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Social Distancing: What it means and how you can manage it in day-to-day life

Q&A with Licensed Psychologist, Marni Amsellem, Ph.D

What exactly is social distancing? 

Social distancing is something that we are all being asked to do right now. The exact spacing or the exact amount of people you should be around is a little bit in flux, but the idea is that we need to be maintaining a safe distance from one another so that the virus does not spread. 

As social beings, how could social distancing affect us? 

For the vast majority of us, we live a life in which we are physically present around one another, though being social does not necessarily require physical presence. In many respects, our lives are being upended, but in many respects, they’re not. This is just requiring a shift in perspective to know that we can still be social while maintaining a distance. 

How can we avoid becoming emotionally disconnected from others during this time?

That’s a very real thing because one part of the social distance certainly means that you’re not going to be having meet-ups with people as often as you would. The way that we are now being asked to engage socially means that we will have to be very mindful of our decisions about continuing to engage with others. It will just be through different means.

Fortunately, we do live in a time where technology can enable a lot of social interaction, whether through video calls, good old-fashion telephone, social media, or email. There are options for us to continue to engage and be mindful of the very real possibility that we could get sucked into new habits of not making an effort. So it’s going to take intention and mindfulness at the outset to reach out, which is something that you might not have done otherwise. So I do think there will be many silver linings that can come out of this situation. We might not be poised to see them at the moment, however, it might be that we are being more intentional about our need to engage socially.

Can you offer some advice on managing feelings of anxiety?

Collectively, our level of anxiety has risen, and it’s something to pay attention to. Do a self-scan and recognize what it feels like for you right now. If your anxiety is feeling uncomfortable, that is a moment to intervene. Do something each day to help let out some of the stress, and identify what some of these behaviours can be proactively. There are a lot of great tips circulating right now for ideas for when you are in a self-isolation or quarantine situation, as far as doing things creatively, socially (from a distance), or taking time to disconnect. I recommend that each day, do something that you know has worked in the past for you, as well as using this opportunity to try new things. Many of us do have more time now. Maybe this is the time to learn a new skill online, or open the sketch pad and start drawing. Seize that moment, and that can be a great way to channel some of the anxiety.

Another useful strategy is to manage the information that you are receiving. If your social media feed is triggering, make a mindful decision about how to engage with your social media. However, if you’ve chosen your feed to look more calming or you’re using it as a way to connect, reach out, and support one another, be mindful about that. Be mindful of your intake of news stories, and look for quality and trusted news sources.

Professionally, how can we manage social distancing while working with colleagues? 

One thing to recognize is that everyone is in a similar boat of being shuffled around. Some are now working from home in perhaps a really cramped setting with no privacy, and others might be isolated, or have limited connectivity or resources at home. Everyone is adjusting to this and going through some challenges, so it’s okay to offer compassion to your colleagues. It’s not always going to be light conversation right now, but maybe it can be, and that’s okay. It can be extremely healthy to interject humour and levity into the conversation. 


What advice can you offer parents at this time?

This is a huge shift. The advice varies depending on the age of the children, their individual needs, and how much restriction or change is going on in each family situation. There are really nice things about togetherness. Children might realize it’s not so wonderful to be staring at the screen all the time, so they can play outside or learn new skills. There might be a lot more independence-building happening now with children.

How can you explain social distancing to kids without causing them anxiety?  

Children are pretty quick to pick up on anxiety and what’s going on. A lot of this answer depends on the age of the child. Older school-aged children are following what’s happening and are on social media themselves, so they’re seeing information come in. But a lot of how they make sense of the world comes from what’s being communicated at home. If a parent is very anxious about this, they will certainly pick up on the anxiety. If a parent is making light of this, the child will pick up on that too. A lot of attitudes are learned close to home, and they can certainly be modified by other experiences that they have.

Acknowledge anxiety and be a model of managing anxiety in a way that is healthy and proactive. Work through the challenge and adversity. When children observe that the adults in their life are trying their best, this is a positive lesson for them on how they can face their own challenges.

And how do you manage it with small children or really social ones? 

They’re still learning from the world around them. In some areas, playgrounds have closed. It’s a confusing message to communicate to a young child that playgrounds aren’t safe for us right now. So always communicate that the children aren’t doing anything wrong and they are not being punished. Washing our hands is always a priority, and the way we cannot spread it is to take precautions. One way to do that is to limit our distance to just the people in our home and to remind them that everyone is abiding by these rules right now, and we will get through this together.

If we are going to do minimal playdates etc., how can we best manage these so that kids still have fun? 

A lot of people have started to move toward virtual interaction done over video where they’re interacting with their friends. That is what needs to be done at this current time. Even though they aren’t in school or daycare, children are still getting face-to-face time and physical contact with those that they live with. This is a time where you might have to go a bit more out of your way to engage directly and facilitate virtual meet-ups. It depends on your geographical restrictions, but perhaps they can also play outside while maintaining distance.

Read more about managing your anxiety here.


Dr. Marnie Amsellem is a licenced psychologist based in Fairfield County, CT.  Her private practice, Smart Health Psychology, specializes in helping clients manage anxiety, depression, adjustment to medical and health-related challenges, and life transitions. It is affiliated with Yale New Haven Health’s Smilow Cancer Care Hospital. Dr. Amsellem earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, specialization in health psychology, from Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Amsellem has been sharing coping strategies each day this week on the social media for her journaling community at