Checking in on Lonely Loved Ones

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By News Team on November 16, 2020

As of midnight Nov. 15, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has limited in-person gatherings to 25 persons maximum, expanded the Commonwealth's mask mandate, established on-site alcohol curfews and increased enforcement of public health guidelines. Follow the link to learn more. 

And remember, the best way to prevent illness is to prevent exposure. COVID-19 spreads through person-to-person contact. Carilion Clinic’s Infectious Diseases experts strongly recommend that everyone:

Stay home whenever possible.
Avoid crowds and enclosed spaces if you must go out.
Wash your hands, keep your distance and wear a mask—every time.

This applies to individuals of every age, with or without underlying medical conditions.

This holiday season, it is more important than ever to check in on loved ones to see how COVID-19 prevention guidelines are affecting them—especially if they live alone.

By now we are all familiar with the essential guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus:

  • Stay home as much as possible
  • Practice social distancing by staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds and mass gatherings and limiting close contact with anyone not in your household
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and with alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Wear a mask whenever you are in public places, such as a grocery store or gas station

The most current set of restrictions set by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam went into effect midnight Nov. 15, 2020. 

Mental Health and the Pandemic 
In addition to the physical effects of COVID-19, these necessary social distancing practices can have complex psychological effects on people as well.

So in addition to taking preventive measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones from infection, it is also important to recognize and address the impact of the pandemic on our mental health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances

These symptoms can lead to depression, which can look different for men than it does for women, and affect young people differently as well. For those of us with male seniors and vulnerable loved ones, encouraging them to seek support for both physical and emotional needs can be a challenge. Please consider using this list as a guide and check in with your loved ones to help then identify and respond to the challenges they may be facing.

young mother with school age son smiling at handheld device while cooking
Ask solitary loved ones to share recipes and stories so you can cook and share meals "together."

If the emotional impact of the pandemic is interfering with daily life, encourage your loved one to see their primary care provider or a mental health professional. Video visits, MyChart communications and mail-order prescriptions are available so that they can receive the care they need from the safety and comfort of home.

If their stress or loneliness is manageable, start them off by helping them take care of their body:

  • Eat healthy meals “together” while remaining at least 6 feet apart
  • Exercise together when you can and encourage them to exercise regularly
  • Encourage them to get plenty of sleep

Then you might encourage them to do things that strengthen them emotionally:

  • Building a support network by sharing concerns with family members or friends
  • Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news, including on social media
  • Staying informed by learning from fact-based, reliable sources such as Carilion Clinic’s coronavirus web page and the Virginia Department of Health and CDC websites

And of course, seeking support when needed from health care and mental health professionals.

We can expect that social distancing guidelines to be in place through the holiday season and winter, so keep this list handy to review again from time to time with those you care about, but can't be with right now.

And remember, you don’t have to wait until your daily life is affected by emotional distress for several days or longer; the earlier you seek outside support, the earlier you can feel better.
An eariler version of this article was reviewed by Robert Trestman, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic; it has been updated to include new coronavirus restrictions put in place by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, effective midnight Nov. 15, 2020.

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