While practicing social distancing is vital in order to flatten the curve of COVID-19 admitted hospitalizations, it does not have to mean social isolation. Learn from our Integrative Medicine team why feeling connected socially is important for your overall health and wellbeing, especially during this time of fear and uncertainty.
Social Connection in a Time of Social Distancing
The imperative need for social distancing has put a pause on normal socializing activities, like family barbeques, restaurant outings and attending concerts with friends.
What is social connectedness? Why is it important?
Social connectivity is the feeling of closeness and connectedness to a community. It is rooted in feelings of belonging, love and common values. Humans are innately social creatures. Every person we interact with is forever part of our social network. They are family members, friends, coworkers, teammates, neighbors, and acquaintances. Each has a lasting impact on our physical and mental health.
During this unique time of social distancing, it is imperative that we do not completely disconnect with one another. In fact, it is critical now than ever to “virtually” come together.
How does social connectedness impact our health?
Ongoing research supports the positive health benefits of social connectedness. Engaging with your network and partaking in activities are proven to have the following health benefits:
- Longer life.
- Stronger immune system.
- Improved memory and cognitive skills.
- Increased motivation for self-care.
- Lower levels of stress hormones.
“Social connectedness is one of the core tenets of the Blue Zones’ Power 9,” says Sian Cotton, Ph.D., director of Integrative Medicine at UC Health. “Along with routine downregulating of our nervous system, eating a mostly plant-based diet, having a sense of purpose and moving naturally throughout the day, social connectivity is associated with Blue Zones, areas of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.”
Studies show that friendships and social connections provide intellectual stimulation and emotional support through hardships. Stress and isolation can be particularly challenging, especially in times of social distancing. People who provide you with a sense of belonging, love or value can be buffers against stress. Be mindful of the company that you keep and not to self-isolate—both of these can increase your stress and lead to overall poor health.
Ways to Build Connectedness Virtually
- Use video chat applications. Consider scheduling regular dates and times with family and friends for video calls. Have a game night with friends using FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.
- Does your neighborhood have a Facebook group? If they do, request to join and see what fun activities they do. Recently, residents in a Northern Kentucky neighborhood put three-leaf clovers in their windows for kids to find while walking. Start a sidewalk chalk drawing contest with different themes.
- Calm, a mindfulness app, has numerous exercises at various lengths, recorded talks and calendars to print with mindful ideas for everyday activities. The UCLA Mindful app from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center incorporates a research-based approach. This center currently hosts its weekly mindful awareness podcast from the Hammer Museum via Zoom.
- Try virtual yoga or other movement classes. Quidwell posts a Sweat & Support Series during which they feature a different local instructor or studio on their IGTV, Facebook and YouTube channels leading a 30-minute at-home workout (donation-based).
We have very quickly become too familiar with our homes—self-isolating to keep our loved ones healthy. Staying connected virtually can help ease stress, reduce suffering and promote overall wellness. “Now, more than ever, it is critical to place our health and wellbeing, and that of our families and communities, first,” says Dr. Cotton. “Staying connected—even virtually—will aid in this effort and sustain us all for the journey ahead.”