Have the last several weeks left you feeling panicked, isolated or depressed? Many people’s mental health during quarantine has taken a hit, and there may be an unexpected reason why.

Words Matter

In the beginning weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, public health officials called for “social distancing,” the practice of keeping six feet between individuals when going out in public, or even between loved ones and friends if one person was immunocompromised or a healthcare worker. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its guidelines, and is now asking the public to practice “physical distancing,” instead.

The phrasing is crucial because “social distancing” is reductive and implies a level of disconnect between loved ones and friends, leaving many feeling depressed and lonely. Of the ways to manage stress and mental health during quarantine, the importance of social connections plays a huge role. It’s vital to find new ways to reach out to friends and to stop calling it “social distancing.”

The difference between social distancing and physical distancing can mean the difference between feeling supported and connected during coronavirus stress or feeling alone and depressed. According to Psychology Today, social connection improves physical health and psychological well-being.

“Low social connection has been associated with declines in physical and psychological health as well as a higher propensity to antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation,” Emma Seppälä writes in an article on social connectedness for Psychology Today.

Luckily, the WHO’s change in wording is a strong reminder to take care of ourselves and check in on others. The organization also acknowledges how technology can help us stick together, even when we’re more than six feet apart.

“Technology has advanced so greatly that we can keep connected in many ways without actually physically being in the same room," WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said March 20.

Together Apart

It’s important to understand the difference between social distancing and physical distancing; to practice safe physical distancing, the six-feet-apart rule is paramount. If you’re exercising or jogging outdoors, more than six feet may be necessary since increased breathing rates can cause droplets from noses and mouths to travel farther. In public stores and essential businesses, it’s easy to take a long step back from someone in front of you, or wait at a safe distance when others are going in and out doors before stepping inside.

However, we want to avoid using the phrase “social distancing,” and we certainly want to avoid practicing it. Instead, it’s important to remain connected and prioritize the importance of social connections. It can be incredibly important for our mental health during quarantine, and as the WHO reported, technology makes this easier than ever.

FaceTime is the simplest way to stay in touch with anyone in the world. WiFi connectivity means you’re not using expensive international calling plans, and seeing a friendly face can brighten your entire day. You can even add multiple people to one chat, so plan a date with the entire family or friend group.

There are multiple ways to enjoy entertainment like movies, video games and more together as well. You and your friends can enjoy a movie date with Netflix Party, a new way to watch movies online with your friends, and chat like you would at home or in the movie theater. You can also set up a Discord server to chat about video games you’re playing, or even live stream family activities and updates on Facebook and YouTube. Get creative in how you use these platforms, because they can be amazing tools!

There are also ways to stay connected in person, while still isolated. Many apartment tenants have organized concerts and sing-a-longs simply by emailing other residents. Homeowners have been exercising together, chatting while six feet apart, and even playing the bagpipes for neighbors.

It’s important to prioritize the importance of social connections and understand the difference between social distancing and physical distancing, but that doesn’t mean it will solve every problem. Even with in-person or technologically-driven efforts to stay in touch, many people will still feel down or depressed—and that’s okay. There are many ways to ask for help, and you should never feel guilty for reaching out.

Keep Talking

When things feel overwhelming, it’s possible to get the support you need. Many therapists are offering online sessions for their clients, or you can use an online service to find a new therapist if you don’t currently have one. Government agencies like the CDC have published helpful articles on maintaining mental health during quarantine, and of course, your friends and family are only a phone call away. Don’t hesitate to ask loved ones for help or even a quick chat when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Everyone in the world is experiencing the same problems right now!

It’s also possible, though, that friends and family may feel too close in tight living quarters. For renters with roommates, you may be cooped up with the same person for weeks on end. Couples can find themselves in the same position. Communication is key at times like this: ask what your partner or roommate is feeling, what pain points you can work on together, and set mutually agreeable rules about sanitizing, cleaning and inviting other people over for everyone’s safety.

For couples, it may be helpful to remember that April is Couple’s Appreciation Month. Although it may be unfortunate to be stuck inside, this is a great time to enhance your sex and romantic life and try new experiences together. Introducing a new product can help make sex exciting when you’re stuck inside each night. It’s also a gateway to conversations about pleasure and ensuring each partner achieves an orgasm, which can reduce tension. Your romantic life can ensure each partner is satisfied, and is a great tool to keep things running smoothly in stressful times!

The coronavirus outbreak is certainly stressful for everyone, but this also means each and every person is in it together. Instead of practicing social distancing, opt for safety precautions through physical distancing. It’s important for organizations like the WHO to emphasize the difference between social distancing and physical distancing, and we can all benefit from it.

Now is not the time to let relationships slide! Reach out, connect, and stay both physically and mentally healthy even while stuck inside.