April 23, 2020
6 ways to cope with social isolation during COVID-19
BY Molly Adams
As we each do our part to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by practicing social distancing and staying home, many of us are experiencing boredom, anxiety or even social isolation.
“We’re all going to have a new normal for a while,” says Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in our Integrative Medicine Center. “Try to be flexible and take it one day at a time.”
Despite how different your days may look now, you can still connect with loved ones and find satisfaction in what you accomplish. Here, Powers-James shares advice on ways to reduce the emotional effects of social distancing and stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay connected through virtual dates
“Luckily, we live in an age of technology,” says Powers-James. With apps and software supporting mobile video chatting, you can connect with many people around the world from your device. And, because we’re spending more time at home, we have the time to check in more often.
“Especially for people who live alone – trying to connect is very important,” says Powers-James. She suggests scheduling times to meet over video the same way you’d schedule an in-person get together.
Also, many gyms and churches are offering online sessions, which allow you to stay connected with your community, even when you can’t be with them physically. MD Anderson is offering online support groups for patients, family members and friends so they can meet others facing similar challenges.
Schedule some “me” time
With school closures and stay-at-home orders, many of us find ourselves home with our families more than ever. “We’re not meant to live in close quarters 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Powers-James says.
She suggests looking for opportunities for alone time, even if it’s just for a few minutes. “If you’re burned out or depressed, you’re not able to give your loved ones the attention they need,” Powers-James says. Take time for yourself to read, meditate or do a hobby you enjoy to help re-energize so that you can better support the people you love.
Have fun with your free time
Powers-James also recommends looking at this time together as an opportunity to connect. “Pull out a favorite board game and watch home movies, or do anything else that can bring you closer as a family,” she says.
Finding and trying new recipes, gardening or writing chalk messages on your driveway can be fun ways to spend time together.
And although it’s easy to spend more time in front of a screen, Powers-James recommends unplugging as often as you can. “Think about projects you can get done while you’re home,” she says. Organizing closets, cleaning out your pantry or finally vacuuming out your car are all things you can accomplish with your newfound free time.
If you’re just not feeling up to it, that’s OK, too. “Many of us are having difficulty focusing or we don't have the mental reserves to learn a new skill or be extra productive,” Powers-James says. “The most important thing is to take care of yourself.”
Make working from home work
If you’re working from home, it’s important to maintain a schedule, if you are able. Powers-James suggests logging in at the same time you would if you were in the office, but be realistic about what you’ll be able to accomplish in a modified work setting. “You’re probably not going to be able to give 110%,” she says. “Do what you can, and know that this is only temporary.”
“Most of us have never experienced anything like this to this extent in our lifetimes,” Powers-James says. “So be compassionate with yourself — and with others — as we all find our new normal.”
Focus on the positives
Although it’s natural to be concerned about contracting COVID-19, you shouldn’t let those thoughts consume you, Powers-James advises.
“Try redirecting your thoughts to something more positive,” she says. Doing things you enjoy, like listening to music or re-reading a favorite book, can help you get back to a better frame of mind.
Try taking walks outside, as long as you maintain a safe distance. “Seeing other people and getting fresh air can really help your mental health,” Powers-James says.
Practicing meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or Tai Chi can also help you manage anxiety in a healthy way. MD Anderson patients and caregivers can reach out to our Integrative Medicine Center for help accessing these services.
If your anxiety is significantly worse now on a regular basis than it was before COVID-19, Powers-James suggests seeking professional help.
Stay healthy at home
In addition to practicing good hand hygiene, Powers-James recommends eating a balanced diet, getting frequent physical activity, and sleeping enough to stay healthy during this time.
And, remember that we’re all going through similar challenges during this pandemic. “Not every day is going to be a good day, and that’s OK,” Powers-James says. “Try to maximize your good days, and be kind to yourself on the not-so-good days.”
TopicsInfections COVID-19 Mental Health
Do what you can, and know that this is only temporary.
Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D.