Social Distancing Vs. Physical Distancing: How To Cope


Now more than ever, many are feeling disconnected and isolated during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s important to feel connected and emotionally well during this time — so it is helpful to learn how to not practice emotional distancing during social distancing.


Let’s take a quick look at the difference between social distancing, physical distancing, and emotional distancing. Then, we’ll lay out some tips for coping with isolation, and most importantly, how to stay emotionally connected while socially distancing.



What Is Social Distancing?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the world have implemented social distancing and stay at home orders in order to flatten the curve and prevent rapid transmission. This means that many are staying at home to avoid contact with others, and trying to keep a physical distance between people when in public.



What Is Emotional Distancing?

Many are proposing a better term for social distancing: physical distancing. This emphasis encourages people to maintain their social connections regardless of the necessary precautions which prevent them from socializing in person. Emotional distancing occurs when people do not stay in touch with loved ones or receive the emotional support needed during these difficult times.



What’s Happening At Home During COVID-19?

We’re seeing two major difficulties arise during this time of physical distancing: on one hand, there are many people who are alone at home, while others are being cooped up with their families, roommates, or significant others.


Both scenarios, however, can cause feelings of isolation, but each has their own unique challenges. For those who are alone at home during this time, staying connected is even more crucial for mental health. Meanwhile, those who are stuck at home with others may need to maintain relationships, practice putting up boundaries, and learn how to cope with tension that may arise between members of the house.



How To Avoid Emotional Distancing During Social Distancing

Being Alone Vs. Feeling Lonely


Being alone can be difficult, but it’s important to differentiate between being alone and feeling lonely. One is the state of sitting with yourself, and perhaps enjoying your own company, while the other is a feeling of unhappiness due to feeling disconnected from other people.


At times when you are unable to see other people, it may be helpful to remember this differentiation and do one of two things:

  • Ask yourself what you can gain from “alone time”. Learning to enjoy your own company, and your own interests and hobbies, can be very fulfilling. This is a good time to invest in yourself.
  • Ask yourself who you care about. When feeling lonely, think about the people in your life who you care about, and remember that they are still there even if you cannot be together physically. Sometimes this reminder may be enough to relieve feelings of loneliness, but a phone call to a loved one is good medicine as well.


Staying Connected


Technology has had a big impact on our ability to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and universities have closed and moved to online learning and distance learning, children are seeing their grandparents over video chat, and people are staying connected to their religious and social communities through online forums.


When trying to avoid emotional distancing during lockdown, it’s important to stay connected with loved ones, friends, and community groups as much as possible. Remember to call a friend when you’re feeling down, and if you belong to a community, try finding ways to bring people together during this hard time.



Many find it difficult to cope with feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 crisis
Photo by Diego San on Unsplash



Tips For Coping With Social Distancing

1. Practice Gratitude


Studies show that it is impossible to be thinking or feeling two things at the same time. This means that if you are actively thinking about the good in your life, and the things that you are grateful for, it is actually impossible to be feeling blue. Try making a daily routine which includes taking time for making a gratitude list, or take a few minutes during your morning coffee to remember the blessings in your life.


If you’ve never created a gratitude list before, start with the simplest things that many take for granted, such as having a roof over your head, food in the fridge, electricity and running water, indoor plumbing, etc. You’ll find that the list, and your accompanying feelings of gratitude and happiness, start growing quickly.



2. Practice Kindness


During a time when many are feeling isolated, it can be beneficial to connect to others through acts of kindness. For different people this may manifest in different ways, but the idea behind it is the same: being kind to others enhances your own feelings of connection while helping spread positivity to others.


Try calling friends or community members who are having a hard time, or volunteer to pick up groceries for your elderly neighbors when you go out to buy your own. Sometimes the smallest and easiest things to do can mean the most for the person on the receiving end, and will enhance your connection to those around you.



3. Practice Calming Techniques


With so much anxiety and fear going around, usual schedules being disrupted, and coping with isolation, it is crucial to incorporate some sort of calming technique into your tool box. There are so many to choose from, and they all help to bring you back to a calm center when your world is feeling topsy turvy.


Try following a yoga tutorial on YouTube, downloading a guided meditation app, or simply stopping your day to take a few deep breaths. You can step outside to feel the sun and listen to the birds chirping, or go for a run to let off steam. Just make sure to try out a few stress relief techniques and see what you can do during times of stress in order to release anxiety and tension.



Practicing healthy habits and calming techniques can help relieve feelings of anxiety
Photo by Avrielle Suleiman on Unsplash



4. Stick To Positive Content


This means don’t get carried away with the news. It’s important to stay informed, but it can also go too far and add to anxiety. Once you feel that you have the basic information in order to be safe and follow your city’s health regulations, step away from the news media and find other media that can have a positive influence on your daily life.


Follow inspirational leaders, take an online class, learn about something interesting, or invest in a creative hobby or two. What matters is regulating the negative and fearful media that you’re taking in with a balance of positive and inspirational media.



How To Stay Connected From A Distance

1. Check On Your Loved Ones


Make a point to check in with different friends or family members — especially any elderly family members or friends who may cope with anxiety or other mental health issues. By reaching out, you give yourself and your loved one the chance to connect and know that they are cared for.



2. Use Technology Creatively


If you thought you were technologically savvy before, you should see the creative ways that people are using technology to connect to others. There are group Netflix parties, dance parties, game nights, and more, all using online forums. Get creative with your technology and find ways to connect in unique ways with your friends and loved ones.



Finding new ways to spend time to others while social distancing can help you feel more connected
Photo by visuals on Unsplash



3. Connect In A Different Way


If you’re used to connecting to others through hanging out and hugging, you can try connecting in new and deep ways. Try having dinner with a friend over video chat, writing an email to catch up, or use the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with others by getting to know them in a deeper way.



4. Ask For Help


Isolation and loneliness are difficult to deal with. During the COVID-19 crisis many people who have not had previous issues with mental health may experience them, and others with mental health issues may be experiencing flare-ups. If you are having a difficult time, reach out to friends, professionals, or support groups for help. Not only is this crucial if you’re experiencing emotional or mental difficulties during this time, it is also a way to feel connected to others when you are feeling alone.



The Bottom Line

While practicing social distancing and stay at home orders, it’s important to remember that while it is necessary to practice physical distancing from others, it’s also necessary to learn how to not practice emotional distancing during social distancing.


Now is the time when you and your loved ones may be feeling isolated and disconnected more than ever, and so now is the time to work toward connecting to others as much as possible. Check up with loved ones, use technology in creative ways to stay connected, and practice healthy habits such as gratitude and calming techniques in order to keep your spirits up during this difficult time.




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