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Try “distant socializing” instead

“Social distancing” is the phrase of the year – if not the decade – and with good reason.

The process of voluntarily limiting physical contact with other people has been vital to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.  By distancing ourselves from the public, we’re protecting high-risk individuals – and ourselves – from being exposed to the virus.

Social distancing is also crucial in flattening the curve, i.e. the rise of the daily number of coronavirus cases as time goes on. And considering the United States isn’t expected to hit its peak in coronavirus cases until mid-April, separating ourselves from others is crucial.

We all know that social distancing is important for our overall public health.

We also know that social distancing really sucks.

Human beings are social by nature; we’re meant to interact. And whether or not keeping our distance is best for society, isolation is hard. For the roughly 15% of us who regularly struggle with depression worldwide, it can even be debilitating.

That’s why it’s important to remain connected during this strange, uncomfortable time – otherwise a long-term mental and physical health crisis might follow the viral one, warns Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki.

Zaki, recent author of “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, suggests that the phrase “social distancing” was the wrong term to use and recommends that we instead think of this as physical distancing, or “distant socializing” and encourages people to find ways to remain together even while staying apart.

Unsurprisingly, the best way to practice distant socializing is through technology.

“Ironically, the same technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together,” Zaki told Stanford News.

He said that tools such as Zoom, FaceTime and Google Hangouts are our friends right now. Such applications have become popular tools for companies and coworkers to stay connected as millions of Americans are suddenly working from home.

But why stop there? Zaki challenges the public to use these apps for less formal interactions; for digitally “hanging out.”

“When we meet in person, we don’t expect every minute to be productive or scintillating,” he said. “We kibitz, dawdle and goof off, and those ‘in-between moments’ are vital to a sense of connection. Find ways to replicate them online.”

If you’re getting antsy at home and are craving some authentic, face-to-face, social interaction, here are a few tools to turn to during this uncharted time.

Houseparty 

Houseparty is a great go-to app for a group of friends that miss hanging out. The app alerts you when someone’s available and lets people easily join in on the chat with minimal fuss. Houseparty also has some built-in games, such as Heads Up and a Pictionary knock off, that helps simulate an actual get-together with friends.

Netflix Party 

With so much time being spent at home, this is a great opportunity to catch up on all those movies you’ve been meaning to watch. Though watching TV is easy to do alone, there are some shows that are meant to be watched with friends. Luckily, a free service called Netflix Party is here to the rescue. This Chrome extension lets you watch Netflix content with friends and chat while you’re doing it.

Bunch

A newer app, Bunch, is focused on group games while in video chat. You can expect a few in-app purchases from some of the games, but the platform has understandably seen a lot of engagement since all this started, so there’s no better opportunity to give it a shot.

SnapChat

This app isn’t new, but it’s a good one to return to to send fun messages and short videos to family and friends. You can take a number of “snaps” and send them in chronological order for a “story” that you share with others. Another feature: messages are automatically deleted after a brief time. You can also use Snapchat to send standard text messages and make video phone calls.

Marco Polo 

This one’s for those of us who don’t want to do a full-on live face-to-face video all the time. Marco Polo is like a streamlined Snapchat, allowing users to send short videos to friends or groups with the option to add doodles, filters and so on. If you and your friends are finding it hard to set aside half an hour to talk live, this can be a good alternative.

Honorable Mentions: Instagram and Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is great and allows for both messaging and video chatting. But it’s not cross-platform, and you will need a Facebook account to use it. Instagram also has video calling built into direct messages, which is nice for quick calls with people you aren’t sure you want to bring into a smaller circle of connectivity.

These are just a few apps you can use to stay connected, but the ways to get creative with these tools are endless. For example, my friends and I had karaoke night via Instagram Live this weekend. Last week, my cousin gave me a cooking lesson via FaceTime. I had coffee with my dad just a few hours before filing this story via Zoom – and for someone who has difficulty being alone, starting my morning with face-to-face time starts out my day on the best note possible.

Continue to physically distance yourself from others. Flatten the curve. Minimize in-person interaction. But do yourself a favor: Don’t let yourself be alone, at least not for too long.

It has never been more important to come together in an era where we have to stay apart.