April 7, 2020

Staying connected despite coronavirus (COVID-19)

little girl doing online education

As Australians continue to practice social distancing and gathering restrictions are tightened, maintaining a healthy social life can become a challenge.

While the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures can be particularly challenging for people who are dependent on alcohol and other drugs, it may also result in new stressors for many people. Alcohol consumption can increase when people experience traumatic or stressful events - indicating people may use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

In times of crisis and increased stress, maintaining and strengthening our social connections and looking after our mental health has never been more important.

The importance of staying connected

Social belonging is so important that it’s recognised as a human need.1

Our friendships play a critical role in our happiness.2,3 Friendship provides people with companionship and affection and creates a space where we can feel valued and cared for.

Having positive social connections can help people to improve and maintain good mental health.4 Social support also helps us to manage stress better,4,5 and even appears to positively improve a range of physical health outcomes like cardiovascular disease.6

Spending time with friends and family is one of the most popular ways Australians manage stress – and it works.7 Our families, friends and colleagues are all important relationships in our lives that need to be nurtured, especially through times of adversity, such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

So, how do we do this now, when we can’t get together in the usual venues or gather in our homes?

We know we’re stronger together - and there are a range of creative ways that we can stay connected, even when we must be apart.

Inspiration for staying connected

Make your catch-ups virtual

  • Schedule a virtual dinner date. Many platforms offer video calling and multi-way video calling, including Whatsapp, Skype, Google Hangouts, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and House Party.
  • Have a distance movie night. The streaming service Netflix is offering ‘Netflix Party’, which synchronises the video and creates a chat. If you use a different service, counting-down to hitting ‘play’ over the phone and texting while you watch will work too.
  • Enjoy after-work mocktails. Brush up on your bartending skills and share some mocktail recipes with your friends.

Try an activity together

  • Try a new skill together. Pick a YouTube tutorial for a new skill, such as painting or drawing, origami, makeup, dancing or cooking. Recruit a few friends to all attempt the same tutorial and share your results.
  • Sign up for a fitness class. Many gyms are now offering online classes for yoga, Pilates, and other living room-friendly exercise that you can sign up for together. There are free classes available online as well.
  • Do your ‘been meaning to get to it’ thing. Most of us have something around the house we’ve been ‘meaning to’ get to – organise the wardrobe, sort through the overflowing cupboards, or a small home repair. Recruit a friend and exchange your before-and-after pictures of the task.

Get competitive (or co-operative)

  • Play some games. There are free versions of classics like chess, mah-jong, dominos and scrabble-type games available to keep you entertained and connected. For the tabletop gamers, there are several virtual tabletops available to help keep your social games night going.
  • Play some more games. Some video games, like massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) have a strong social element to them and can be enjoyed with like-minded friends. You can browse Steam for games by price (including free) and genre – just be sure the check the maturity rating first. It’s important to keep young people safe online. These safety strategies can help protect your young gamer.
  • Keep roleplaying (or try it out). People can still play roleplaying games (RPG) like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) or Pathfinder remotely. Set up your session via Skype or Google Hangouts, and download a free RPG dice rolling app if you don’t have your own set. Players can also use one of the range of online platforms for RPGs.

Loved one without internet access?

  • Set a regular time to talk. Scheduling a regular phone call with an isolated person can help give you both something to look forward to.
  • Try reading out loud over the phone. A short story or a chapter from a book could work well, especially if you have access to eBooks and they don’t.
  • Ask new questions. It can be surprising the things we may never get the chance to learn about our loved ones. There are many lists of questions online you can use for inspiration. Consider things such as: “What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you?”, “What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?”, or “What’s your earliest memory?”
  • Play a simple game. There easy games you can still play over the phone, like ‘Which is worse?’, ’20 questions’ or ‘6 degrees of separation’. These games could even be played over text.

Creating a social ‘new normal’

Some of the inspiration above is bound to lead to a few laughs together, and you might create a fun new tradition with your loved ones to keep continuing after this is all over.

  1. Gorman D. Maslow's hierarchy and social and emotional wellbeing. Aboriginal and Islander health worker journal. 2010 [cited 2020 Feb 30] ;34(1):27-9.
  2. Demir M, Ozen A, Dogan A, Bilyk N, Tyrell F. I matter to my friend, therefore I am happy: friendship, mattering, and happiness. Journal of happiness studies. 2011 [cited 2020 Feb 30];12:983-1005.
  3. Demir M, OZDEMIR M, Weitekamp L. Looking to happy tomorrows with friends: best and close friendships as they predict happiness. Journal of happiness studies. 2007 [cited 2020 Feb 30];8:243-71.
  4. Holt-Lunstad J. Why social relationships are important for physical health: A systems approach to understanding and modifying risk and protection. Annual review of psychology. 2018 [cited 2020 Feb 30];69:437-58.
  5. Hostinar C, Gunnar M. Social Support Can Buffer Against Stress and Shape Brain Activity. AJOB Neuroscience. 2015 [cited 2020 Feb 30];6(3).
  6. Reblin M, Uchino B. Social and emotional support and its implications for health. Current opinion in psychiatry. 2008 [cited 2020 Feb 30];21(2):201-5.
  7. Australian Psychological Society. Stress & wellbeing: how Australians are coping with life. APS; 2015 [cited 2020 Feb 30].

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