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How to maintain social connections while social distancing

Social distancing is the new buzzword all over the world amid the coronavirus outbreak.

But it is targeting physical distance, not social connection.

Now is a great time to use technology in a beneficial and adaptive way to take care of our physical and mental health too.

We can still connect and interact meaningfully via numerous ways, through texts (words, pictures, emojis), phone calls, video calls, e-mails, snail mail (letters and care packages), leaflets and small notes to one another.

If required to meet in person, the space between each other can be increased (reduced holding capacity or fewer people in a room), or a blend of both, where a "core" group meets (spaced apart as recommended) and has a video conference with the larger group.

Showing care and maintaining or building new healthy relationships through your words and actions can be achieved through a buffering space.

It is about letting others know that they are in your thoughts - something physical distance cannot take away.


You may find that increasing the frequency of such forms of contact, like regular check-in messages in group chats or dropping off care packages for each other or individuals whose movements are restricted, helps maintain a strong connection and can suitably replace the opportunities or time that would otherwise be available for meeting up.

However, be careful not to unknowingly let social distancing strategies lead to excessive or unhealthy use of technology, such as cyber addiction.

That includes excessive online gaming or watching videos at the expense of work, health and daily needs.

Care must be taken to ensure these strategies are not exploited as opportunities to cyber bully, mislead and victimise others, or worsen existing unhealthy or excessive behaviours.

In any approach to mental health, extremes tend to be a recipe for disaster.

One's initial reaction to unexpected information is understandable. However, do refrain from acting on impulse.

Take a moment to get calm and process the information.

Disregarding or minimising our awareness, apathy, or withdrawing and focusing excessively on oneself will not benefit oneself and others.

For example, panic buying, wild predictions, exclusive and excessive reading on Covid-19 will just exacerbate stress and anxiety, tipping the balance.

Excessive stress and anxiety do not translate into productive or beneficial outcomes but will instead take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Self-care is important too.

Focus on rest and eating well, personal hygiene and incorporating suitable exercise. Read or catch up on current affairs, take time to pursue your hobbies, or create time and mind space for yourself. The recommendations for physical, behavioural and medical approaches are clear and established.

As a country, we have shown prudence, excellence, teamwork and foresight, translating to prompt action and superb preparedness.

Be responsible and help overcome the pandemic the world is facing. In so doing, we also learn lessons that enhance our ability to formulate preventive measures for the future and become stronger. You can choose what goes viral. Choose well.

The writer is a senior clinical psychologist at Alexandra Hospital.