- Maintaining social connections is important for mental and emotional health.
- Many people have turned to video chat outlets such as Zoom or Houseparty to stay connected during COVID-19 restrictions.
- Months into the pandemic, some people may be experiencing “Zoom fatigue” due to a number of reasons including social anxiety, feeling taxed from video chats at work, or numerous technical glitches that make online social interactions less fulfilling.
With the continued spike in U.S. COVID-19 cases this winter and increasingly restrictive measures that many states are taking, more time is being spent at home, distanced from our friends and loved ones.
By now, we all know the importance of maintaining social connections for our mental health amid the ongoing pandemic. For many, that means Zoom happy hours and Houseparty hangouts.
But several months into the pandemic, you may be suffering from “Zoom fatigue,” and experts say there’s a number of reasons for that.
“For starters, many of us are in video meetings for work throughout the day, so the idea of using it for socializing may not be appealing,” said Neda Gould, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of the Mindfulness Program at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
There’s also the unexpected technical glitches that cause conversations to lag, and the uncomfortable feedback of looking at yourself while speaking that can make video calls uncomfortable — especially for people with social anxiety.
What’s more, we lose much of the interpersonal interactions we have when we see people in person.
“As humans, we’re adapted to read social cues,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University.
“Throughout history, humans have had to read others’ emotions and nonverbal cues to help us predict our environment and better navigate the world. Those things are much harder to do over Zoom,” she explained. “We can’t really read body language and even some of the facial cues may be more difficult to read.”
This can lead to stilted conversations and feelings of awkwardness for anyone — and can be downright tortuous for those with social anxiety.
But fear not. If Zoom chats aren’t your thing, here are six ways to stay connected with others during COVID-19 restrictions.
Ask a friend (or several) if they’d be interested in selecting a book to read at the same time and organize a discussion around it.
This can be a great tool for social connection because “it gets us active and engaged,” Gould said. “Even while reading the book leading up to the chat, it can give us a sense of purpose and like you have someone to hold you accountable for something.”
While a live guided discussion via video call isn’t necessary (you can try an email thread or Facebook group instead), if you do choose this route, you may find it more comfortable than an open chat.
“Some structure to discussions can be helpful for anyone, but especially for someone with social anxiety,” Gould said. “It takes some of that pressure off to make small talk or come up with things to say.”
If you belong to a gym that offers virtual classes, sign up for one with your regular gym buddy or try a workout class on YouTube with a friend.
From yoga to dance, you can alternate who chooses the class each time, Holt-Lunstad suggests.
Not only will having another person to work out with hold you accountable to your fitness goals, you’ll get an endorphin boost from the physical activity and spending time with someone you care about.
Additionally, social fitness apps like Strava and Fitbit allow you to connect with friends, family, and even strangers to participate in fitness challenges and offer one another encouragement as you work to meet your goals.
“Food is such a social thing,” Holt-Lunstad said. “In many cultures, meals are a social event and can really help us feel connected to one another.”
Some ways to stay connected through food while being physically apart include sending photos to one another while cooking the same dish. You can then jump on a video or phone call after your meal to discuss what you enjoyed about the dish and potential recipe alterations.
There are a number of apps that allow users to play games like checkers, Scrabble, or card games virtually, but you don’t have to feel limited to your smartphone.
“I’d recommend taking a step back and asking yourself what is an activity you enjoy doing or would enjoy initiating, and seeing how you can mold that to this era of virtual connection,” Gould said.
“If you love doing crossword puzzles, for instance, bring someone else in who may enjoy that, too, via a phone call or an app,” she said.
If you’d like to spend time with someone in a more passive way, try hosting a virtual movie night with Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party). The Google Chrome extension synchronizes video playback and adds a group chat to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
Whether it’s donating items to a local organization that helps those in need, or dropping off a box of goodies on a friend’s or loved one’s doorstep, creating a care package for someone else is a great way to feel socially connected.
“It feels good for us to do nice things for others during this time, knowing that many people are really struggling, as well,” Gould said.
If the recipient is someone you know, for an extra connection boost, Gould recommends including supplies for a craft that you also have at home.
“You can call each other to work on it at the same time, or do it individually and send each other photos of the completed craft afterwards,” she said.
If a video call feels awkward or anxiety-provoking, go back to basics and try a regular phone call. And if that still doesn’t feel comfortable, try sending voice notes or a prerecorded video to friends and family.
“When you don’t have that live and real-time factor, you can open it and respond at your leisure and that can alleviate some pressure,” Gould said.
No matter your medium for connection, remember that it’s important to maintain connections while physically distancing and staying safe from COVID-19.
“We now have evidence that shows some of the very strong effects that social connection can have on our health and, much like we have to make time to be physically active, we need to prioritize our relationships for our health,” Holt-Lunstad said.