How is COVID-19 impacting your connections with family and friends?

Social cohesion is needed now more than ever now that most of us are spending more time at home in response to the government. As the government mandates for how we must do our part to ‘flatten the curve’ and minimize the deadly impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours can get stronger or may suffer from this dramatic change to how we conduct our lives. 

We’ve all heard the joke that introverts have been training for this their whole lives … with the assumption that it is easy for them to be alone. But for many people this crisis is combined with job loss, financial stresses and worries about the future. While introverts may not experience the same depths of loneliness, they will certainly be impacted by social isolation if this situation continues, as some predict, for months to come.

While most reports still use the term ‘social distancing’, we prefer to think of this as a time for ‘physical distancing’ and ‘social cohesion’.

NOTE: Thank you to Dr. Chris Mackie (@Healthmac on Twitter) for changing the conversation:

Screenshot showing tweet from LeeStJ re: physical distancing and social cohesion to connect people during COVID.
Screenshot showing tweet from @LeeStJ re: physical distancing and social cohesion to connect people during COVID.


One in 3 U.S. adults 45 and older consider themselves to be lonely. According to a 2018 survey by AARP Foundation, loneliness is defined as: “A subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship.” It is distinct from social isolation in that you can feel lonely in a crowd.

Social Isolation

Social isolation, however, is related to the actual number of interactions we have with people on any given day. According to the National Seniors Council of Canada, it is defined as: “Low quantity and quality of contact with others”. Examples of life events that contribute to social isolation include retirement, the abrupt end of daily work relationships and the death of close friends or spouses.

According to a 2013 article in the National Institute of Health, “The elderly have a unique set of isolating dynamics. Increasing frailty, possible declines in overall health, absent or uninvolved relatives or children, economic struggles can all add to the feeling of isolation.” (Read the full article: Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women; by Andrew Steptoe,1Aparna ShankarPanayotes Demakakos, and Jane Wardle)

These symptoms are associated with social isolation:

  • increased chance of premature death
  • depression
  • poor mental health
  • increased use of health and support services
  • caregiver burden
  • reduced quality of life
  • disability from chronic diseases

What can you do?

If you are starting to experience the symptoms of social isolation, it may be difficult for you to reach out and ask for help. While everyone is doing their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We must also do our best to reduce the risk of negative health outcomes associated with social isolation.

Here are some suggestions to keep your spirits up and to lift the spirits of people in your social circle:

  • Schedule time each day to reach out to someone by phone. For instance, hearing your voice is better than reading an email or text message
  • Stay connected to family and friends with the help of technology (email, social media, FaceTime/Skype/Zoom calls, etc.)
  • Mail a card or letter to let someone know that you are thinking of them!
  • Stand on your front porch (or balcony) and wave to people at a safe distance.
  • Join – a localized social media platform that allows you to get to know your neighbours

Now is the time for us to come together as communities of caring people. Physical distancing – yes – but with some simple steps, we can create social cohesion to stem the tide of COVID-19. Above all, reduce the effects of social isolation.

About the Author

Lee St James is the Founder & President of Social Robots Inc., a social connection innovator for the sandwich generation. Follow her on Twitter @leestj.