While living in an unprecedented reality of a socially distanced life, it’s important that this doesn’t translate to disconnecting from loved ones and things that are important to us. Talk time on social apps has increased amidst COVID-19, but not as much as you might expect: with some demographics only seeing an increase of nine minutes per day. Studies have shown that maintaining healthy social relationships is important for preventing depression, and that social isolation plays a significant role in feelings of unhappiness and anxiety. The negative effects there have been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As humans, we have an innate longing to feel connected to people. 

Fortunately, there are ways to prioritize mental health and be socially connected  as we remain physically distant.

  1. Create ways to stay connected with family and friends. 

The widespread adoption of apps like Zoom has opened up endless opportunities to stay connected with people close to you. Do it virtually, like a long-distance family call on Zoom or Houseparty, or do it physically, like a social distancing picnic with the neighbors. Several travel destinations and museums are offering free virtual tours of places you otherwise might never see. Get the whole family involved and tour the MIA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Louvre or even the Great Wall of China. Take these opportunities that normally aren’t available to you.

2. Prioritize your health in all areas. 

A silver lining to our current reality is the gift of time to improve ourselves and prioritize our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. There are great opportunities to stay connected while doing so. 

Since shifting to working from home, average daily steps have dropped 51% from February to March. There seems to be a free workout class advertised almost everywhere you look on social media these days. Taking these classes virtually allows for that feeling of community you might be missing. Take advantage of them, because a sedentary lifestyle might be appealing in the short term, but for long term mental and physical health, staying active is key. Make cooking healthy, creative meals a fun activity for the family, especially given the potential stress surrounding grocery shopping.

 As you focus on feeding your body well, prioritize doing the same for your mind. As important as it is to stay connected, it’s just as important to recognize when you need a break. When the lines between work and life are blurred, finding a work/life balance can take some extra effort. Read, write, meditate (try a YouTube video or the Calm app) and give your mind what it needs. 30 minutes a day is a good rule of thumb for uninterrupted “me time,” and can help hit the reset button on your mental health. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, a resource to look into the EAP offerings from your employer as a way to support your mental health. 

3. Set specific goals for staying connected.

As with anything you strive to do, setting a specific and measurable goal will set you up for success. This could be calling your mom three times a week, or having virtual coffee with a friend once a week. Start a communication streak with the people you find most important to connect with. Mark each day on the calendar that you connect with them, and it will eventually become a daily ritual. You can even make it a habit of calling or FaceTiming a loved one while you do a specific daily task, like cooking lunch or going on an evening walk. 

As we take things day by day and navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19, make it a goal to stay meaningfully connected and prioritize the health of your relationships, because that will translate to a healthier and happier you.