Practicing social distancing to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic may sound scary or impossible to do, but there are ways to appropriately handle the process, says Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 that include recommendations for social distancing—a term epidemiologists use to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.
“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies—with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today—social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”
Khubchandani recommended 15 ways to counterbalance the effects of social distancing:
- Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours, and daily activities.
- Make social distancing a positive by taking the time to focus on your personality and personal health, reassessing your work, training, diet patterns, physical activity levels, and health habits.
- Carve time to cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and proteins to your diet (most adults in the United States do not consume enough fruits and vegetables). Get 2-3 meals a day.
- Go for a walk or exercise at home. Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.
- Do not let anxiety or being at home lead you to indulge in binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but do sleep at least 7 hours. Our recent study found that more than a third of Americans sleep less than 7 hours.
- Social distancing can cause anxiety and depression due to disruption of routines, isolation, and fear due to a pandemic. If you or someone you know is struggling, there are ways to get help from a distance.
- Think forward and try to make best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings, and engage with coworkers with the same frequency that is required during active office hours. The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.
- Small breaks due to social distancing are also times to reassess your skill and training- think of an online course, certification, training, personality development, or new language to learn.
- Engage in spring cleaning, clear that clutter, and donate non-junk household stuff. Household clutter can harbor infections, pollutants, and create unhygienic spaces.
- Social distancing should not translate to an unhealthy life on social media. While you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety, and fear mongering, you may also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.
- Based on American Time Use Survey and leisure related time-spending patterns worldwide, we spend too much time on screen. Except for 1-2 times day to watch national news for general consumption and local news to check spread of COVID-19 in your own community, you are likely over-consuming information and taking away time from yourself and friends and family.
- Reach out to people and offer help. Social distancing should also help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g. the elderly, disabled, and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and those living in shelters). You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help, this can be done from a distance, on phone, or by online activities and giving.
- Check your list of contacts on email and phone. Certainly, there are people you have not talked to in a while—time to check on their wellbeing and connect. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier, and engaged. Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.
- Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active such as: listening to music and singing, trying dancing or biking, yoga or meditation, taking virtual tours of museums and places of interest, sketching and painting, reading books or novels, solving puzzles or engaging in board games, trying new recipes and learning about other cultures, etc.
- Do not isolate yourself totally (physical distancing should not become social isolation). Don’t be afraid, don’t panic, and do keep communicating with others.