Most studies have focused on social isolation in elderly populations. When elderly people are feeling lonely, they often suffer cognitive decline, and there are visible negative changes in the brain.

Studies have demonstrated increased salivary and urinary cortisol levels in people with perceived social isolation. Elevated cortisol levels interferes with normal function of metabolism, inflammation, cardiovascular function. Chronic inflammation in the body can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, tumor production and neurodegeneration.

Cleveland Clinic's Amy Sullivan PsyD, ABPP believes that by maintaining our social networks, we can maintain some semblance of control in our lives during this uncertain time. She recommends especially focusing on the elderly and the kids in our lives. “It’s especially important to connect with the elderly who may have some fears around this and to ask them if we can help them. And then on the flip side, our children need to be given information that is age-appropriate. We owe it to the elderly and to our children at this point to either protect them or support them — and we owe it to our family and friends to stay connected with each other."

We also need to make sure to connect to both the extrovert and introverts in our lives. Everyone is feeling challenged now.

What are we to do?

We must get creative and find ways to maintain those social supports in safe ways.

Check out these ideas below - and comment with your own ideas!

- Dinner parties via teleconferencing software. I'm sure that many of us are using teleconferences for work or school, but this is a great platform for social engagements too! Set up dinner parties with friends; share a meal and some laughs together. It beats texting a hundred times over.

- Game night! Organize a game between kids and grandparents through video chat.

- Write a letter. Yes. You heard right: bust out a pen and paper and handwrite a letter. Receiving mail that is personal, and not either an advertisement or a bill is such a happy surprise.

- Write a group story via email. Start the beginning of a story. Email it to one loved one. They write the next part and email it to another friend. Continue until you have a full (and probably hilarious) tale.

- DO text and call. When you are thinking of a friend or loved one - let them know. Send them random texts in the middle of the day. Yes, it might feel like you are on your phone all the time, but when we can't meet in person, we need to substitute for other ways to stay in touch.

- Find someone to talk about the hard stuff. It can really help to voice concerns out loud and let them out of your head. Sometimes, we just need to tell someone "this is really hard. I hate X, Y, Z..." Conversely, being that sounding board for someone else brings you closer and strengthens your bonds.

These are trying times. This chronic stress wears on people. Staying connected with loved ones helps, but if you are still struggling, help is available.

800.273.TALK (8255)

800.950.NAMI (6264)

Stay well, and stay safe.

Bhatti AB, Haq AU. The Pathophysiology of Perceived Social Isolation: Effects on Health and Mortality.Cureus. 2017;9(1):e994. Published 2017 Jan 24. doi:10.7759/cureus.994


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