Here's What to Do When Social Distancing Gets Tough, According to a Therapist


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Real talk: Social distancing is hard. If you're doing your part to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of coronavirus by limiting your contact with others, you know it can be lonely and, well, boring. Most of us really thrive on seeing our friends and family and going out to bars, restaurants, concerts, museums, etc. It's how we pass the time; it's what we look forward to. So when all of that is strongly discouraged, it can leave us feeling a little empty

I know some people out there aren't fortunate to be able to self-quarantine or maintain much social distancing because of their jobs. To those people, thank you for keeping all of us safe and for moving things along, whether you're working in a hospital, grocery store, delivering packages, or doing something else. The people working on the frontlines of this situation are the real heroes here. 


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But for those of us who can self-isolate and maintain social distancing, if you find yourself at home most days and staying away from your friends, family, and public places, it can really take a toll on you.

Personally, I've made the decision to limit my contact with others. I've been staying at home, grateful that I have work to do (like writing this story!) and only leave my apartment for groceries, essential errands, or a walk to get some fresh air. The new normal has taken a bit of getting used to, and I'm still struggling a bit. You might be feeling the same way too right now.


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Normally, I enjoy my alone time and won't say no to a cozy night in instead of going out, but I'm getting very antsy right now. After years of living with roommates, I just started living alone this year. I've really loved it and consider myself so lucky that I have a nice place of my own, but damn, this social distancing has been really tough for me. I don't exactly wish for my past cramped New York City apartment with two roommates, but I wish I were able to actually talk to someone IRL. I'm also not the most touchy-feely person, but what I would do for a hug right now!

I've been texting a lot, calling my mom every day, and trying to stay social virtually, which has helped. But I wanted to get more tips on how to cope with the loneliness that comes with social distancing, so I did some research and talked to an expert. If you're feeling similarly, hopefully what I learned can help you too.

Reach Out to People


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Technology has really come through during this time. There are so many resources available that allow us to stay in touch with our friends and family when we're trying to maintain a distance. "Reach out to friends and still seek outlets for meaningful social time, suggests Madeleine DiLeonardo, MEd, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor and the founder of Mind Body and Soul by DiLeonardo Wellness. "Don't just scroll through your phone and like Instagram posts, but instead call a friend you haven't spoken to in a while, or schedule a Skype date with friends to all eat dinner or play a game together."

Support Other People Who Live Alone


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When I asked DiLeonardo what people who live alone should do, she recommended not isolating and making an effort to contact friends and family. It also helps to chat with people who are in the same boat as you or understand what you're going through. "Utilize your support system that know you live alone and allow yourselves to rely on each other!" she says. And if you don't live by yourself but know someone who does, continue to offer them support and check in on them.

Have a Set Schedule


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"While initially being at home and not needing to go into work sounds exciting for some, after a while it can become lonely or boring," DiLeonardo says. "Additionally, the events occurring in the world right now can contribute to feelings of sadness or depression. Having a set schedule and doing your best to engage in self-care during this time is essential."

So try to have a set wake time and bedtime, get dressed before you start working, ensure you're making time to eat, and add more structure to your days.

Take the Pressure Off Yourself


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It's okay to feel your feelings. "This is truly an unprecedented situation, as we have not had any similar lived experiences in the recent past," DiLeonardo says. "Try to remember this, and be kind to yourself and others during this time. People's anxiety manifests in different ways. Some people panic, some people minimize, others internalize. Now is not a time for judgment and is also not a time to put pressure on yourself. Do the best that you can each day given the circumstances, one day at a time, and don't demand much more than that of yourself or others."

Find Distractions


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This has been pretty helpful for me. Find ways to entertain yourself, whether it's watching a fun show on Netflix or Hulu, doing an at-home workout, listening to a podcast, read a book, meditate… The list can go on and on. Consider this a time to explore a new interest, or do that thing you've been meaning to try. 

Go Outside If You Can


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Right now, it's still okay to take a walk, as long as you're practicing safe social distancing. A burst of fresh air can really help you feel better, and after so much time at home, it's nice to get a change of scenery. Put on some sneakers, put your headphones in (or not, if you want to listen to nature's sounds), and go for a walk.

Seek Help If You Need It


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This is important: If you are having a tough time, it's okay to seek help. "Additionally, many therapists are offering the option for telehealth, which allows you to have a therapy session via HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, so if you're feeling like you need additional support during this time, there are ways to do so while maintaining social distancing," says DiLeonardo.

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for help and resources at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Next up: 25 Little Things You Can do for Yourself and Others Right Now


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions.

Managing Editor

Sarah is lifestyle writer and editor with over 10 years of experience covering health and wellness, interior design, food, beauty, and tech. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended New York University and lived in New York for 12 years before returning to L.A. in 2019.

In addition to her work on THE/THIRTY and Who What Wear, she held editor roles at Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and The Bump (sister site of The Knot).

She has a passion for health and wellness, but she especially loves writing about mental health. Her self-care routine consists of five things: a good workout, “me” time on the regular, an intriguing book/podcast/playlist to unwind after a long day, naps, and decorating her home.