Stop moving. Don’t stop connecting.

News surrounding COVID-19 is everywhere, and it seems I can’t avoid it. Kids are out of school until who knows when, annual events are called off, my parents’ cruise got canceled, and my work trips are all halted in the name of this protecting everyone. I am definitely all for the prevention of the spread of disease especially because the transmission of COVID-19 is so rapid in large groups of people.

So what is this phrase we’re all throwing around, as we give our loved ones “elbows” instead of hugs? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines physical distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” This is not to be confused with quarantine or isolation, which both involve being exposed or infected with a communicable disease. Or even to be confused with the states (mine!) that have stay at home orders.

Even I, as a younger person without major health concerns, can be a carrier and keep the chain of infection going right to those of higher risk. My parents and in-laws in their 60s or my friends who live with immunocompromised systems are all at risk if I’m not practicing physical distancing. And even if I get sick with COVID-19, and even if I have a high chance of healing easily, my illness adds to the number of persons affected, overwhelming the healthcare system. (By the way, your healthcare friends want you to stay home if you are sick and let them do their jobs healing those that are actively fighting the virus. You’re going to make it worse.)

I know we’re communal by nature. Humans crave and need connection. (Even though today’s forms of connection often involve devices, but you know, connection.) It’s going to be difficult to not attend events, dinners, social gatherings, game nights, etc. If we don’t do our share, it’s going to be even more difficult to manage a virus that is rampant and spreading like wildfire. (It’s being compared to World War II and other major events.) We’re going to see more people die, and the healing rates diminish.

We must avoid group gatherings, playdates, going to places where there are a lot of people, taking the kids to playgrounds, and having physical contact with others. I’m a big hugger and it’s hard to not embrace people in my life. My foster kids and I greet and depart with elbows, since they are struggling with a lack of physical contact.

We must use caution when getting takeout from restaurants and shopping (or scrounging??) at grocery stores. My husband and I are still in the community working (because we’re in essential healthcare), which makes it vital to ensure we are careful around each other when home.

Guess what is available during this wild time? We can get some fresh air. The sun and vitamin D are helpful to boost our immune system. You are welcome to stay in your yard and enjoy nature. Take this time to check on an elderly neighbor to see if there is anything they need support with. Cook a new meal with the food you foraged in your trek to the grocery store. (It sometimes feels like a scavenger hunt or like I’m on Chopped to see what I can create with the ingredients in my “basket.”) I wasn’t able to have corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, but my family was able to try an Irish meal with scalloped potatoes and meatballs.

You know what else we have? Those devices that are constantly in our hands, that you should probably sanitize more often. Make a phone call. Schedule a video chat. Play communal games. Send each other memes and interesting articles to still feel connected. Physical distancing is not ordering us to stop connecting.

Every single time you reduce the number of physical contacts you have per day you are reducing the ability to spread the virus. This approach saved thousands of lives during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. We don’t know how long we will need to practice physical distancing and it depends on how well others can follow these recommendations and how much it slows down the pandemic.

I was chatting with colleagues and friends about this whole event. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s scary. It’s giving Mother Nature a breather, though. Less cars on the road and less businesses using energy is allowing the environment to heal from the daily stress. I’m in SoCal and I can see my mountains without the usual layer of smog. Since I’m still working, I can visit the mental health sites throughout the area without the same level of traffic.

We must band together for the greater good.

The feature image is from #CrisisTalk’s Life in Pictures: COVID-19 Quarantine, click here to see more.

Author Kristen Ellis, LMFT
Kristen has worked in the mental health field for more than 5 years, with a focus on crisis work, substance use services, and bringing a voice to lived experience. Her ambition is to change the way mental health care and recovery is seen and achieved, so to redefine what it means to defeat adversity.