“Social Distancing” does not need to be Social Isolation

In this day of uncertainty, there is one thing I know for sure, “Community is stronger than COVID-19”. As the Executive Director of Cancer Support Community Montana, I have been witness to the ill effects that social isolation plays in the wellbeing of people, since this can be a common affliction when people are touched by cancer. Across all cultures, races, ages and genders, humans have basic needs for social and emotional connection.

The virus we are fighting today is forcing us all to stay at home, and rightly so. We need to each do our part to reduce transmission of the virus, flatten the curve and limit the number of new cases so we don’t overwhelm the medical resources. This includes washing your hands, frequently sanitizing common surfaces, staying home if you are sick, and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others. We call it “social distancing”, but I would like to suggest we rename it to be “physical distancing”. This has the same effect of keeping 6 feet away from other individuals, working from home if possible, and eliminating gatherings outside of the people you live with, but honors the fact that in this day and age, we have the ability to stay socially connected even during times when we can’t physically be together.

In the past few weeks, we have all been moved into uncertainty that may heighten fear and anxiety. We feel that things are out of control and life as we know it has been altered. At Cancer Support Community, we use the empowerment model which allows us to find a sense of control and clarity during times of uncertainty. Empowerment directs people to know that you are a grownup who is capable and able to make decisions that are best for you in this moment. We find empowerment by focusing in the following ways:

  1. Create Certainty. Working from home and having children learning remotely can make the schedule of life uncertain You can create scheduled times to learn, exercise, eat, work and play, and this will create a sense of certainty within your day. It also creates things to look forward to for each individual family member or team member at work.
  2. Create Social Time. Since you are physically distancing, it is important to be especially intentional to connect with others. Make a point to call friends and family every day to check-in. Set times when you all come together using FaceTime or Zoom video conferencing to get together with friends and others you love. You can schedule a “happy hour” or “game night” as a group. Get outside together on the end of each of your driveway with your neighbors to check-in together from a safe distance.
  3. Take care of your body. Boost your immune system through healthy eating, exercise, keeping your hands clean, and getting enough sleep. This will help you gain a sense of control vs “sitting back and helplessly waiting to get sick”.
  4. Situation Control. While it is important to keep informed of what is going on in the world, we must also regulate how much we accept news into our lives. Choose your news and social media carefully and occasionally in order to keep yourself focused on your life outside of COVID-19. Also, be careful not to cancel everything but instead be adaptively creative and figure out how to accomplish a similar outcome without physical closeness.

At Cancer Support Community, most programs have been moved online and there are even some programs being added utilizing Zoom, an online, HIPPA-protected platform that allows us to all see each other, share documents and enjoy the company of each other while maintaining a physical distance that keeps us safe. We are staffed all day so feel free to call our office to find resources when moving through a cancer diagnosis. Community is our “true north” as a way to reduce the isolation that is brought on by a cancer diagnosis, and we know how important it is to give space for people to see each other and find social connection. Let’s be creative together and instead of “social distancing”, lets socially connect while maintaining a physical distance.