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Staying connected in a socially distanced world

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Lately, many of us have experienced bouts of loneliness or melancholy as a result of our missed connections. But while COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated the problem, wide-spread loneliness is not a new phenomenon.

According to a January 2020 survey of 10,000 American adults, 61 percent— or roughly three in five — reported feeling lonely.¹ Major factors including a lack of social support and too few meaningful social interactions. The results showed a 7% increase since the findings of the original 2018 survey, meaning loneliness has been a growing issue in our society, long before social distancing measures upended community norms. 

There’s no doubt, however, that the issue is accelerating right now. The actions we are taking to protect our health—social distancing, remote work, canceling gatherings—are saving lives, but they could also be negatively impacting our mental well-being. We aren’t getting together with friends and neighbors, immersing ourselves in community at fitness studios or restaurants, enjoying team lunches at work, or hopping on planes to visit family. As a result, we are feeling more isolated and that is causing stress and anxiety.

According to the CDC,² stress during an infectious disease outbreak stems from feelings of fear and uncertainty and can sometimes cause the following:

Fear our worry about your health or the health of loved onesAnxiety about your financial situation or jobChanges in sleeping and eating patternsDifficulty concentratingLeaning on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or other substances

Another thing to watch out for—a sharp uptick in your social media consumption. With our social lives deflated, many of us are seeking a sense of connection through constant scrolling. But studies have shown that this can negatively impact our well-being. In a week-long experiment in 2015 including just over a thousand participants, taking a break from Facebook had positive effects on two dimensions of well-being: participants’ life satisfaction increased and their emotions become more positive.³ But researchers noted that how we use social media platforms like Facebook may be as important as the frequency. The effects were greater for both heavy and passive users, meaning those who actively engaged or scrolled in moderation had less to gain from taking a break.

What does this mean for our increasingly virtual social lives? Rather than cutting yourself off from your online connections completely, try to engage more by posting about what you love, making inquisitive or supportive comments, and using video or chat features. Set a limit on your scroll time and consider curating your feed so it contains more of what uplifts and inspires you. Get really honest with yourself. If an aspirational account is just making you feel bad right now, unfollow or hide their posts for a while. 

It’s important to be aware of potential stressors, but it’s not all bad news. The CDC emphasizes that developing healthy habits for dealing with stress can have a profound, positive impact, not just on our own well-being, but on our loved ones and community. Practicing self-care can help us get through periods with reduced social contact. Online support groups, practices like yoga and meditation, and creative hobbies are fantastic tools for managing stress and isolation. Simply going outside to take a walk allows you to enjoy being around people from a safe distance.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to find a sense of community and connection: 

Call a friend or family memberTake a walk in your neighborhoodSpend time with a petBegin a journaling practiceSign up for an online courseMove your body in a way that feels goodPut on some upbeat music and dance or singHop onto Glo’s Community page to chat with like-minded people who are committed to maintaining a positive, welcoming spaceTry one of the classes in our Stay Connected collection to find a sense of connection within

Remember, the world may be different, but communities everywhere are adjusting and our social lives haven’t disappeared—they’re still taking place in innovative ways. If you find yourself more lonely than usual, it can help to know you’re not alone in that feeling. We’re facing these challenges together and together we can get through them. 

If you or someone close to you is experiencing depression or stress that interferes with your daily life, or if you are struggling and unsure of where to reach out, we encourage you to seek help from a trained counselor. The CDC provides this list of free and confidential treatment resources.

For immediate support in a crisis, call 911 or one of these helplines:

National Suicide Prevention LineEnglish: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)Spanish: 1-888-628-9454

Disaster Distress Helpline1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish)Or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablamos for Spanish to 66746

Sources1. Cigna. (2020). Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 U.S. Report.2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Coping with Stress. 3. Morten Tromholt. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Nov 2016. 661-666.

Read more: blog.glo.com

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