Health is physical, mental and emotional. Nurture your mind and heart with these ways to stay connected while protecting your body.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 17, 2020
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Getty Images/Deniz Yilkan

In light of the new coronavirus, the government and several major health organizations have encouraged Americans to practice social distancing, prohibiting the meetings of groups larger than 10 people. For most all of us, this is a huge shift from our day-to-day routine. As people, we are inherently social creatures, so this can pose a challenge for us. However, though we are not currently able to meet up with others how we normally would, there are many ways to stay connected while still responsibly practicing social distancing.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin recently published an article in Emerging Infectious Disease that looked more closely at how COVID-19 can spread. Through looking at the pattern of outbreaks in China, they found that COVID-19 has a short "serial interval" of four days. This means that it takes roughly four days for an infection to spread between people. For reference, this is about the same as influenza. They also found that one out of every 10 people who was a carrier for the disease did not have any symptoms when they passed it along.

These findings should not spark panic or paranoia, but they absolutely reiterate the importance of social distancing. However, feeling isolated can take a toll on your mental health. To stay as mentally and physically well as possible during this confusing time, our editors have shared five things they are doing to feel connected while practicing social distancing.

1. Virtual Happy Hours

If you aren't already doing this, add it to your list. For many, happy hours and wine nights are cherished times with family, friends and colleagues. The fun doesn't need to stop now that you can't hit your favorite bar or restaurant. Virtual happy hours and wine nights are just a FaceTime, Skype or Zoom video away. Schedule a date with your ladies (or dudes) soon to catch up and get your social fix, without leaving the house. (As an added bonus, some wine shops are doing delivery or curbside pickup, so you can still score your favorite bottle of vino while staying safe!)

2. Virtual Book Clubs

Whether you are already part of a book club, this is a great way to connect with people over something in a season where there may not be too much to catch up about. "My book club is doing a virtual session on Friday over Zoom. We'll have wine and cheese, just like we always do," says Jaime Milan, our digital news and lifestyle editor, "We all agreed we missed girl time, so we're staying connected from our own homes." Bonus: this translates to another fun to-do when you are spending extended time at home. Reading is great for your brain, and being a part of a book club will keep you connected and accountable to stick with it.

3. Scheduled Calls With Family

This one is more personal to me, but is an important and healthy practice for those wondering how to spend their newfound free time. My family lives in Michigan, and with my two brothers' university being cancelled for the semester, they are all at home together. Normally, after lunch I would take a short walk with my coworkers to split up the day. Now, I use that time to call my family and catch up with them all.

If the weather permits, I can walk while doing this to get some additional movement in. But, walking aside, this practice makes me feel like I'm there with them: laughing, catching up and hearing what's for dinner with the dog barking intermittently in the background. Hearing their voices on a regular basis has helped me stay positive even though I am across the country from them. There's no better time than the present to get on a schedule of regularly connecting with your loved ones.

4. Netflix Syncing

This may be the best-kept secret for those trying to watch Netflix with others who are far away (or not in your living room). There is a Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party that allows you to have a virtual movie night with friends from wherever they are. Simply download the extension, open Netflix in a Google Chrome browser, and "Start a Party". Once you have your party URL, you can share it with your friends, and they can enter. This allows you and your friends to keep up with your shows or movies, without getting off-pace with each other. If you are feeling really ambitious, tack on a group FaceTime or video call to chat just like you would at a traditional movie night.

5. Virtual Game Nights

By "virtual game night", I do not mean endless hours of video games (though feel free to enjoy that if that's your thing). My friends and I love to play board games and cards together on our nights in. Now that we can't all get together in person, we have turned to video chats and online versions of our favorite games. If you are tech savvy, try and find an online version of your favorite game. For example, we love the board game Risk and are learning to love the Apple application of the game where you can have multiple players access the board remotely. To keep it old school, simply set up a video call with friends who also have the game or cards, and stay connected that way.

Bottom Line

This is not a complete list of ways to connect with others without physically meeting up, but should be a source of inspiration to get you connected to those you care about. During times of confusion and stress, it is especially important to lean on each other and build each other up.

Social distancing doesn't need to mean emotional isolation. Let this list be a springboard for the million ways our innovative technology allows you to connect with others without being physically together. Staying healthy applies to your physical body, but also to your mind. Talk, laugh, cry and just reach out to other, because we are all in this together.