Social Engagement in this Time of Physical Distancing

For some this current reality of “Social Distancing” is leaving time to tackle projects, catch up on reading, or be with their children and partners; for others it is intensifying issues of isolation.

For many seniors, social isolation is not a response to a world pandemic but an undesirable outcome of old age. When partners pass away, friends downsize or move to be closer to family, or when physical pain becomes debilitating and leaves you unable to move around like you once did, your world can become very lonely. Now add to that a new level of restricted access: the need to “socially isolate” for health. When your family and care-providers are not able to visit, run errands or support you in the ways you need the world can start to feel increasingly beyond your reach. Though necessary, this new reality has left many seniors feeling scared, vulnerable, and disconnected.

One small way we can help is to change how we talk about this new practice. This time of Physical Distancing does not have to be a time of Social Isolation. We are being asked to put physical space between ourselves and other people, between ourselves and things, between ourselves and other places. We are not being asked to cut our social ties. It is extremely important to understand this as there are ways to increase our social connection even when we are more than 6 feet apart or staying in our homes.

If you, or someone you know, has already been experiencing social isolation, try some of these simple suggestions to increase connection while maintaining physical space.

5 ways to socially connect while still physically distancing:

1. Technology can bring us together

One of the immediate outcomes after the Coronavirus was declared a world pandemic 240723-1411x942-senior-woman-at-computerand physical distancing was announced as the best preventative and controlling measure, was how technology came to the rescue of our social circles.

Digitally we have more ways to connect to other people than ever before. You can email, direct message, text, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and more. You can see your loved ones’ faces, take a group fitness class, and even join in on Harvard University courses all from the comfort of your own home. If you have a device like a Desktop computer, laptop, iPhone, tablet, or iPad you can use it to reach out, see, talk and learn with other people.

Grampa-700One thing I have been doing since staying in my home in Banff is shooting daily videos for my Mom in Calgary. Each day I take my phone with me on a walk (well away from other people) and record some part of the beautiful natural world. I talk with my Mom as if she is there and share with her where I am and what I am doing. Then I download the video onto YouTube and send my Mom a link over an email. Yes, it took me a bit to learn this process but now it is an easy and fun way for my Mom and I to share a laugh together.

Even though technology can feel daunting, take a step each day to connect over technology and you may be surprised how your community will grow.

2. Pick up the Phone

The phone may be older-person-on-telephone-02-m59461_origa piece of technology we have almost forgotten about but for some seniors it is more important than ever. Pick up the phone and call. Call your friends, call your family, call your church.

Even if you don’t have a computer, or similar device, you can access Zoom classes over the phone. Some churches have been able to broadcast their Sunday services so that parishioners can listen in on the phone. Thank you Alexander Graham Bell.

3. Reach Out to Help

One of the best ways to feel more connected to the world is to give back. That is what myElderly woman works on sewing machine Mom always taught me. If you feel unsure or sad about your current state of things, lift your head and look out for someone who needs help, then go help them.

When we are all held up in our homes it might seem impossible to help others, but it isn’t. One project that is circulating right now is to sew facemasks. If you have a sewing machine, fabric and some thread you can spend some time each day making these essential items. Though facemasks are not necessary or even helpful for the general public, if you or someone you know needs to go to a clinic, a doctor’s office or the hospital, facemasks can be used to reduce the spread of your germs to others. You can learn how to do this simple sewing project by watching this YouTube video.

Another great way to help is to volunteer for on-line and phone-based support of non-profit groups. Right now many important non-profits like The Candian Red Cross could use support from people at home making and answering phone calls. If you have a phone and want to find a way to help get in contact with your local groups to see how you can help from home.

4. Let’s Go to the Movies

If there was ever a time we needed comedians it is now, to lighten up are day-to-day. ThisSenior man watching TV while wearing a green shirt is the time to pull out your favourite TV shows, movies and documentaries. Or maybe you have some favourite music or books. Get them out and dive in. Ask others what they are watching, listening to or reading. Days like this are what entertainment was truly made for. Use it to bring laughter into your day and learn about other places, people or ideas. Get lost in a good mystery or romantic tale. Go on a travel adventure with Rick Steves or have a good belly laugh with Carol Burnett.

Many of our favourite classics are still playing on cable television, YouTube or streaming networks like Netflix and Prime Video (which both offer free trial periods).

imagesMany public libraries are offering book delivery, audiobooks and downloadable e-books as well as on-line streaming services of TV shows, movies and documentaries free for members. Some local bookstores are even offering home delivery and curb-side pickup to help get books to you.

Enjoying different forms of entertainment can be a great way to lighten the load and lift your spirits. Of course you could also choose to watch or read things that bring you down or make things seem heavier. This is a choice you can make. I encourage you to explore the sources of entertainment that bring joy into your daily life.

5. Meditation

Take a little time each day to actually spend time with bigstock-Senior-Woman-In-Wheelchair-At--231797503-DMID1-5ezrx9vpg-640x480yourself. This may at first seem counter-intuitive but hear me out. Yes, sitting quiet and alone can actually help you to feel more connected to life. When the world around you is uncertain or you are feeling restricted, taking time in your day to unplug from all that is swirling around can reduce feelings of isolation.

Practicing meditation can be a great way to reconnect with yourself. One of the biggest contributions to feeling isolated is how distant we feel from ourselves. In a time when we are physically distancing from other people we can come back to ourselves.

Each week I am offering two free live meditation classes over Zoom. If you are not able to make the live class you can still watch the recorded video on the Sacred Elder’s Virtual Classroom. If these classes don’t work for you, there are many other options for bringing meditation into your day. Check your local library or YouTube for some wonderful recordings.

An elderly woman looks out the window.The simplest way to practice is to just sit, maybe near a window, and either close your eyes or look gently out the window. Spend some time with yourself, not letting your mind wander into all the things it could think about but to just breathe, sit and be for a few minutes each day.

For those who are caring for, and keeping their physical distance from, the seniors they love, I encourage you to stop using the terms “Social Distancing” or “Social Isolation” and start referring to what we need to do to help control the spread of the Corvid-19 Virus as “Physical Distancing”. This is a time to find those people in our lives who are already feeling secluded from the world and reconnect in new ways, play and explore how we can share our lives together.

This can be a time of social connection; it is simply about looking and reaching out.

If you or someone you know could use some additional support or guidance during this time please connect with me.