Creative Ways to Counter Loneliness While Social Distancing

by Dr. Chelsea Graziano, Assistant Director of Case Management

The holiday season is usually a time of the year that is marked with social gatherings, large celebratory dinners, and physical closeness with family and friends. However, the current holiday season has been very different. Social distancing measures have significantly changed holiday plans and traditions for many of us. Being unable to be around our loved ones during the holiday season can cause us to feel disconnected.

Although the goal of social distancing is to keep us healthy and reduce the spread of COVID-19, physical isolation from those we care about can lead to loneliness. Feelings of loneliness can have a negative impact on both our mental health and our physical health. Humans are social beings by nature; our brains are wired to make connections with other people.  Throughout evolution, our relationships were a matter of survival (someone had to watch our backs for Sabretooth tigers!). And although they may not necessarily be a matter of life and death to us now, our connections with others are still very important and help to shape who we are.

It is that innate desire for connection that makes the current COVID-19 restrictions more difficult on us. However, maintaining social distancing does not mean that we must become socially isolated. There are many ways that you can maintain social connection with loved ones while upholding social distancing measures. Here are some creative suggestions on how to counter feelings of isolation and loneliness during this time:

Use ‘snail-mail’-  Write letters or send out hand written cards to friends and family to let them know you are thinking about them. In our current digital age of text messages and memes, handwritten letters and cards feel even more special.

Host a virtual dinner party. Utilize a video calling platform, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Facebook Messenger, to host a dinner party in ultimate social distancing style. Have the group share recipes with each other and create the meals in their own homes before connecting virtually to enjoy good food and laughs.

Schedule virtual game nights- Many gaming systems have virtual versions of their games that can be played by a group while you are all in your own homes. There are a multitude of trivia games that have been converted into a digital version. Even Jeopardy now has a free online version you can play with friends! Or, if you are feeling imaginative you can utilize a video calling platform to host games such as charades or Pictionary with friends. Many group games can be adapted to be virtual with a bit of creativity.

Restaurant experience at home.  Create a restaurant in your own home. Your family members, partner, or roommates can take turns being the chef, host/hostess, waitress/waiter, and patron. Find creative ways to reimagine your favorite restaurant meals and experiences in your own home. Or if you are not feeling like cooking, order out and recreate the restaurant atmosphere at home.

DIY Culinary Competition- Host your own culinary competition, akin to the Food Network show Chopped, at home. Create a meal inspired by a set ‘basket’ of ingredients that is predetermined by another person in your group. Challenge each other to be more creative and learn new skills along the way.

Have a Netflix viewing party- Use Netflix or other streaming services, such as Hulu or Disney+, to host a socially distanced viewing party with friends or family. Everyone votes on their favorite choice and can hunker down with a blanket and their favorite snacks to watch the movie together in their own living rooms. To add to the experience, Google Chrome has a Netflix extension that allows you to chat with your fellow movie watchers during the showing.

Get a pen-pal– Facilities like nursing homes and hospitals have strict isolation policies and do not allow residents and patients to have visitors. Many of those facilities have programs where you can write to a resident and they will send you a letter in return.  

Attend an online class or event-  Take a class or learn a new hobby online. A major perk is that many of these classes and events are free! Many businesses, both local and nationwide, are using virtual platforms to engage their audience. Sign up for a virtual yoga class, dance class, or other exercise class through a local gym. Login to a virtual cooking class or art class online. Check out the websites for zoos and museums across the country, many of which are hosting free virtual exhibits.

Organize a virtual neighborhood event- Start a sidewalk chalk art project in front of your residence and encourage your neighbors to become involved by decorating their own sidewalks. Make a competition out of it! Host a socially distant tailgate party in your driveway. Create and share a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Organize a picnic in the local park where everyone brings their own blanket and snacks. All these social activities can be organized while maintaining CDC regulations!

Above all, please understand that it is okay to experience negative feelings during times of distress and remember that those negative feelings are valid. It is okay to be disappointed over cancelled plans. It is okay to be frustrated, or angry, that traditions have temporarily changed. It is healthy to feel all of that. Remember that acceptance of a situation does not mean that we must like it! Think of this as a creative challenge to all of us to maintain our relationships. There are still ways for us to adapt to the current situation and find positives within it, such as the means to make connections in other ways.