COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Mental health Wellness

COVID-19: Ways to stay social despite the distance

A woman video chats with loved ones.
Written by Jennifer Palisoc

While it’s important for everyone to stay home and practice physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, staying socially connected with family and friends is incredibly helpful for everyone’s mental health.

“During crisis situations, it is important that we lean on each other for support as we are stronger as a collective than as a single individual,” says Dr. Matthew Boyle, psychiatrist. “Staying connected can also help family, friends, and those who are vulnerable, such as the elderly, feel less isolated.”

In a time when many people are consuming news about the pandemic throughout the day on various devices, Dr. Boyle says taking a break to socially connect can be beneficial to a person’s health.

“It can be hard not to always pay attention to the news during a pandemic but having some time when you can connect with others instead of focusing on the news can help from a wellness perspective,” explains Dr. Boyle. “Perhaps try spending at least one hour each day not checking news or emails, and instead, find a way to connect with friends and family. Social connections can be ways to help reduce stress – and that’s a great health benefit in a time like this.”

Here are some creative ways to connect with friends and family:

Play an online game: You can find apps to play board games, word games, or even work on jigsaw puzzles together virtually. Another way to utilize technology is to set-up video-conferencing where different households can see one another on their screens, and join in a visual game like Charades or Pictionary.

Online movie night: Find a time for friends to connect online and watch a movie together. For example, Netflix Party enables friends to watch its shows online, synchronize video playback and a group chat function. There are a variety of apps that can help you watch movies together but it may be easier to find the same movie, and for everyone to just hit ‘play’ at the same time to watch, and chat throughout the movie using text or another app. Find the app that works for you and your group, get the popcorn ready and start watching!

Write a letter: You don’t need technology with a good old-fashioned hand-written letter or card. It may not be immediate interaction, but it can be a nice way to let people know that you’re thinking about them. For those who don’t have a computer or access to technology, it is a way to keep in touch. If you’re on a short walk and the person lives nearby, you can drop the letter in their mailbox, or put a stamp on it and pop it into a nearby Canada Post box. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy getting mail that’s not a bill?

Catch up on a call:  Before video chats and texting, there was the telephone. Give a friend or family member to find out how they’re doing. You don’t always need to see each other on a screen. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear another person’s voice and have someone to talk to for a little while.

Digital coffee club: Grab a cup of java and make a virtual date with friends. While it’s not the same as meeting at your favourite coffee shop, getting cozy at home with a cup of coffee and making a plan for a video chat or phone call with friends can be something to look forward to. In a time where staying home is key, it’s a way to ‘catch up over coffee’ that can bring warmth and connection in more ways than one.

Hold a virtual social event: Technology can help bring people together to learn new things. Friends and family can get creative and hold an event online or join in over the phone. Perhaps each person in the group has a skill they can teach or demonstrate each week. Or maybe, it’s an opportunity for a group to join an online fitness group or e-learning class. “Our colleagues hold a weekly social event drop in that covers diverse topics such as yoga, karate lessons, mindfulness, sign language and beyond,” says Dr. Boyle. There are many options and ways to meet up virtually to learn together or just be social.

We are all finding new ways of connecting during the pandemic and it’s so important in maintaining our mental health and helping to reduce stress. Despite the physical distancing necessary for living in this new reality, it may be an opportunity to perhaps reconnect with loved ones on another level, and in a way, maybe even feel a little bit closer.

» Get more COVID-19 resources and updates from Sunnybrook at

» Coping during the COVID-19 pandemic: mental health resources from Sunnybrook’s Department of Psychiatry

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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