We may not know the full socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak for many years, but its clear society has quickly been upended by this pandemic. One of the most important and least discussed aspects of this outbreak is how it affects the mental health of millions of Americans.
The government has strongly advocated for social distancing, urging people to stay inside and keep away from others to stop the spread of the disease. While this is absolutely the right course of action, isolation and loneliness can seriously affect your health. In fact, loneliness can be more dangerous than obesity or cigarette smoking, according to the Human Resources and Services Administration.
Even while quarantined, it’s critical to stay in touch with others and remain social. Of course, that’s harder to do without any physical contact, but there are plenty of ways to stay connected.
According to Dr. Jamil Zaki, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford, social distancing is a good policy with a bad name.
“‘Social distancing’ was the wrong term, to begin with,” Zaki said in a Q&A with the Stanford Report. “We should think of this time as “physical distancing” to emphasize that we can remain socially connected even while being apart.”
As Dr. Zaki noted, just because you’re physically distant from friends and family does not mean you have to be socially distant. Some examples, like when residents of Turin, Italy sang on balconies together, have already gone viral and shown how communities can come together without actually being together. In America, neighborhoods have come together for drive-by birthday and graduation parties across the country too.
— Coronavirus (@SARS_COVID19) March 13, 2020
Staying Connected Online
Whenever you have free time and feel a little lonely, try connecting with some friends or family over a video chat. FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype are all platforms that let you connect over video for free. If nothing else, spend some time chatting “face-to-face” to make up for whatever you lose from physical distancing.
One fun idea for quarantine is a virtual happy hour. Get a small group of loved ones and have everyone join a video chat with a drink in hand. It’s all the fun of going out together with the comforts of home! Get as creative as you like, but whatever you do make sure to stay connected to the people in your lives.
The Gaming Boom
One way that millions of people have come together during this outbreak is through video games. People have found communities through games forever but with more people indoors and online, gaming platforms are seeing spikes in traffic. Steam, a popular computer game distribution platform, saw an all-time high of 20 million active users earlier this month. Both Xbox Live and Playstation Network faced outages due to the surge of players, but can both sustain the traffic they’re experiencing.
Video games are more accessible than ever, and many single-player games support online features now too. For instance, Animal Crossing for the Nintendo Switch has quickly become one of the most popular games in the world. It’s an easy-to-play game about building and maintaining a town on a small island.
Because of the art design, calming environment, and online features, Animal Crossing has become the perfect getaway from quarantine life. One couple even had a wedding within the game after their nuptials got canceled due to coronavirus.
Other people have flocked to Twitch, a video game streaming platform. Without professional sports, people need a new source of live entertainment. This month, Twitch has averaged more than 1.5 million average concurrent viewers, an all-time high for the platform and a 10 percent jump from last month. Twitch streams allow viewers to chat with each other and the streamer to foster a small community, so it’s no wonder that more people are tuning in.
The Bottom Line
Isolation can be draining, scary, and intense. Nobody likes being locked inside indefinitely, and losing human interaction can take a toll on your mental health. First, it’s important to remember that while you may be quarantined alone, we’re all in this together. Physical distancing is a worldwide effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, and you’re helping your friends, family, and community.
There’s no perfect substitute for in-person communication, but there are tons of ways to stay in touch with others while quarantined. Apps like FaceTime and Zoom are good temporary stand-ins for physical contact. Even just seeing loved ones face’s online can make a big difference.
And even if you’ve never picked up a video game before, now is a good time to try. Online communities are more important now than ever, and games have helped foster comfortable environments for many. Social media can help you keep in touch with friends as well.
“Ironically, the same technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together,” Dr. Zaki said.