With the advent of “Safer at Home,” and “Shelter in Place,” many of us are looking for ways to keep in touch with family, friends, and co-workers, maintain our sanity, stay healthy, and even tackle some new challenges. There has never been a time when it’s been more important.
Social isolation can be harmful to the psyche and body in a multitude of ways. Julianne HoltLunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that a decreased amount of social connection can be as taxing on the body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or ongoing heavy drinking. And, loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
But there are solutions we can take advantage of right now, and even better, have fun, and grow our social networks, and our neural pathways at the same time. Here, we detail ways to increase your physical, mental, and sensory states, connect with others, learn new skills, and up your energy and well-being.
Make time to connect
Schedule regular phone or, even better, video calls with friends, co-workers, and family. Hold online happy hours, join virtual book clubs, knitting/painting/gaming groups, or workout with a buddy via streaming or online classes. Research suggests that just seeing each others’ facial expressions, online or in person, can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.
These shifts might feel cumbersome at first (downloading and learning how to use new communication software, for instance), but learning something new has significant advantages: brain chemistry changes, learning speeds increase, we build resistance to dementia, and it makes us happier.
Here are several easy-to-use platforms that can help foster connections one on one, among a small group, or to help you throw that raging party you were planning:
For Apple fans, FaceTime is a great app to use one-on-one or if you’re planning your virtual happy hour. It can accommodate up to 32 people. Those looking to gather a group can look to Zoom, which can support a group of 100 people, and it’s free for meetings up to 40 minutes long.
Facebook Messenger video chats allow you to see up to six people at once but can accommodate more than 50 altogether. Google Hangouts allows up to 25 on a video call. Houseparty can host up to eight people on a call, as well as Duo, and Skype up to 50 people.
For staying in touch with family and friends, Snapchat can be used to send short messages and videos and get silly with ‘stickers,’ ‘hats’ and filters that make the messages more interactive and fun. WhatsApp lets you send messages and make phone calls with or without video, and is the most popular mobile social app in the world, with 1.6 billion users every month.
Change your physical state
Another way to increase feelings of connection is to surround yourself with warmth. Things such as a hot bath, a cup of hot tea, or warm comfort food can help stave off feelings of loneliness: research indicates that warmth can mimic the feel of physical touch and activates similar neural pathways as those triggered in attachment bonding.
De-clutter: Having clutter in the home, and a feeling of unfinished projects, can add to stress and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can be the ideal time to take on that project of purging and reorganizing, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment, in addition to the cleanliness, and upping your sense of joy. Here are some easy methods to do so.
Bring nature inside: adding elements such as plants, nature sounds, bright lights, and color therapy can help mimic the sensation of nature. So even if you can’t get outside, or a loved one you are caring for is unable to, you can increase the sense of outdoors, a proven mood-booster, at home. Here are some tips to get your nature fix while staying indoors.
Get physical: The Mayo Clinic echoes what you probably already know: regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems, including stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, many types of cancer, arthritis, and depression, and anxiety. It also improves mood, boosts energy, and promotes better sleep, which we all can use a good amount of at this time. Buzzfeed lists several YouTube channels you can access for online workouts for free. Also, have a look at this list from Good Morning America for streaming online workout platforms and discounts.
Look after your mental health: There has never been a more important time to monitor your state of mind. Boredom, uncertainty, stress, and isolation can be highly detrimental to keeping yourself afloat. Meditation, adequate sleep, establishing routines, and, if needed, speaking with a mental health professional can help when you’re feeling out of sorts, depressed or anxious. Check out this list for some excellent apps to take better care of yourself.
Another way to up your mental state is to give back. A multitude of studies show that giving back is good for us in more ways than we might realize, including activating the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, gratitude, optimism, and trust. It also has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, and even lower death rates. Here are some wonderful ways to give to others during social distancing, and support your local community and businesses, as well.
Finally, take advantage of the downtime to learn something new
If you want to take on some new challenges, the LA Times provides some excellent information on how to learn, and experience the outside world, at home. Consider diving into a new book, (or join a virtual book club), get your culture fix on a digital walk through a museum using Google Arts & Culture, listen to some live music with concerts, festivals, and events, or theater at your fingertips. Even take a virtual garden tour.
There’s never been a better time to explore the world, even if it’s from home, and realize how connected we are, and how we have to offer each other.