Social Distancing vs. Social Isolation


Phyllis Vokey Long, LMFT

Here are some creative ways to maintain social connection during this temporary "new normal" of social distancing.

"Social Distancing" Really Isn't the Best Term

"Social Distancing" memes abound on social media...some serious, some practical some funny. Introverts may joke, "I've been waiting for this all my life!", while extroverts are looking for ways to sneak around the guidelines to find social connection. All jokes aside, let's talk about how we navigate this current state of social distancing without feeling socially isolated.

First of all,the term social distancing can be quite misleading. A more appropriate description would be physical distancing…keeping physical space between ourselves and others to avoid transmission of the novel coronavirus. Yet, it is often our physical proximity to one another that leads to our significant social relationships.

It happens so naturally at school, work, church, or in other daily activities that we don’t realize how dependent we have become on those relational connections. And likewise, we may not even realize that when we separate physically, we may be removing ourselves from much needed support systems. It can be subtle and, before we know it, we can find ourselves becoming more and more isolated and even feeling anxious and depressed. Even those with introverted personalities need to keep social connections to maintain healthy balance.

So, the key is to become intentional in finding ways to maintain social connections—even when we are physically distancing from one another.  We especially need relational support during this time when there are so many uncertainties and things are changing daily in our typical routines.

Rather than waiting for everything to “get back to normal,” consider ways that you can be proactive to initiate and maintain social connections with those who have been in your natural social circles at work, school, church, neighborhood, etc. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Start in Your Own Household

Agree to put away electronic devices for periods of time and do an activity together, face-to-face. Here's some ideas:

   ·  Play a board game

   ·  Do a jigsaw puzzle

   ·  Have a meal around the table and talk to each other

   ·  Watch a movie in the same room

   ·  Do a craft project

   ·  Take a walk, bike ride or hike together.

Attend Church (without walls)!

Many churches have been broadcasting their services online and asking their congregations to tune-in and participate from their homes. It may be tempting to skip church since there is no accountability.  But Hebrews 10:25 reminds us to “not neglect our meeting together…but encourage one another.”

How about creating a group of a few people you know from church and asking them to join in for a “group text meeting” after the service?

   ·  The group can agree to participate in watching the service online from their own homes, and then check in via text or video chat afterwards.

   ·  Have a conversation starter like, “What was the best part of the message for you?”

   ·  The chat can continue with, “How is everyone doing?”

   ·  Close with “How can we pray for you this week?”

Make a Phone Call...Voice-to-Voice

Call someone you know who may not have the ability to get out or doesn’t have resources to maintain their own day to day needs. You can offer to pick up and drop off groceries, a meal or a new book to read.

Or you can encourage them over the phone by reading an excerpt from your morning devotion and offering to pray for them.

Any small connection that you make to encourage another can encourage you as well. Proverbs 11:25 says that, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

Initiate Conversations "At Work"

Although you may be maintaining connections with people from work via online meetings and email, once the order of business has been discussed, perhaps take the conversation to a more personal level as appropriate to your typical work culture. It may be just to ask, “So, how is everybody doing?”

When people share even small personal disclosures about themselves, it creates a feeling of connection.

Greet Your Neighbors

Take a walk outside around the neighborhood and exchange smiles, waves and greetings with neighbors (while being mindful of maintaining physical distance).

Remember that you aren’t the only one who may feel isolated. Simple “Hello’s” and smiles can raise dopamine levels in the brain, which can lower stress and elevate moods.

Create a Text Group of a Few Trusted Friends

We need people we can be honest with about how we're doing, especially during times like this.

Note: Consider carefully who to invite to this group to ensure that the relationships are reciprocal and balanced; where the communications can remain positive and hopeful rather than negative and discouraging.

This should be a group where you can share your encouragements, fears, needs, praise reports just as you would if you were sitting around a table having coffee together.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. You can be creative to add your own ideas.

Remember that we are all in this together and need interdependent relationships to thrive. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a)

So let’s be proactive and connect!

If you are finding that you need support from a Mental Health Professional, please feel free to reach out to us at New Day Women’s Center & Counseling Services at 619-713-1544 to schedule an appointment. Tele-Health is available.





About the Author

Phyllis Vokey Long, LMFT

Executive Director, New Day Women's Center

Phyllis Vokey Long has a passion for ministering to the hearts of women through God’s revelation and healing power to encourage a deep and intimate walk with Christ to live the abundant life that He intended. With a personal history of brokenness and healing, sorrow and joy, Phyllis can identify with the growing pains, challenges and victories faced in the lives of women and their families.

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