As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, one common response to a national directive to practice social distancing has put many workers on an “indefinite” WFH-status. As a new, albeit temporary, reality is setting in, a common objective is emerging: We all need to figure out how to be less lonely working from home.
Clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, says there's a basic biological reason we're all deep in our feelings about the stay-home intentions. "The need for others is built deep into the brain," says Dr. Daramus. "We have cells in the brain called mirror neurons that help us empathize. Without mirror neurons, we can’t love. With them we can feel love, compassion, and we can feel pain at seeing another person in pain." When you're not seeing other people, your own mirror neurons are companionless and they (and you) get pretty darn lonely, working from home or otherwise.
Human connection is also important from a physiological standpoint: New research published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Review has connected flying solo for long periods of time with the onset of inflammation in the body. The review of 30 past studies on how loneliness, social isolation, and inflammation are interconnected indicated that, among other things, social isolation is associated with C-reactive protein, which is usually released into the blood after tissue injury. Eventually, that causes the C-reactive protein to be converted into fibrin-based blood clots—a type of inflammation.
"Emotional pain shares some neurological pathways with physical pain, which is why it hurts when we miss others, as someone in quarantine might." —Aimee Daramus, PsyD
Furthermore, there's an emotional factor at play, which can have physical effects: "Emotional pain shares some neurological pathways with physical pain, which is why it hurts when we miss others, as someone in quarantine might," says Dr. Daramus. So there's a very compelling argument for making time for interconnectivity, both for your mental and physical health.
That means that anyone working remotely or simply taking measures to socially distance themselves more than they typically do would be wise to figure out how to migrate a sense of connection to live online. And according to Dr. Daramus, it's not quite enough to just set up FaceTime dates every day (even though that is great a ritual to put in place). "While talking to people is great, shared experiences are even better," she says.
Below, Dr. Daramus offers her favorite tips and tech for re-creating the magic of human connection even when you're not together, together. Plus, you'll find the best apps to download that foster a vibe of human connection in lieu of an IRL one and get official recommendations for combatting the loneliness that comes in tandem with social distancing—straight from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
A psychologist's 3 best ways to feel connected when you start to feel lonely working from home
1. Watch movies together (even when you're miles apart)
I don't know what type of friends you have, but my pals love to talk during movies. The ongoing commentary that comes along with watching is almost more enjoyable than the movie itself, IMO, which is why Dr. Daramus suggests not watching alone; dial in your besties and make a night of it. "Watch a movie together on the phone or by text. Get together a group of people to watch the same show at the same time, and live-tweet it," she says.
2. Go back to school...online
Dr. Daramus says that for you and your crew, right now is a great time to invest in a class (on Coursera, through Harvard Health, or via MasterClass) and reboot with your friends with study sessions, pop quizzes, and the like. That way, when things are back to normal, you'll all be versed in the "Science of Well-Being," or whatever class you choose.
3. Have a virtual wine (or non-alcoholic beverage) tasting
While it's not the time to go to your favorite wine bar IRL, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a flight with the people you care for most. Dr. Daramus says to make a list with your chosen wine club and prepare a virtual tasting menu via Skype. "I like all these activities because in live communities, people don’t just talk—they do things," she says.
"When we create online shared experiences, we’re imitating the natural behavior of a group of people. When you taste what they taste, or see the same show at the same time, you know exactly what that person is experiencing right now." —Dr. Daramus
"When we create online shared experiences, we’re imitating the natural behavior of a group of people. When you taste what they taste, or see the same show at the same time, you know exactly what that person is experiencing right now." In other words: All of your mirror neurons are tingling. So by the time you get back to the office and your usual grind, your friend group will be closer than ever.
The 5 best apps to download that foster connection from afar
Technology (and constantly appsturbating) is often pointed to as fueling loneliness, despite the little dopamine hits notifications it can offer. During this time, though, using your device to reach out to other people has never been more important (or possible, TBH). These five apps will help you connect with friends near and far.
1. HOUSE PARTY
The "face-to-face social network where you can connect with the people you care about most," House Party is a, um, digital house party. You can chitchat to your heart's content or play games with whomever's on the video chat with you. Read: hours and hours of fun.
2. MARCO POLO
A few summers back, my uncle and I got really into Marco Polo as a way to stay connected with my peers across several states, and it's so freaking fun. You simply add people you know to the app and send them videos of you doing, you know, whatever.
Spotify may not seem like your first stop for linking up with others, but if both you and your friend curate playlists for each other, then swap, you'll have tons of music-speak to share between the two of you.
What can I say? Draw Something's a classic. Hone your artistic skills, and tap into the social bonding you need at the very same time.
I can't think of a better night spent in than one spent Skyping with my friends while we all play a digital game of Cards Against Humanity.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness' best tips to avoid feeling lonely working from home
For your reference, the NAMI has prepared a pretty lengthy and robust guide of resources to bookmark and reference whenever your mental health is suffering during this time. In times like these of intense isolation, they recommend three major tactics to give you your best shot at feeling wholly yourself and well.
- Keep you routine as normal as possible: "If working from home, we encourage you to create a structured, dedicated work environment and build in self care as well as daily benchmarks of achievement," NAMI reports. If you're into meditation, keep it going stronger. If you love a workout but your gym's closed, try at-home fitness. If you usually cook yourself amazing dinners, keep cooking with your non-perishable items. Your habits will keep you grounded.
- Stick to your normal working hours and business clothes: When you're working from home on occasion, it can feel like a real treat to sit in sweats all day and never leave bed. Once you're calling home the office for a longer period of time, however, NAMI recommends being a little bit more formal.
- Use video, not just audio, as much as possible: "Research tells us that 7 percent of communication is accomplished through our words, including email. 38 percent is voice, and a staggering 55 percent is body language and visual," NAMI reports So make your meetings Skype meetings and get all the good, good. You know: eye contact, hand gestures, and eyebrow-raising.
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