How to Weather Social Isolation

Social distancing has become the new normal, with one-third of Americans now under stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, but experts say that level of isolation can be hard on your health.

"We don't know for sure what the long-term health outcomes of widespread forced social isolation will be, but given what we know about the effects of social isolation and stress on physical and mental health, there is reason to be concerned," said Tess Thompson, a research assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The author of a recent study on social isolation and health, Thompson offered some coping tips.

Maintain social connection as much as possible during this time through technology and social media. There are various ways to connect online with friends, and some gym coaches and music teachers are offering online sessions.

Thompson said there's some evidence that active social media use -- such as sharing content or commenting on social media posts -- may be better for mental health than passive social media use, such as scrolling through newsfeeds.

If you're housebound with others, do fun activities together instead of all retreating behind separate electronic screens. Play board games, read books aloud, play music together, go for walks, eat dinner together or cuddle your pets, Thompson suggested in a university news release.

If you're separated from older loved ones, be sure to connect with them through whatever medium they prefer. Have children write letters to grandparents or chat with them online or over the phone. Email or text older love ones updates and let them know they can contact you if they're lonely or need anything.

Get outside. Most stay-at-home advisories allow for you to go for walks in parks or in your neighborhood. You can still smile and say "hi" to people while maintaining a safe distance. If you run into your neighbors, ask if they need anything.

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Joseph Lepkowski, DDS

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Oak Park, IL 60304

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