How to Combat Loneliness Around Social Distancing

April 2, 2020

With shelter-in-place orders and social distancing restrictions becoming more common, people are seeing less of each other. This “social recession,” aimed at controlling the outbreak of COVID-19, also is heightening a sense of loneliness. Connecting with neighbors and others may be more challenging, but you can still find opportunities to “dig deep and get connected,” Erin Peavey, an architect and design researcher on health and wellness for architecture firm HKS, told Curbed.com.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans over age 60 live alone. AARP is offering suggestions on how people can still connect, such as sending a letter, creating a virtual book club, playing board games, or ordering a hobby box. Nextdoor.com, a neighbor-based social network, has launched Help Maps and Groups, in which local residents can assist at-risk members of the community by running errands or bringing aid. Meetup is offering guidelines on how to host online-only gatherings and events.

An article at realtor.com® also suggests several ideas, such as curbside drop-offs for elderly neighbors, writing letters to a local nursing home, or becoming a virtual volunteer. Kathy Green started a Facebook group to organize residents in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., who could sew or distribute homemade masks to those who needed them. The group quickly grew to a crew of 1,300 volunteers. 

Also, consider creating inspiring window art to bring cheer to your neighborhood or sponsoring a block party with social distancing guidelines in mind. For example, in Eugene, Ore., neighbors arranged a dinner party from their front yards. They ordered pizza to eat on their front steps, and they remained separate from one another but were still able to connect. “We just wanted a way to communicate with one another when we can’t give each other hugs,” Mary Lou Vignola told the Register-Guard. “Just to be social when we’re being isolated.”

Supportive social networks are key to lessening the stress of the current situation, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor who has conducted research on the significant long-term effects of a lack of social connection, told Curbed.com. Reaching out to isolated members of the community with a text or video call can be very meaningful, she says. “When we are facing some kind of stressor or threat in our environment, the perception that we can turn to others for help and rely on them—and that they have our backs—lets us cope with them much better,” she told Curbed.com. “While we can’t be physically present right now, we can check in with people via email or text. Reaching out to people, asking how they’re doing, and listening to them—all these things can be beneficial.”