Mental Health Awareness Month: Finding Social Connection During COVID-19
May is Mental Health Awareness month — a time to focus on breaking the stigma behind mental illness and to promote mental wellbeing.
Mental wellbeing is a component of holistic health — meeting physical, mental and emotional needs. It plays a prominent role in constructing the whole, healthy individual. It is also heavily reliant on social connection, a factor we’ve seen many changes in during this past year. Mental health and social connection intertwine; humans are social creatures that, from an evolutionary standpoint, rely on communication to survive.
So how does maintaining social relationships play into overall health? Dr. Emma Seppala explains in her Stanford Medicine study the implications of positive social interactions, and how these have both emotional and physiological impact. For example, those who experience high levels of social wellbeing have a 50% increased chance of longevity, lower rates of mental illness, better emotional regulation and higher self esteem. Where in contrast, those who lack social connection are more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and even disease. Seppala cites medical research from UCLA in which loneliness is linked to a less responsive immune system. And now more than ever, we want our immune systems functioning at their best.
But how do we combat feeling isolated during isolation? How can we counteract physical separation with emotional connectedness? Here are some ideas.
Themed Zoom Calls: While a weekly zoom or Facetime call with family or friends cannot compare to spending time together in person, there are numerous ways to make them fun! These calls don’t have to become a chore or an obligation. Instead, try giving them themes that fit your interests. Movie night, spa night, costume night, art night...you name it! Not only do virtual get-togethers allow for creativity to flow, but they also provide something to look forward to.
Social Distancing Strolls: San Diego has a wide array of community parks, and going on social distancing walks is a great way to still get that in-person time with friends or family, while staying safe. And the fresh air is an added bonus! Check out this list of San Diego parks, including any closure updates.
Friends and Fitness: Exercise is a key component to both mental and physical wellbeing, and is even more effective when combined with social interaction. Hop on a virtual call with some friends and follow along to free at-home workouts together (no gym equipment needed). The internet is our friend when it comes to finding fun workouts to try; from core yoga videos to a variety of full-body workout playlists on youtube, there are exercise routines for all ability levels. And having a virtual workout buddy establishes both accountability and support.
Book Club: Joining a virtual (or social distanced) book club is a great way to initiate conversation and stimulate intellectual inquiry. Check out this Reader’s Circle website to find a preexisting book club near you, or start your own! In addition, San Diego’s epublic library website offers numerous ebook options, downloadable for free to any device.
While staying socially connected can seem like a daunting task in the midst of a pandemic, it’s not impossible. The age of technology provides numerous temporary alternatives to maintain safety and health.
By: Cassie Guiley