Social distancing or distant socialising?

26th March 2020

Considering the human side of quarantine


As psychologists, we have been considering the human aspect of the present situation.

As the UK has closed its restaurants, bars and most of its shops to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is not surprising that people are missing the social events and connections from their everyday lives. This is something that is only going to impact each of us more, as we continue to engage in this (now announced as) three weeks lockdown.

People are advised they must stay at home and engage in social distancing even if not infected by COVID-19 to help flatten the curve. However, the term “social distancing” could be misleading. Of course, it is important that we keep two meters away from others if we still have to leave our homes. Nevertheless, it is physical distance that is required of us and not a social one.

Isolation and Mental Health

Humans are social animals and hence our wellbeing is strongly influenced by our relationships and social activity. Our brains develop to interact and get feedback from our social groups. Without the feedback from social interaction our sense of identity, worth, self esteem and standing becomes challenged. Now, more than ever it is essential that we seek to maintain or even increase our social connections during this time of uncertainty.

Isolation can lead to loneliness, which not only affects our mental health, but also impacts our physical health. Indeed, loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increase in early mortality risk. The lack of social connection can also increase health risks  and has been compared with the impact of smoking as many as 15 cigarettes a day. It has also been shown that being isolated is two times more harmful to both physical and mental health than obesity.

Mental wellbeing on the other hand refers to how you are feeling and how you can cope with day-to-day life. Given that our mental wellbeing is dynamic, it is not surprising that now many of us are experiencing changes to our self-esteem, confidence, productivity and emotions.

Moving from Social Distancing to Physical Distancing

In this context, using the term “Social distancing” is actually semantically inaccurate as it refers in fact to a physical distance rather than a social one. 

Hence physical distancing would be a better description of what is actually asked of people to do.

The WHO has now been starting to advocate and use Physical distancing as opposed to Social distancing. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and COVID-19 Technical Lead at the WHO recently said:You may have heard us use the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing and -while- keeping the physical distance from people so that we can prevent the virus from transferring to one another -is-  absolutely essential (…) it doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”


Introducing Distant Socialising


Jamil Zaki, a psychologist from Stanford University, also went against the concept of social distancing and said that instead we should be talking about distant socialising. This expression incorporates the socialising aspect needed by people to get together, especially in these difficult times, while acknowledging the physical distance that needs to be maintained.

So what can we do or what can we advocate to make sure that we can remain together, even if physically apart?

Psychological Tips

Here are some psychological tips to equip you with battling isolation:

  • As we’re experiencing a current lack of control in our life, it would be helpful to look for ways to gain the control back. This could for example include setting up boundaries to balance work-life balance at home better. Think of things that you do have control over – even little things give us a sense of reassurance.
  • The best way to overcome isolation is  with the help of social support. Reach out to your family members, friends and acquaintances. 
  • Establish rituals that can give some structure to your everyday life. Make sure that these rituals do include some social time!

Practical Tips

Some more practical tips to manage your stress levels:

  • Stay connected with others using technology. Most people around the world will be spending their days indoors. Many will feel equally isolated and would be open to start a conversation, even if you don’t do so regularly. 
  • Exercise! Whatever suits you let that be streaming a yoga class online or going out for a run in the park.
  • Even if working from home, don’t just use communication channels such as Zoom when you have a direct objective. Equally you can use these platforms to hold coffee time, to just have a chat with your colleagues how you would in person. Even better if you can establish a time for this each day.
  • Look out for others! If you have noticed there are elderly people living in your community ask for their phone number ( perhaps by sliding in a note under their door). These individuals are often not comfortable using technology and hence are most at risk for loneliness. Having a small chat with them over the phone can make a huge difference to them. Furthermore, it can also boost many of your neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin, simply because helping others feels good. Win-win!
  • Digital Sunday dinner with friends and family who are apart from you via conference video call. 


And some fun activities!

Furthermore, we have researched some creative initiatives out there to help you have some fun or do something different while distant socialising:

  • Art: 12 world class museums that you can now visit online or Google Arts & Culture 
  • Virtual Pub: Missing having a pint? Fear no more, Brewdog are soon introducing their online bar
  • Parties: if you are missing going out, the Houseparty app is becoming increasingly popular to entertain all generations. The video chat app facilitates spontaneous gatherings and is aiming to  replicating social life for the millions stuck indoors 
  • Some games that you are able to play with your friends from the comfort of your own home. But you can also playing games via video conferencing – such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk etc 
  • Talk on the phone with someone else stuck at home
  • Free meditation classes 
  • Online cooking classes: loads of people are now sharing their cooking skills via Instagram or Youtube, you can also find tips on how to to eat healthily during this particular time.


Do let us know in the comments you have found any activities that help you manage the current situation or that can help others! We are in this together.



As psychologists, we help you understand the ‘whys’ behind human behaviour. We work with you to adapt, grow and be ready in time of changes. We help you to make the uncertain (more) clear. We’re currently supporting employees and companies through organisational changes, please contact us at [email protected] if you want to discuss further.

Author: Innovationbubble