As we continue to acclimate to our new lifestyles, uncertainty looms over how long our days of social isolation will last. Even for those of us who are keeping busy working from home, taking up a hobby, or catching up on our favourite Netflix shows, the monotony of our newly shaped lives can take a toll. For most, if not all of us, these are unprecedented times, and we have yet to truly understand the long-term implications that this prolonged isolation will have on our mental and physical health. 

According to the American Psychological Association, individuals are most likely to experience chronic loneliness when they don’t have the emotional, mental or financial resources to get out and satisfy their social needs, or they lack a social circle that can provide these benefits.

With holidays such as Passover and   Easter on the horizon, feelings of hopelessness, despair and even depression may creep in at the thought of not being surrounded by your family and friends to celebrate as you normally would. These effects are further compounded if the employee lives alone and is not self-isolating with anyone else.

As employers, we can promote having a positive mindset during these times. In doing so, we can assist employees by lessening the effects of isolation and loneliness, especially around times of traditional social gatherings. Here are my recommendations that I encourage you to share with your employees:

  1. Host a virtual gathering

Whether it’s Easter, Passover, a birthday, or any other celebration that might be approaching in April, remind your employees that they don’t need to celebrate alone! Although the anti-social effects of social media has been documented, now is truly the time to use “social media” to your advantage. With video software such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom, you can connect with dozens of your family and friends at the same time. Give it a positive spin and make any celebration spent in isolation “one for the books.” Encourage your employees to host a “communal” dinner with their family and/or friends, and enjoy each other’s company from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

Additionally, if a genuine face-to-face encounter is what they seek, encourage them to visit a family member, friend, or neighbour who lives nearby by taking a walk. They can send them a quick message to pop outside and strike up a conversation from the sidewalk or driveway that respects social distancing measures. This face-to-face connection would be a nice surprise for anyone celebrating a special moment at this time! Furthermore, the fresh air and exercise can aid in combating any negative side effects of isolation.

  1. Get exercise and fresh air

Simply because gyms and other fitness centres are closed, doesn’t mean your workout routine must end. According to the National Institute of Aging, social isolation and loneliness can have serious impacts on one’s physical health, including: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system. Now is the time to ensure you and your employees are taking your physical and mental health seriously. Whether it’s a makeshift gym or exercise spot at home, or you choose to take a daily walk around the block, make exercise a priority. In addition to the many physical benefits of exercise, researchers have found exercise to alleviate symptoms such as social withdrawal.

Although we can’t deny the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on us, recent reports shared from around the world have shown that social distancing and isolation have had a temporary benefit on the environment. With Earth Day recognized on April 22nd, be sure to promote it by encouraging your employees to enjoy their outside surroundings and appreciate all that nature has to offer!

While these are challenging times, remind your employees that they are not alone in this battle.  By keeping in mind that preventative measures such as social distancing and isolation are only temporary, and if we all play our part, our lives will go back to normal in no time. As always, you may remind your employees to reach out to their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider to help them in their time of need.