Social distancing doesn’t have to mean loneliness—here's how to stay connected

Why it's so important to text your best friend right now, mama.

fighting loneliness while social distancing

Study after study has shown that social distancing is the most important tool we have to protect ourselves as well as our families, friends and communities from the impact of coronavirus. It's paramount that we all do our part to help control the spread of this disease.

It's also incredibly strange that the most effective way we can support each other is to distance ourselves. But in doing so, we can experience a profound sense of togetherness.

I'm currently writing this while self-isolating at home with my 18-month-old while my husband, a physician, works at the hospital—a scene that will ring painfully familiar to many. As a clinical psychologist and friendship expert who studies the science of social connection—and, much more importantly, as a fellow human who yearns to feel connected—I'm increasingly concerned about the ways in which social distancing will contribute to loneliness and threaten our relationships and social ties.

We are hardwired for connection. Loneliness is quite literally toxic for our health; it's as dangerous as smoking or having high blood pressure. It contributes to anxiety and depression, and it drastically decreases our quality of life.

If loneliness is toxic, then our social connections are the antidote. Investing in our relationships is one of the most important things we can do for our physical and emotional health—especially right now. Having close connections boosts our immune system, protects us from chronic health conditions, elevates our mood and helps us cope with stress...the very benefits so many of us are searching for as we shelter ourselves at home.

As we are all working to be responsible and keep others at a safe distance, it's equally important that we find ways to stay connected.

Here are a few ways we can help ourselves and our children to stay connected while practicing social distancing:

1. Be honest about our need for connection

While the importance of social connection is universal, our specific needs vary from person to person. What matters more than the number of friends we have or how often we speak to loved ones is how supported and connected we feel.

When we're coping with very real stressors and our mind is rightfully focused on our safety and security, it's easy to ignore our need for connection. We convince ourselves that we don't have the time or that connecting in new ways just isn't worth the effort. In reality, the support we receive from our connections is the very thing that allows us to navigate these challenges.

We can work to meet our need for connection by encouraging self-reflection and asking ourselves (and our children) questions such as:

  • When was the last time I connected with a friend or heard someone else's voice?
  • Am I really feeling bored (or hungry, tired or frustrated), or is it possible I'm lonely?
  • What can I do to fulfill my need for social contact today?
  • Have I asked the important people in my life what they need or expect?
  • Disappointment and frustration are such normal human responses right now—so am I letting myself feel that?

2. Be creative with opportunities for connection

As parents, it's difficult to prioritize our relationships when we're facing significant stress and disruptions to our family routine. It can help to weave social time into our other activities:

  • Chat with a family member while cooking dinner.
  • Set up virtual lunch dates or co-working sessions with friends.
  • Coordinate virtual playdates or a weekly show-and-tell with other kids.
  • Find ways to volunteer from home as a family, so you can support causes you're passionate about and witness people coming together.
  • Start new family rituals like a morning "circle time" meeting or an afternoon power stretch (or silly dance party).
  • Start virtual clubs or groups with friends.

When we work to show up for others in unexpected ways, it helps to inject new-ness into our relationships, especially when social distancing makes us feel bored and isolated.

3. Find comfort in micro-communities

We can't expect our closest friends to relate to all of what we're going through—every family faces its own unique challenges right now. While your friends certainly don't need to have identical experiences to support you in meaningful ways, there's value in connecting with people who do share your specific issues.

I've found myself turning to mothers working from home while caring for their kids, writers who are struggling to concentrate amidst the chaos and quiet, therapists moving their sessions online, and partners of health care workers who share similar feelings of anxiety, fear, and admiration. The exchanges I've had with others online, many of whom are strangers, have been comforting, uplifting, and incredibly validating.

4. Allow yourself to set boundaries

There may be times when the healthiest thing we can do for our relationships is to establish boundaries. Now is the time to connect with those who share our values—rather than getting caught up in trying to change a friend's opinion. Find community with people who share your approach to the situation we're all facing, rather than trying to change minds.

When chatting with friends who see things differently, it can be helpful to set limits on how often you speak, or the kinds of conversations you have. These limits can protect your health, as well as your capacity for empathy and patience.

Just as social distancing is not long-term, boundaries are not necessarily permanent. In fact, they may be the very thing that allows us to preserve our connections over time.

5. Strengthen the quality of your conversations

The biggest risk factor for loneliness is a lack of emotional intimacy. Now is the time for us to focus on having more meaningful conversations. Instead of sticking to the headlines, let's focus on our individual experiences and share our ideas, fears and hopes with each other.

This situation is unprecedented and it's important that we honor the feelings it brings with it. At the same time, it's equally important to prioritize conversations that have nothing to do with COVID-19 or the experience of social distancing to remain connected and stop us from slipping into a cycle of co-rumination.

The quality of our conversations depends not only on what we share but how we share it. The more we can access vocal cues, facial expressions, and gestures, the more connected we feel and the fewer misunderstandings there will be. This is why I often recommend phone calls or video chats over instant messaging. This can be especially important for children and teens who are still working to develop key social skills (although, really, aren't we all?).

Healthy communication starts at home, and we should model and encourage openness. Ask your children questions and allow them to pose questions in return. Validate how difficult it must be to not see their friends. Normalize emotions like loneliness, sadness or anxiety, while correcting misperceptions—it's not uncommon for children to personalize difficult experiences, and many might wonder if they've done something to drive their peers away or worry that their friends or favorite teachers will forget about them.

It also helps to be transparent about our own sadness and fears while making an effort to talk about what we can do to cope. These conversations can protect our children's hearts in the current climate, and are a helpful catalyst for connection within our families.

6. Practice gratitude for moments of connection

Gratitude has less to do with ignoring very real pain, discomfort or hardship and everything to do with making an effort to notice it—and balance it out with the goodness around us. We can work to appreciate people, conversations and experiences by talking about who and what brings us happiness and a sense of belonging, and encouraging our children to do the same.

No question: Social distancing will impact our relationships and communities in a big way. But appreciating the smallest of gestures will allow us to stay connected.

Let's work to notice it all—from the smiles exchanged with neighbors and strangers, the thoughtful check-ins or offers to drop off groceries from friends, the health and safety of our children, and the overwhelming sacrifice of our healthcare workers and everyone contributing to essential services. These are the moments of connection that will ultimately help us build resilience and increase the closeness we feel in our relationships and communities.

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    These are only the vitamins I give my children and here's why

    It's hard to say who loves these more—my kids or me.

    When I became a mama five years ago, I didn't put too much thought into whether my son was getting the right vitamins and minerals. From breastfeeding to steaming and pureeing his first bites of solid food, I was confident I was giving him everything to support his growth and development.

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    I also knew how quickly he was growing, so I wanted to make sure he was getting the nutrients he needed (even on those days when he said "no, thank you" to any veggie I offered).

    So when I discovered the new line of children's supplements from Nature's Way®, it felt like a serious weight off my chest. Thanks to supplements that support my children's musculoskeletal growth, their brain function, their immune systems, their eyes and more, I'm taken back to that simpler time when I was so confident my kids' vitamin needs were met.*

    It wasn't just the variety of supplements offered by Nature's Way that won me over: As a vegetarian mama, I'm the picky one in the family when it comes to scanning labels and making sure they meet our standards. The trick is that most gummy vitamins are made with gelatin, which is not vegetarian friendly.

    But just like the other offerings from Nature's Way that I've already come to know and love, the children's supplement line is held to a high standard. That means there's no high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin or common allergens to be found in the supplements. The best part? My two oldest kids ensure we never miss their daily vitamins—they are so in love with the gummy flavors, which include tropical fruit punch, lemonade and wild berry.

    Nature's Way Kids Mulitvitamin

    Meanwhile, my pharmacist husband has different criteria when evaluating supplements, especially when it comes to those for our kids. He appreciates the variety of options from Nature's Way, which gives us the ability to rotate the vitamins based on our kids' daily needs. By keeping various children's supplements from Nature's Way on hand, I can customize a regimen to suit my kids' individual requirements.

    Of course, high-quality products often come at a higher price point. But (to my immense gratitude!) that isn't the case with Nature's Way, which retails for a competitive value when compared to the other items on the shelf.

    Like all mamas, my chief concern is supporting my children's health in any way I can. While I see evidence of their growth every time I pack away clothes they've outgrown, I know there is much more growth that doesn't meet the eye. That's why, for my oldest son, I like stacking the Brain Builder gummy with the Growing Bones & Muscles gummy and the Happy & Healthy Multi. My 3-year-old also enjoys getting her own mix to include the Healthy Eyes gummy. And both of my older kids are quick to request the Tummy Soothe tablet when something isn't sitting right in their stomachs.* And I'll admit it: I've tried it myself and the berry blast flavor really is tasty!

    Although my current phase of motherhood may not be as "simple" as it once was, there is so much to appreciate about it—like watching my kids play and sing and create with their incredible imaginations. Along the way, I've eased up on some of my need for control, but it does help to have this range of supplements in my motherhood tool kit. So while I may not be able to convince my son to try kale, having the Nature's Way supplements on hand means I do know he's right on track.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

    This article was sponsored by Nature's Way. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

    "The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

    This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

    Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

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