Coronavirus: How to stay connected when you are socially distancing

Social distancing is a key tactic in attempting to halt the spread of coronavirus. So how can you keep in touch with family and friends, while staying well out of reach?

“There’s no doubt that distancing ourselves physically is difficult – humans thrive on connectedness and community,” says Dr Aifric Boylan, a GP and chief executive of online health service Qoctor.

A review published in The Lancet last month found most studies reported negative psychological effects of self-isolation and quarantine.

So how can you stay connected to loved ones through the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic?

Social distancing v social isolation

Social distancing means avoiding physical contact such as handshakes, hugs and kisses, and ensuring there is at least 1.5m between yourself and another person.

While governments have introduced strict measures to increase social distancing – including a shutdown of non-essential services such as bars, clubs and gyms, bans on large gatherings and even shutting state borders – most people are still able to visit essential services such as supermarkets or pharmacies.

For the time being, at least, it is also OK to go for a walk or run outdoors – as long as you maintain a distance of 1.5m away from anyone you are with.

“It is important to see this more as ‘spatial distancing’, not truly ‘social distancing’,” says Dr Boylan.

Social isolation – either because you have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, or have been in contact with someone who has – brings tougher restrictions.

It means effectively quarantining yourself completely away from others – including anyone else in your home.

Three ways to stay in touch with others

  • Use technology to your advantage – set up a group chat on Facebook or What’s App, use FaceTime, Zoom or Skype for video calls, or send out regular emails or texts to check in on your loved ones.
  • Go old-school – pick up the phone and give them a ring.
  • Reach out to others through online communities and forums.

How to keep it personal when communicating via technology

Yes, technology will play a big part in maintaining social connections – and yes, it can seem impersonal when compared with face-to-face contact.

To get the most out of communication via technology, clinical psychologist Natajsa Wagner suggests:

  • If you’re on a video call, maintain eye contact.
  • Be mindful and present. “Really step into the experience, visualising it and feeling it in our body,” says Natajsa, of Natajsa Wagner Psychotherapy.
  • Move beyond small talk. “Sharing our experiences with one another and having conversations where we can tell each other what we appreciate about the other is really important to maintain our emotional connection during times of isolation or distance,” she says.

What to do – and avoid – if you do see a friend IRL

If you do step outside to run a quick errand and spot a friend, you don’t have to leg it at the sight of them. But do follow these tips:

  • Don’t stand as close to each other as you ordinarily would. “It’s best to observe 1.5 metres of personal space,” says Dr Boylan.
  • Keep the conversation short to minimise your exposure to each other.
  • Avoid physical contact, such as hugs, kisses or handshakes.
  • Suggest carrying on the conversation by phone or social media.

And lastly, connect to your own physical and mental health

As well as regular handwashing, try to keep up an exercise routine at home or outdoors – not only can exercise have a positive effect on our physical health, it can also help with feelings of anxiety and depression.

With more time at home and less time with others, keep your mind busy and focused on enjoyable hobbies and tasks.

“If you feel unwell, stressed or low, many health professionals such as GPs and psychologists will be able to chat to you over the phone or via video consultation,” says Dr Boylan.

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

Written by Samantha Allemann.