Health authorities and government leaders need everyone to social distance in order to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, but isolation in the home can bring its own mental health challenges for many people.
Here are a few tips on how to check in on family members and friends who could use some human contact without breaking social distancing orders.
Keep things casual
Clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow tells Bustle that people feeling stressed under isolation may react better to friendly outreach if that support comes without any implications of alarm. Avoid reminding friends of how dire the situation is with repeated questions about their mental health, and instead just make check-ins a regular affair without much fanfare.
Even if you can’t do fun activities together, encourage friends and family to continue habits that make them happy and help them feel healthy. Olivia Field, loneliness lead at the British Red Cross, explains to the BBC, "Ensuring you feel stimulated and have fun protects against loneliness and improves your general wellbeing,” so suggest people stay active, get plenty of sunlight and fresh air, and keep up with their favorite hobbies.
Make it about you
Life coach Elizabeth Pearson suggests to Bustle that relatives and friends who resist outreach may feel more comfortable if you make the conversation about yourself. She says, “Instead of making them feel like you’re checking in, phrase it as if it’s you who needs them. … It will make them feel valued and supported if they understand that needing connection is a two-way street.”
Have a virtual meal together
Scheduling time to talk with a pal can feel awkward and contrived, so The Atlantic suggests turning calls into virtual meals. Have lunch or dinner with a friend or relative like you normally would, but just do it virtually over a video chat app like FaceTime or Zoom. This should help remove some of the social barriers and let you get down to talking more easily.
Just ping them
Jeff Hancock, a communication professor at Stanford University, also suggests to The Atlantic also suggests small gestures if you don’t have time to constantly talk on the phone. Send a link to a funny article or share a quick joke. Just stay away from anything news-related.
Don’t push your therapy services too hard if you’re finding resistance. Instead, Dr. Klapow suggests to Bustle that people just let friends and fam know they’re around to talk. "Letting them know that you are a text or call away for anything, even just to listen to them, will give them the permission to reach out if things are not going well," he says.
Don’t forget about kids
Coronavirus can be pretty confusing to children, so be sure to check in regularly with young ones in your life both near and far. If you’re video-chatting with a relative, ask them to put their children on so you can talk with them too, and make the conversation a family hang-out.