By Carol Hymowitz

Staying at home and staying away from others is the new normal.

More than two-thirds of Americans across 30 states have been directed not to leave their homes or apartments except to buy food, pick up medical prescriptions or get some exercise, and more may soon be told to stick to the same restrictions.

The measures are considered essential to slowing the spread of Covid-19.  But they’re also raising concerns about social isolation and loneliness, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and other illnesses, according to research by Stanford Longevity Center.

This is especially threatening for older adults who’ve had to halt activities many say keep them physically and mentally fit—everything from volunteer work and adult education classes to gym workouts and book clubs.   Most live independently and at a distance from adult children and grandchildren. One-in four-lives alone.

What are some ways to combat social isolation and loneliness during the pandemic?  Mental health and public health experts advise the following:

Stick to a regular schedule. Get out of bed and dressed each day as you would if you were venturing out to meet a friend.  Exercise at home or take a walk or bike ride at the same time each day to provide structure and stay fit. Eat healthy meals at regular times instead of snacking throughout the day.

Start some at-home projects that you’ve long wanted to tackle and which provide pleasure and a sense of productivity. Tap into your creativity by experimenting with drawing, writing, singing or cooking new recipes.

Use technology to stay connected with family and friends. Many older adults are now doing group chats and making video conference calls to stay in touch with loved ones.  Many are learning how to do this from younger people such as their grandchildren or younger friends.

Use whatever communication method is most available and comfortable for you. If you don’t have Internet or you don’t want to be seen on video calls, stick to phone calls. Even brief calls, to ask “how are you doing?” or to say “I’m thinking of you,” are helpful.

Be sensitive with people of all ages. You don’t want to phone others simply to spread your own fears by venting about the alarming Covid-19 statistics you’re hearing on television.

Find ways to help others, which will alleviate your own loneliness. Even people who are never or hardly ever leaving their homes or apartments can make daily phone calls to a friend who needs companionship, or they can help neighbors arrange for deliveries of groceries.

Make a concerted effort to reach out to older adults who live alone or who don’t have a family. Residents in some apartment buildings in cities and some neighborhoods in suburbs and small towns are creating phone bank and email communities to stay in touch with one another and identify those in need of assistance.

Support health care providers on the front-lines of fighting the pandemic—by donating to groups that are providing needed medical equipment or joining others in your community to cheer for nurses  and doctors at a certain time each day.

People who are feeling highly anxious or depressed should contact their physician or connect with a mental health provider.  Many therapists and other social service providers are now conferring with clients on the phone.

Recognize the strengths you’ve displayed getting through past difficult times and try to stay positive.  Identify small joys and pleasures you can enjoy each. Among these: listening to–and dancing–to your favorite songs, reconnecting by phone or email with friends and relatives you’ve been out of touch with, sharing jokes with others, watching a sunset or sunrise from your window at home.

Carol Hymowitz is an author, journalist and visiting fellow at the Stanford Center on Longevity.