Well, here we are in the new year and as much as we wished it away, covid is still here with us. The good news is that vaccines have been approved and many countries have already started ‘jabbing arms’ as they call it in the media. We are a few days away from getting our shots here in India. However, the news of a mutant fast-spreading covid strain is dampening everyone’s spirits.
There’s a lot of talk in the news about covid fatigue, which people are experiencing around the world. In the pre-covid days, if we felt anxious or stressed out, we’d simply take a vacation, or go to the movies. We’d indulge in some retail therapy at the mall with friends, or throw a party. It’s not so easy any more to connect in person with friends and family.
Social connection happens to be a fundamental human need. It is said to strengthen our immune response quite significantly. According to some studies, social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity. On the other hand, a lack of social connection can increase anxiety and lead to depression. We all know that mental health has taken a huge hit in the pandemic.
However, even with our limited options to meet up with loved ones, can we still take some steps to connect, bust that stress, and even help others through it? Sure, it’s possible. Here’s how some folks are doing it.
Put up an online play like Naatak does
Naatak, the California based Indian theatre company, had big plans for their 25th anniversary, but when covid struck they could no longer host live shows. The members of Naatak are Silicon Valley professionals. Without missing a beat, they started streaming their plays live online.
I had the opportunity to watch one of their plays, which they staged on Zoom. They gave us a complete live theatre experience from the comfort of our homes. They now have a global audience through this medium.
Following along in the steps of Naatak, friends could get together and put up a play using Zoom or Webex, for their families and friends. Nothing like some energizing online rehearsals for wholesome fun together. A big plus is that you can connect with your friends who live anywhere in the world and include them in your play.
Lend a listening ear like HappyInc does
Kian and Nandini, two high schoolers, wanted to do something for teens who were experiencing anxiety or covid fatigue. They created HappyInc, a free and anonymous online counselling service.
Using this platform, teenagers who are stressed out can talk to trained Helpers, who are also teens. This happens in a secure environment. The teens can call or chat without revealing their identities. The Helpers are not a replacement for professional counselors, but are great listeners.
Kian and Nandini recently won the University of Arizona and EducationUSA India Studentpreneur challenge for their venture.
We may not all go on to create a platform like these thoughtful teens did, but we could volunteer at organizations that support mental health and foster social connection through online counseling. Or we could simply become better listeners for our family and friends, and offer them emotional support through these unpredictable times.
Create an oasis of calm on a WhatsApp Group
Although social media gets a lot of flak for various reasons, it should get all the credit it deserves for enabling social connection. With some thought, even a simple WhatsApp group can transform into a tranquil and safe space for all its members. I learnt this from my classmates. They post lovely pictures of nature, the beach, and sunrises, which they click on their morning walks. In fact, I have used my friend Kamala’s picture in this article. These pictures from my hometown never fail to tug at my heartstrings. They give me my moments of calm during the day.
Although we are distributed all over the globe, my classmates make me feel like we all back in school, sharing stories and lunches. They offer a place of peaceful rest and rejuvenation by working actively to keep the WhatsApp group free of politics, religious debates, or anything that can lead to angst or heartache for the members.
Creating a WhatsApp group is easy to do, but retaining it as a respectful, joyful, and inclusive space takes effort and compassion. But that’s the only way to do it, especially in these times.
Celebrate festivals (and weddings!) with your videos on
By now we all are familiar with Zoom parties. My first experience of this was around last Diwali, when I got a surprise invitation to a party. It was on Webex, and hosted by a friend and former colleague who had planned this for our friends. The friend also sent an email asking us to dress in ethnic wear and bring lamps. It was a wonderful thought and we all jumped on the bandwagon. We had lots of fun, lighting lamps and everyone’s kids joined in too.
I’m sure almost all of us have had parties like these for Christmas and New Year too, with friends and family. Another friend’s son got married on Zoom at their home, with guests in attendance from all over the globe. Zoom weddings like these are almost a norm now. Just illustrates how easy it is to nurture social connection and have some fun too while we do it.
Considering how important social connection is for our well-being, it’s an investment well worth making. Wishing everyone strong social connections online or offline, in this new year! Stay safe, stay well.
-Sandya Karnad Deviah