Maintaining social well-being during a global crisis

By Anna Robertson, B.S.

We all need people, and we always have, throughout our lifespan.

During times of personal crisis, we often lean on close friends and family for support in various ways. For example, sometimes we rely on our loved ones to provide emotional support after a difficult day.

Other times,, we ask our loved ones for physical help, such as when we need a little help finishing some daily chores. And still other times, our loved ones might support us through financial means, like a community raising funds to help us reach a personal goal.

Socializing literally affects the health of individuals 50 and up. Older adults who interact with others regularly are more likely to be in better physical health, less likely to develop dementia and experience depression less often compared to those who do not have many social experiences with others.

During a global crisis, it is natural to want to spend even more time with our loved ones to seek support as well as to offer it however we can. Unlike many of the global crises we have experienced before, the COVID-19 pandemic requires that we physically distance ourselves from most people in our lives to protect us all, making it feel like we cannot reach out for the support we normally would during difficult periods of our lives. COVID-19 also seems to be particularly harmful for people who have developed chronic diseases, and we see that chronic diseases are most pervasive during older adulthood.

How, then, can we maintain our physical, mental, and emotional well-being while also protecting ourselves and loved ones during a pandemic? The following are some suggestions that may be helpful or, at the very least, may inspire new ideas on ways to spend time with others.

First, use whatever technology you can to stay connected. Create routines to see family and friends through applications such as Skype or FaceTime, or even just call on the telephone more often. Temporarily replacing a social event in our schedules with a virtual conversation with the same group may offer us a sense of stability while we maintain our relationships. Check out online forums, chat groups, and individual messaging options for us to write to our friends and family instantly and conveniently. Return to some old-style communication. For example, writing a letter by hand about your life updates and physically mailing it to distant relatives might provide an opportunity to reflect and wait patiently for responses.

Second, keep a private circle of immediate family or close neighbors to see in person who also limit their interactions with others. While continuing to maintain physical protections by wearing masks and frequently washing your hands, you can be in the physical presence of a few others who do the same. Enjoy the Colorado summer by going on a walk with a friend outside or visiting with a relative from a distance in your front yard – just wear masks, keep a distance of six feet and refrain from touching anyone. Enjoy the people you can be around, even from a distance.

In short, we need to maintain close social connections. While living through a global crisis, we must either create new ways or return to our previously preferred methods of keeping up with our loved ones. Through this process we can individually grow as flexible older adults and grow as a resilient community.

For more information about the risks of social isolation for older adults or to find resources available to you, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging Program website at https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html.

Anna Robertson, B.S. is a psychology doctoral student training at the UCCS Aging Center. For more information, contact her at arobert4@uccs.edu or call the Aging Center at 719-255-8002.

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