Social distancing is one of the strongest tools available to slow down community transmission of the COVID-19 virus. People are not to gather in groups, all nonessential movement outside of one’s home is curtailed, and schools and workplaces, unless deemed essential, are closed.
These measures were unheard of barely three months ago. Now, whole cities and even countries are under lockdown. Whilst essential to reduce the spread of the virus, social distancing is not without cost. Many businesses are hit hard and many individuals have lost jobs or taken severe wage cuts.
At the interpersonal level, not being able to socialise means that outlets to de-stress and to get support are unavailable. At the same time, while contact with friends and colleagues is down, time with the family has gone up. For some, this is a blessing. For others, this increase can be too much of a good thing. Tempers flare when we get into each other’s way; being cooped up at home can cause one to be more irritable.
Here are some tips for surviving social distancing:
Firstly, social distancing does not have to mean being relationally cut off from others. There are other ways of keeping in touch. This may be a good time to spruce up our letter writing skills. Yes, I am referring to the ancient practice of “snail mail”. There is something magical about receiving a handwritten note, even if it requires deciphering the squiggles. If your excuse is that you have lost the address of your close family member or friend, there is also the telephone. And if you must, you can connect via WhatsApp, Facebook or whatever your favourite technology tool is. The important thing is to stay in (virtual) touch. And instead of waiting for that call or message, why not initiate one today?
Secondly, reach out to those who may be lonely or need a helping hand. Being helpful to others has the benefit of giving us a sense of control over our lives. We can also offer friendship and support. Giving support to one another is part of what defines us as human (social) beings.
My family was surprised when a neighbour unknown to us offered to get us groceries when they found out that my daughter was serving her Stay-Home Notice. The offer was repeated when another friend got to know of her situation. The spontaneity and the kindness of the offers gave us a sense of being in a caring community.
Thirdly, create routines and try to stick to them. They may be boring but routines ensure things get done. So, when life is turned upside down because work schedules are altered and children’s timetables are upended, it is good to work out a routine, even if only for a week at a time. This gives us a sense of control over our lives.
Fourthly, create special moments. Working from home allows us to shed work clothes and dress casually. However, there is no reason to be sloppy and stop looking pleasant and attractive to one another. Sending thoughtful texts even though you could be working together in the same room is another way to express affection.
I have been working with a couple to improve their marital relationship. They found that with both working from home, their marriage had become more humdrum. Although they had opportunity to spend more time together, being together day and night gave them little to look forward to with respect to each other. I suggested that they put in extra effort to make the other feel special, such as preparing or ordering food that the spouse likes for a meal.
Finally, let us use this opportunity to spend more time with ourselves in meaningful contemplation. In our busy lives, we tend to rush around doing one thing after another. This may be a good time to re-evaluate what we value and what we hold as essential and important.
This crisis has shaken our world at both the personal and global level. However, if we can give and draw strength from one another, we can ride through it and emerge mentally, emotionally and relationally stronger.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.