Social distancing is necessitating a fundamental shift in how many of us connect with others in the world.
Those of us with no prior experience self-isolating are learning that the undeniable importance of expressing care for ourselves and for others in our community by keeping our distance from them does not make it much easier in practice.
Especially hard-hit are people who live alone and who generally rely on in-person interaction to fulfill their social needs. It can be overwhelming to contemplate a revamp of how we interact, especially during these uncertain times. Yet human connection is more essential in these circumstances than ever.
Fortunately, we have a wealth of resources at our disposal to help us bridge the distance. The internet has been crucial not just for disseminating information about safety measures and available resources for COVID-19 relief but also for providing a range of communication tools.
The net virality of these resources has the potential to be a powerful counteractive to the literal virus by helping us fight the psychological effects of isolation and organize to support one another.
One of the ways that I’ve been staying connected — and sane (although I realize that’s subjective, at best) is through video calls.
The idea itself seems pretty obvious; in lieu of being able to physically share the same space with someone, the next best thing is at least getting to see and hear them. Our brains release much more oxytocin (the “love hormone”) from this than from just texting, if not quite so much as when we have physical contact.
This is key to our feeling of connectedness and overall well being, as oxytocin also triggers dopamine release. In other words, social contact lights up the reward circuit of the brain, making us feel happier and more fulfilled.
Having to pencil in times for talking with everyone in place of the spontaneous, serendipitous interactions that were broadly possible pre-pandemic is its own challenge, however, as is finding an effective platform. Based on my personal experience, here are some tips that can help.
WHEN TO CONNECT
Google Calendar allows people to sync their schedules to find shared free time, but this may get unwieldy as the size of the group grows.
Doodle polls might be more useful with larger groups, as the platform highlights the times shared by the most people. This simplifies the readout and makes the effort of getting everyone to self-report availability worthwhile.
Disclaimer: It can feel weirdly like you’re scheduling family and friends in the way you would a work agenda. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want to see them. Instead, you could just be tired, which is a very normal feeling to have in the midst of a pandemic.
One suggestion (especially for introverts) is to schedule optimistically in terms of what you imagine your social energy will look like, while also letting your family and friends know that you’ll be granting yourself the grace to back out if you aren’t feeling up to joining after all.
Remember that not having anywhere to go doesn’t actually mean you should be expected to be socially available all the time. It’s perfectly OK to not have an “excuse” for ducking out.
WHERE TO CONNECT
Zoom has been getting a lot of traction as the video chatting platform of choice as shelter-in-place ordinances have rolled out across the United States.
However, the increase in traffic has also made it a bigger target of online attacks, with malicious users exploiting the notable weaknesses in Zoom’s security to take over video feeds, among other things.
Jitsi is free to use, open source, and very secure, but it doesn’t support end-to-end encryption.
Discord is fairly well known among gamers, but you don’t have to game to reap the benefits of the platform. It’s free, offers the ability to conduct group video calls of up to 10 people with simultaneous screen sharing, has built in DDoS protection, but also does not support end-to-end encryption.
You can even make separate servers for different topics and invite people to join based on interest, potentially opening your social options beyond your current friend group. This works great for getting different groups together to watch shows and play video or tabletop games — activities that are light and fun to get to know people over.
Even if you don’t feel up to focusing on the activity in question, just ambiently existing together via video can help you feel connected.
These are just a few of the video chatting options to help stay connected during this time when everyone is asked to practice social distancing. There are a lot of resources, but it’s OK to still feel lonely.
Touch deprivation is real, so if you can, try taking long, warm baths and wrapping yourself up in blankets to simulate human touch and its benefits. Remember to treat yourself with kindness. Even if doing so doesn’t feel urgent, we need to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to care for those around us.
We’re all in this together, even when we’re physically apart. Connect, not divide.