How to Stay Connected With Your College Friends While Social Distancing

Even if you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard about the current global pandemic. CoVid-19 is spreading like wildfire across the population, hitting our most vulnerable the worst and everyone else along with it. The economy is steadily crashing at our feet, while the case count steadily doubles. And all we can do to help with any of it is physically distance ourselves from one another and wash our hands a lot more.

So we’ve followed the directive. At this point the only people out working have essential jobs, all social gatherings have ceased, restaurants, bars, businesses, and schools have all closed. In the meantime, we stay inside and limit physical interactions to those who you share a living space with for an unforeseeable amount of time. Some with the added stress of not knowing how you’ll pay rent, or afford groceries while out of work. All of this can lead you to feel pretty powerless and potentially scared for you or your loved ones’ well-being. Not to mention, you’re probably also feeling the elephant in the room: bored and lonely.

This isolation can be deeply alienating

Surely there are people with much bigger problems than boredom and loneliness but humans are inherently social creatures. We need social interaction to function normally and happily. Solitary confinement is used as one of the worst possible punishments for inmates in American prisons. Many argue this punishment is inhumane as it has led inmates to insanity. While social distancing is nowhere near as extreme as solitary confinement it helps us understand just how important social contact is for humans. This extreme and sudden isolation can be deeply alienating for people.

The regulations of social distancing are almost like a state mandated depression. For example, some of the tell-tale signs that someone is dealing with mental illness like depression include; social isolation and distancing, emotional despondency, sleeping a lot, turning to substances for relief, not properly taking care of yourself, hygienically or emotionally. With a month or so of social distancing already happening (depending on where you live) we can already start to see a lot of people embodying these traits. Surely, a few days of sleeping in, leaving your sweats on, hair up and doing nothing all day is perfectly healthy. But people who find themselves without the ability to work from home may stop washing regularly and getting dressed for long periods of time. Instead opting for the depression chic wardrobe choice of “whatever I wore to bed last night”. To help pass these large empty blocks of time, some are abusing alcohol or other drugs, or turn to other unhealthy habits like overeating.

College students are finding this a particularly difficult time

Schools and colleges were among some of the earliest institutions to close up in America. And many college age folk are full-time students, having no other job beyond their studies. Even so, many of the students who do work received employment from their institution, or worked non necessity retail-level jobs. But being broke is nothing new for college students. In fact, only eating ramen noodles and grilled cheese for 4 years is part of the nostalgic charm for many post-grads. However, those looking back on college fondly forget that, actually, the fun part of being broke was being broke with all of your college friends. The joyful debauchery of you and your roommates making messy quesadillas in the kitchen is not the same as having a cheese quesadilla for the 5th day in a row because there is no money or limited options from social distancing.

The current “broke” of college students in the age of Covid-19 is more like “I’m not sure how I’m gonna pay for next semester” kind of broke. Or “my school won’t reimburse me for the labs I can only complete in person” kind of broke. Or the “My parents lost their jobs and won’t be able to cosign on my next student loan” kind of broke. And on top of that level of stress, you’re bored and you’re lonely. And you miss seeing your friends so badly. And even though you and Jake have only been dating 3 months you know he’s the one and it is literally physical torture to be without him! What was meant to be a fun filled spring break, in bikinis, in Miami, with your sorority sisters has 360’d into a super scary spring break in sweats, in Pennsylvania, with your mom, dad and little brother. All jokes aside, it can seriously do a number on mental health.

Staying connected while social distancing

With all that’s going on it’s important to continue with as much contact as you can. If you live with family, or have roommates, close quarters interaction is inevitable, and even direct physical interaction is hard to avoid. So keeping these connections and conversations mutually beneficial and positive is in your best interest. Both from a social dynamic standpoint and a mental health one.

For some this may be impossible however. Some people have very unhealthy and toxic living situations, whether with parents, siblings, spouse or partner, or roommates. In these cases the social distancing mandate is particularly stressful, potentially scary and infinity isolating. For some of your fellow students coming to college and living in a dorm meant getting away from a toxic home environment. We don’t always know about these situations, regardless, keeping in contact with friends is not just helpful for you.

There may be no way of physically seeing your friends, but keeping up digital contact is imperative in these situations. Digital communication is the best way to stay connected while social distancing. And thankfully the social media age is here to help too. So even though your bestie Hannah lives in Michigan, you can still see her and talk to her everyday!

Video calling

Probably the most satisfying form of digital communication is video chatting. If you have a smartphone or laptop with a webcam, you can video chat with friends, family, coworkers, professors and anyone else you wanna see. These methods are already being used heavily for non necessary jobs that can still be completed over the computer from home. Many offices use programs like Zoom or Google hangouts to have conference calls while working remotely. You may already be acutely aware of Zoom as it is being used by many colleges for having lectures and classes online. This way your education isn’t completely on hold during this trying time and can also serve as a good distraction. But more importantly you could use zoom to video conference with your friends!

Zoom and Google hangouts, or even facetime if you both have iPhones, have options for multiple video callers at once. So you and a group of your friends could talk at the same time. Many people are staying connected while social distancing by having big video chat hangouts. Some people are doing dinner parties via video chat. Others are doing table reads of their favorite plays together. You could have a virtual study session with people you have classes with. Or even just working on your homework with a friend who is quietly doing the same can be cathartic. There is also a rise in the popularity of virtual Dungeons and Dragons- a game that is already about roleplaying and imagination! You don’t need an activity either, just your friends’ company can be enough.

This can also be a great excuse to get yourself out of your sweats and put some real human clothes on. Put on a cute outfit just to sit in front of a webcam may seem silly, but it can also help one feel a bit of normalcy in this very abnormal time.

While socializing virtually in big groups once in a while can be fun, coordinating that with many people on a daily basis can be a bit too much. So in the meantime having a one on one facetime with a close friend is just as important for staying connected while social distancing. In big groups there can be more pressure to put on a happy face but alone with a trusted friend you can be more candid about how the pandemic is affecting you.

Not everyone has access to video chat

While facetime and Zoom are great tools if you have them, not everyone does, and it’s important to remember your friends who maybe don’t have a webcam. Texting can be super important to staying connected while social distancing since not everyone has the time or ability to video chat. Perhaps your aunt is a nurse and is currently working on the front lines of this pandemic. You’d be, rightfully, worried for her and wanna know how she is doing. But doing a full facetime might not be in her schedule. Sending a quick text expressing your love and concern can do just the trick. When we’re all socially disconnected remembering kindness and the small things like that can be incredibly important. Holding onto gestures can help retain some humanity.

There are also ways to communicate in groups without webcams. Group Chat options are available on most social media platforms. Netflix has even recently come out with a Netflix Party app option which allows a group of people to watch the same thing on Netflix together and have a group chat going along with it! Only a Netflix account is required. This can take the place of watching your favorite netflix shows together while we are social distancing. There are also good group options if one friend has a good webcam setup through social media streaming sites like twitch. Twitch is used by gamers to live stream their playing to those interested. But a Twitch account can technically stream anything, so if one person with a twitch account video streams and invites their friends into the chat it can provide a lot of social connections.

Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about social media and our relationship with it. Many say there is an unhealthy or even addictive relationship to it. While this is probably true in the current times, it’s important to remember the good social media can do. Especially when it comes to entertainment and bringing people together. With social media we are instantly connected with so many people, our friends and family as well as people you share interests with that you don’t know. This can be another great way of staying connected while social distancing. Interacting with your friends and acquaintances social media posts is fun and easy too. Even just quick like reminds the person you’re thinking about them or like what they have to say. While we’re all feeling isolated in this trying time, little acts of connection and kindness can go a long way. The fall semester will be here before you know it, and you can go back to being broke and stressed in the fun college way as opposed to the scary global pandemic way.

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