Battling coronavirus loneliness? Youre not alone. Experts urge using technology to stay connected with famil – cleveland.com

Posted: March 24, 2020 at 6:14 am

CLEVELAND, Ohio On Friday night, University of Akron psychology professor Toni Bisconti and 55 friends attended a dance party. In an age of social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, though, the get-together took place entirely online and from the comforts of everyones home.

Bisconti, who specializes in adult development and aging psychology, also moonlights as a DJ. So she and her friends used the video conferencing app Zoom to dance together, even though they were apart.

The stay-at-home order that requires Ohio residents to remain mostly in their homes to limit the spread of COVID-19 means most people will have limited face-to-face interaction through at least April 6. Extroverts, in particular, might struggle in the coming weeks or months with a dramatic decrease in daily interactions, experts say.

Its difficult to replace the feeling of seeing someone else, or the sense of touch from a handshake or a hug. Still, other forms of communication can help provide the human connection that people need, Bisconti said.

Theres a tangible, neurological benefit of being touched that I do not think can be replaced. However, for many of us as adults, well be alright for a few weeks or even a few months, she said. There are things we can do to limp along for a while, and we should.

The Ohio stay-at-home order discourages any excursions out of the home unless theyre necessary, such as trips to the grocery store or medical appointments. Other states, including California, New York and Illinois, enacted similar restrictions before DeWine announced Ohios stay-at-home order Sunday.

The isolation caused by the coronavirus has led many people to come up with creative ways to stay connected to their neighbors. In Dallas, Texas, residents recently gathered at their windows to sing Lean On Me together. The singalong was inspired by residents quarantined in Italy, who took to their balconies to sing and play music with each other.

On Monday afternoon in Avon Lake, people decorated their cars for a Honks for Hugs parade for residents at the Independence Village, senior living community. The sound of a car horn acted as a virtual hug, the organizers said.

While being able to touch another person is important, talking to someone and knowing they care about you can also have a significant impact, Case Western Reserve University professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Jane Timmons-Mitchell said.

People want and need to connect with others, so I think thats whats driving us to want to do things with other people, Timmons-Mitchell said.

Stay connected through audio and video chatting.

Perhaps the most common way that people will stay connected to each other is through phone calls and video chats. Services like Apples FaceTime and Skype have been available for years to help connect people via video, and apps like Zoom are helping a more significant number of people videoconference in groups.

Video and audio communication services are also helping people participate in group activities, similar to Biscontis dance party. Audio- and video-chat apps help people connect online to play tabletop-style games or video games, or play trivia. Timmons-Mitchell said a friend of hers is using video chat to schedule a meet-up with family members so they can tell each other jokes.

We need to be connected, Timmons-Mitchell said of the increased reliance on communication services. From the moment were born, we need it. It helps us grow and thrive.

Its unclear whether video conferencing can have a more significant effect than a phone call, experts said. But Bisconti noted that studies have suggested smiling is contagious, so seeing someone else smile over video could cause a person to smile and improve their mood.

Video chatting is also relatively novel, and kind of fun, Bisconti said.

Keep a routine and take a walk. It will help.

Using phone calls, video chats and social media to stay connected to others is not a foolproof strategy for navigating an extended period of isolation, experts said. Ohioans should take advantage of the exception in the stay-at-home order that allows them to go outside to take a walk, go on a hike, go for a run or take a bicycle ride.

Therapists typically advise people dealing with depression to get out of the house, so taking a walk could be beneficial for everyone isolated, Timmons-Mitchell said.

Even if youre walking by yourself and theres nobody around, it will help you heath-wise and make you feel better, Timmons-Mitchell said.

People should also keep a daily routine that includes getting dressed, bathing, making breakfast and compiling a list of tasks they hope to accomplish. Building a sense of structure into the day can also help maintain a sense of normalcy, experts said.

So many of us are treating this like a break, Bisconti said. It makes you feel like your day is separated from your lazy time.

Dont overreact if you argue with a loved one. Its normal.

Bisconti said the increased stress of a prolonged period in isolation could strain relationships, but its natural to argue with someone youre with all the time.

Being isolated is abnormal, so people should not take it as a reflection on their relationship, Bisconti said. If a fight is about something new rather than a long-simmering issue, theres a decent chance its related to being stuck at home.

Were not sure what to do when were stuck with each other, she said. So we have to realize that if were bickering, we might just be cooped up. I wouldnt take it as a sign of relationship doom.

Timmons-Mitchell said shes impressed by the ways people around the world have interacted online or through non-traditional means. That shows that people are resilient, and will support one another until they can return to a healthy life, she said.

I think the thing to keep in mind is this is only temporary. If we take this seriously, its only temporary, Timmons-Mitchell said. We will have an opportunity to do the things we want to do again.

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Battling coronavirus loneliness? Youre not alone. Experts urge using technology to stay connected with famil - cleveland.com

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