WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --The COVID-19 pandemic has led to implementation of unprecedented “physical distancing” strategies crucial to limiting the spread of the virus.
While the most immediate threat from COVID-19 is the physical health of those infected, the pandemic will also have wide-ranging effects on the social and mental health of others living through the crisis.
Social isolation occurs when an individual does not have adequate opportunities to interact with others. Physical distancing and isolation can present certain challenges, such as spending days or weeks at home with limited resources, stimulation or social contact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation can threaten health, whereas regular social interactions, and having a strong personal network, are important to a person’s mental and physical health, resilience and longevity. Health concerns stemming from social deprivation include high blood pressure, sleeplessness or less restful sleep, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.
In addition, lack of human interaction may increase hormone levels that contribute to inflammation and weakened immunity, thereby increasing the risk of diseases.
“The winter months can be difficult for people anyway, but when you add that on top of the pandemic it can be a lot to handle,” said Britni Bredeweg, Civilian Health Promotion coordinator for Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.
Although it remains critical that we follow physical distancing requirements to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is equally important that we remain socially connected with our family, friends, colleagues and community to prevent the negative health outcomes caused by being socially isolated and lonely. The following are some strategies for feeling more socially connected during this time.
- Connect by phone or video chat. Stay in touch with family and friends by calling and texting by phone. Placing calls using video chat services like FaceTime or Zoom has the advantage of allowing us to see others’ facial expressions that are important for bonding.
- Connect online. E-mail a friend with whom you haven’t been in touch with in a while and rekindle your friendship. Join online forums about your hobbies or interests. Whatever your interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. Participate in online sports games like Fantasy Football and Basketball.
- Connect with your community. Reach out to people you know might be having difficulties, such as elderly neighbors or relatives, to make sure they’re getting needed food and medical supplies. Running an errand for a neighbor not only helps them, but will also make you feel more connected to your community. Arrange a driveway visit with family or friends. Be sure all are wearing masks, stay six feet apart and are held outdoors.
- Connect with others in COVID-19 quarantine. QuarantineChat is a voice chat service designed to connect people quarantined during the coronavirus outbreak.
Hanscom’s Employee Assistance Program field consultant, Samarrah Clayman, wants personnel to know that those struggling with chronic loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety, or depression are not alone, and professional counseling services are available for the AFMC workforce and their families.
“We are still here and our services are still available,” said Clayman. “We can still stay connected and have a conversation even if it’s in a virtual environment.”
Civilian employees may contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling services at 866-580-9078 or visit the EAP website at AFPC.af.mil/EAP.
Military members can contact their local mental health clinic for services. Military OneSource is another option for military and their families. For more information, call 800-342-9647 or visit militaryonesource.mil.
Civilian and active duty members can contact Bredeweg directly at 781-225-6311 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on coping with social isolation and loneliness, visit the Civilian Health Promotion Services video library at USAFwellness.com. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has an informative pdf Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health with advice for managing social isolation under quarantine.