The pandemic hit, and suddenly our lives felt unstable, unpredictable, and at times, scary. Most of us have had to juggle being a parent and teacher, while keeping up with housework and our jobs… with no end in sight.
This time has certainly shown how essential connection with other humans is for our mental wellness. But, how can you stay connected with friends during lockdown?
I was born and raised in Costa Rica. Nine years ago I moved to the U.S. without knowing anyone but my husband. Here I was, in a new country, with a different culture and language trying to make friends. Soon after, we started a family, and free time for making friends was in limited supply. So I did what most moms do: I joined Facebook groups to chat and vent with women who were in my shoes.
Little did I know, I would meet my new best friend in one of those groups – a woman who has changed my life forever in many positive ways.
The thing is, we became friends from opposite sides of the country. We built our friendship virtually for five years before we met in person. Yes, my best friend was someone I didn’t meet in person for FIVE years. Yet, she knew all my deepest secrets, and I knew hers. Many times she was the one who kept me sane during the overwhelming years of parenting two small children mostly alone while running my blog.
I’ve met some of my greatest friends online; some I have met in person, but most I haven’t because we live in different parts of the country.
You might be thinking that it’s not the same online, and I agree. But because it’s different, it comes with perks, such as building a friendship without ever having to get out of your pajamas. And the biggest benefit I’ve found about growing a friendship online is that you can talk whenever, which means you can talk often too, which is the base of a solid friendship.
Social distancing shouldn’t stop you from connecting with people
Connection and community are vital to our health. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and author of The Blue Zones studied regions around the world where people live significantly longer and healthier lives.
Buettner spoke at the World Economic Forum about Nicoya, Costa Rica (a Blue Zone). He found it to be a place where longevity and happiness converge. He reported that the Nicoya people value social connection and get 7 to 8 hours of face-to-face meaningful conversation each day. Equally important is who they are having these conversations with. It turns out health, happiness, and longevity are contagious. (source)
In fact, individuals exposed to supportive interactions have the following benefits:
- Stronger immune system
- Better functioning of their cardiovascular system
- Efficient production of hormones that keep the body functioning properly
So you can’t meet your friend and her kids for Wednesday story time at the library. When the goal is staying connected with friends during lockdown, just think of some other fun get-togethers you can plan instead.
Arrange a backyard or local park visit.
Everyone needs nature right now. Fresh air and sunshine work wonders on the immune system, and kids need space to burn off some of their bounding energy. You can enjoy seeing each other’s faces and talking in person – and still keep a safe distance.
Find creative ways to stay in contact with your local friends.
Seeing a friend’s face on a video chat or hearing her voice over the phone can really help you stay in touch. Some extended families have started new traditions with a weekly Zoom and are actually more in tune with one another than they were before the pandemic.
Start a group text.
Even if it’s just a place to lament this week’s math lesson or send a gif that describes your day, just knowing your friends are there to commiserate with you can do wonders for your mental health. You can always set it to “do not disturb” if it gets to be too much.
How to Make Friends Online
I’ve found social media to be the best way to make friends online. You can join social media groups with like-minded women or interact with people on Instagram that seem to be the type of people you enjoy hanging out with.
Join groups and see which members feel compatible.
If you see someone in a group you’d like to connect with beyond the group, start commenting on their posts or comments. Create a connection and then move the conversation to a private messaging platform.
Just like in person, you can’t force a friendship. Relationships take time to build, but don’t let that stop you. Put yourself out there, talk to people and you will find people that you will want to get to know more. Keep in mind, in the beginning, the conversations might be limited, but if it’s someone you’re feeling you click with, check in when you can, make an effort to be in their lives and see if they make the effort, too. Ideally chat with your new friend once a day, even if it’s short. You’re both getting to know each other so consistency helps at the beginning.
Let it evolve naturally.
Every time I start a friendship online we start by chatting. However, I’m a mom who’s trying to work, be a full time parent, take care of a messy house and feed my kids healthy meals. Typing can be time consuming so I like to switch to voice audios. This allows you to hear each other’s tone and can strengthen a connection.
It felt a little awkward at first for my best friend and I to record ourselves speaking, but now this is how I communicate with most of my friends. There are many apps out there which facilitate that but my favorite one is WhatsApp. It’s free, and you can send audios, photos, and videos.
Although this situation has been challenging, we’re fortunate to live in a time where we have many ways to communicate. It’s easier than ever to befriend people anywhere in the world.
And who knows… when everything opens back up, you might find yourself traveling to a new place to meet friends you made during the pandemic.