by experts in mental wellbeing programs and evaluation at VicHealth Last updated: 03 Apr, 2020

With the rapid changes surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak, comes a human response.

Life as we knew it has changed as our governments work hard to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Viral videos show people singing while they wash their hands (sing Happy birthday twice, or pick a song of your choice), and working from home is no longer an option for some, but actively encouraged for most.

And the term ‘social distancing’ has swept across the globe alongside the coronavirus pandemic, but more health experts are calling it ‘physical’ distancing because while we need to stay away from each other physically, it’s vital we retain our social connections.

Why ‘social distancing’ is being relabelled as ‘physical distancing’

This small word change follows advice from experts, and reflects the need to support people’s mental health and wellbeing at this difficult time.

While we know many people are still using the term ‘social distancing’ we’re choosing to call it physical distancing because we want to ensure everybody knows we can still be social (and we need to be).

In fact, Australians are proving that staying home doesn’t equal social isolation, with new displays of kindness such as the balcony opera performance in the video below.

Popular video calling apps are also experiencing record numbers of downloads, and with so many communities turning virtual to band together, maybe more people will start to use the word ‘physical’ instead of ‘social’.

So what does social/physical distancing mean?

In short, it means we need to follow the advice to  stay at home as much as possible and only leave the house for essential trips. When we’re outside the house it’s critical we stay 1.5 metres away from others, avoid busy areas as much as possible, and wash our hands with soap and water when we return home.

Learn more about what this means for you in our previous blog post.

Tips on how we can keep our distance but stay connected

  • Schedule virtual catchups

    Hangout with family and friends via video chat. If you’d usually meet up for dinner or coffee – do this while catching up online. Got kids? Schedule virtual playdates! Got friends who live alone? Book in regular check-ins with them.

  • Write a ‘virtual letter’

    Remember before the internet when people used to practise the art of letter-writing? It’s a great time to find a pen-friend, and a long email is a great virtual alternative to save you having to leave your home to go to a post office. Not sure who to write to? Kids could write to their grandparents, especially as they can’t visit them at the moment (just take photos of hand-written letters and email them). Otherwise, aged-care residents are also a great starting point – whether you know them personally or not. Call an aged-care centre and ask for an email address.

  • Get creative

    Use the time you would normally spend at events, restaurants, cafes, or with friends to do something thoughtful for someone – draw a picture, sing a song, or share that secret recipe you’ve kept to yourself in the past (bonus points for synchronising a cook-off in respective houses, and sharing the results via photo/video!).  

  • Do a good deed

Can you provide essential services for your community? Search for local Facebook groups where people coordinate grocery shops for people in self-isolation, or simply share your excess veggie garden produce with your neighbours by leaving it on their door step with a note (remember to wash your hands before and after).

These are just a handful of ideas – you’re only limited by your imagination! The most important thing is to stay connected.

For all coronavirus questions visit www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au or call the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) hotline on 1800 020 080.