More than three in five Americans are lonely, according to a January survey. This study was done two months before the novel coronavirus was declared a worldwide pandemic and social distancing guidelines were put into place.
America had a loneliness problem long before COVID-19, but the battle to stop the spread of the virus is poised to worsen this issue, according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Social distancing, while vital to flattening the curve, can worsen people’s feelings of isolation.
“We find ourselves with a silent but common challenge of loneliness that people are struggling with all over the country and all over the world. And now on top of that, we’re being asked to pull back from life-sustaining interactions with other people,” Murthy said.
Faced with the necessity of social distancing as COVID-19 continues to spread, Murthy suggests people take these steps to help alleviate their loneliness.
- Spend at least 15 minutes a day talking to a loved one. “15 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but when done consistently that small amount of time can make a big difference in how connected we feel,” he said.
- Dial down on distractions. Refreshing your social media feed for the twentieth time or scrolling through your emails again will not replace quality time. “The cost to our relationships is significant. It impacts the quality of the interaction, and ultimately the quality of the relationship,” Murthy said.
- Find a way to serve others in a time where we’re being asked to be apart. “We can call a neighbor …and check on them to make sure they’re doing okay. We can drop food off to somebody,” Murthy said. “We can write to people to let them know … that we know, that they’re going through a tough time and that we’re thinking of them. These are small but powerful ways in which we can seek to serve others.”
In addition to Murthy’s advice, there are a few more habits you can pick up to maintain strong mental health, increase your productivity and make it a little easier to work from home.
Stick to a schedule
Create a routine and schedule. Do your best to wake up at the same time every day – or, at the very least, the same time you would wake up if you were still going into work, and don’t forget to include period breaks for you to recharge. This will help you maintain a sense of normalcy during a very un-normal time.
Designate a “work” area
Your bed is for sleeping, not Zoom conference calls. Not only does doubling your bed as a desk eliminate any sense of a work-life balance, it can also hinder your quality of sleep. Your brain will start to associate “bed” with “work,” which means when it’s time to try and fall asleep, your mind will have a hard time settling down because it’s still in “work” mode. Do yourself a favor and find a place in your home that is exclusively for work hours.
Set boundaries on work schedule
When working from home, be sure that you are working reasonable hours. It can be tempting to work more while you have your work at home, however it can also be taxing on your health and well-being, so stick to a schedule with healthy boundaries
Limit media consumption. Avoid continuous exposure to news, media, and social media that may trigger or elevate anxiety, stress, or panic. Stay informed by following few, authoritative resources, but limit media consumption.
Keep your immune system strong
If your body feels drained, your mind will follow suit. Make a commitment to staying physically – and in turn, mentally – healthy with a few daily habits, such as washing your hands, eating well, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.
Exercise and get fresh air
Studies suggest that Vitamin D is one of the most useful supplements in combating depression. So why not get that energy boost from the main source itself? If circumstances allow, go outside for a brisk walk and fresh air, but avoid crowds and try to maintain the recommended 6-foot distance with others.
And of course, don’t forget to move your body! Exercise is not only good for your physical health, but also your mental health. Periodically, get up and move around your home. Walking, stretching, planks or jumping jacks—whatever works best for you to reduce or alleviate stress and increase endorphins.
As Murthy suggested, perhaps the most important habit to pick up to fight off loneliness and maintain a positive outlook is staying in touch with those we love. Challenge yourself to talk to at least one friend or family member a day. You’ll be amazed by how much better it can make you feel.