As we limit our in-person social engagement to slow the spread of COVID-19, we may need to be more proactive to keep social interactions a part of our daily routine. Creative uses of technology can go a long way towards keeping us from getting too stir crazy.
Why Do We Need Social Connection?
We are social creatures by nature. Consequently, feelings of disconnection (loneliness, isolation, as well as shame) not only interfere with our biological functioning but can impact our mental functioning as well. Loneliness and isolation can contribute to our feelings of depression and anxiety, which in turn take a toll on our physical health. Loneliness has even been shown to be linked to a greater susceptibility to the common cold[i]. Other studies have demonstrated that stronger social connections contribute to longer lifespan, stronger immunity, and decreased rates of diseases such as heart disease[ii].
In the best of times, researchers consider three factors to assess one’s sense of social isolation[iii]:
Frequency of social interactions
Size of your social network
Quality of social interactions
We enjoy spontaneous and planned interactions with friends and family throughout a normal week. During social distancing, finding a balance of frequency and quality remotely may require getting more out of the technologies you already use and maybe trying some new ones. Try to be sure you’re checking in verbally with someone at least daily.
Here are some ideas to get you started on how to approximate in-person connections from a (possibly long, long) distance:
Sharing a Laugh
Send a joke text to one of your friends every morning. Need a joke?
Animals being silly always makes me chuckle.
Sharing a Meal
Zoom may not be the way we typically enjoy a dinner party with friends, but technology does allow us to virtually cook and eat together.
Zoom meal: You can get your distant family or nearby friends together for a “shared” meal by propping up everyone’s phones on the dinner table.
FaceTime a friend while you both make the same new recipe with whatever random items you (or a friend?) panic bought. You can get free cookbooks from your local library online through the free Libby app.
Many of us won’t just miss our workout at the gym or yoga studio, but we’ll also miss the feeling of community. Working out together can also give us that extra push to hold a pose a little longer, reach deep for that final set, or even just show up in the morning when our bed is so very cozy!
If you want the support and challenge of others, check your local gym and studios for online options in your own neighborhood!
Lifting the Spirit
I grew up in Alabama, so I know that football is considered one of the major religions in some parts. Whatever our place of worship, chances are that our regular spiritual routine is being impacted for now. We might think about what part of our spiritual life we can recreate elsewhere:
For others, prayer will be the community practice they most miss. You can create (or continue) a prayer circle in your neighborhood or across the globe.
For others, charitable acts keep their values and spirit aligned. Offering support to others in need.
Sometimes, in great uncertainty, focusing on what is certain can ground us. This could take the form of a gratitude practice.
Having Some Fun
Spending time with others who share our interests can help keep worries in perspective. Italians quarantined to their homes have taken to singing and playing music from their windows and balconies.
My nieces and nephews have organized a study break group dance party via Zoom. The host can play the song (or each participant can mute their setting and jam out to their own playlist), and if you choose Gallery view, you won’t miss everyone’s best moves.
Kate Sheehan, LCSW
Managing Director of CARES
[i] Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Skoner DP, Rabin BS, Gwaltney JM. Social Ties and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. JAMA. 1997;277(24):1940–1944.
[ii] Berkman, Glass, Brissette, & Seeman, 2000; Cohen, Doyle, Skoner, Rabin, & Gwaltney, 1997; Steptoe, Shankar, Demakakos, & Wardle, 2013
[iii] Berkman–Syme Social Network Index : frequency, size, quality. Berkman LF, Syme SL (1979) Social networks, host resistance, and mortality: a nine-year follow-up study of Alameda County residents. Am J Epidemiol 109:186–204