If you used to commute to an office and picked up a latte from the same spot everyday, you’re probably no longer making small talk with your barista. There’s no passing your coworker on your way to the conference room, or dropping by someone’s desk to ask a question only to spend a few extra minutes catching up. If you’re not an essential worker, odds are you aren’t interacting with nearly as many people day to day as you used to. And if you are an essential worker, it’s likely your workplace has implemented safety guidelines that limit interaction.
Social distancing is one of the key practices we’ve been told will keep us safe from contracting the coronavirus. Nearly overnight, the ways in which we interact with each other completely changed. Happy hours, trivia nights, and birthday parties were taken to Zoom, and we’ve mostly had to gather with our communities online. Because of that, even some of our strongest relationships have been tested, and acquaintances and casual friendships have nearly disappeared.
Before coronavirus reached pandemic proportions, health officials were concerned about another epidemic: the loneliness epidemic. Loneliness and social isolation can lead to serious health risks like increased depression and anxiety, and even an increased risk of dementia and premature death. Humans are social creatures who rely on feeling seen and understood. Feelings of loneliness and isolation have been exacerbated after nearly a year of being stuck inside all alone, or with the same few people.
It isn’t just those who live alone who are feeling the pangs of loneliness after this year. An intense election cycle and differing view on safety guidelines have put strains on even the closest of relationships. Around the world divorce rates have increased, and the pandemic has been cited as a major factor in plenty of breakups this year.
Sociology professor Mark Granovetter published a study in 1973 that found our weak tie relationships are just as, if not more, important as close, deep ones. These are the relationships that have suffered the most throughout the pandemic.
Video chat tools like Zoom and Facetime, have been great at helping to maintain close relationships with good friends and family members, and participate in big activities like holiday celebrations. But you’re not very likely to hop on a Zoom call with that acquaintance you used to bump into at spin class. Over the last several months our relationship circles have dwindled. Women, especially women of color, have disproportionately been driven from their jobs. Women have also been expected to take on additional duties like childcare or caring for a parent or grandparent. It’s no wonder that women’s relationships have taken a massive hit.
So, what do we do? We are still far from reaching a point where interacting indoors unmasked with people outside of your household is safe. But even as new strains of coronavirus have hit the United States, many have reported feeling like they’ve reached a breaking point with isolation. There is no easy or right answer, and there is no answer that doesn’t involve some kind of compromise. But it’s more important now than ever to be checking in on the people you care about, and doing what you can to maintain those relationships.
Here are some of the ways we recommend fighting isolation in the coming months:
Plan an activity for your video call
Catching up with a friend over Zoom or Facetime feels a bit tired, and can be awkward when you don’t have much to catch up on. Make a date to Zoom or Facetime with a friend while you both cook dinner, or do an online workout class. That way you’re doing more than just talking into the screen, and can enjoy an activity together, even though you’re apart!
Take a class online
Look up art studios, cooking classes, or museums in your area and see if they’re offering virtual classes. Some studios even offer individual classes through Instagram live! Even online it’s a great way to meet new people and engage with your community.
Choose pickup instead of delivery
Actually making the trek to pick up coffee or Saturday night takeout from your favorite spot is a great way to see people. Even if you can’t have a lengthy conversation with your barista, or the person working the takeout counter, sometimes just getting out of your home and seeing another person can feel good.
Make a quick phone call
Video calls can feel draining, especially if you have to do them for work. And let’s be honest, we’re all just staring at ourselves anyway. Instead of a long video call session, call a friend for a quick ten minute chat over the phone.
If you’re feeling like you’ve hit a wall with isolation, but are continuing to practice the recommended safety guidelines, it might just be time to switch up your socializing routine. Taking care of both our mental and physical health now means way more in-person hangouts in the future.