Psychology of Social Connection

Dear QuarantineCrew

November 20th, 2020 · 7 Comments

This week on HeretoHelp we will be discussing all things ~quarantine~ so send us any questions or comments about your quarantine experiences, the bad or the good!

 We’re here to help 😄

 

[Grace] 

Dear QuarantineCrew,

I’m a 20-year-old college student, struggling to live at home with sole exposure to my family and the occasional elderly neighbor. I’ve tried texting, facetiming and having Zoom happy hours with friends, but conversation always feels forced and no one wants more time on Zoom outside of what’s required for school or work. All I want is just to BE with my friends and not have to PLAN when we’re going to talk next. It’s so hard!! Is this normal? How can I make these Zoom interactions more fulfilling?

Sincerely, Feeling Zoom-ed Out

 

Dear Zoom-ed Out,

Ooooh how I feel you. Quarantine certainly has not made it easy on us as we try to maintain our friendships. Though technology is our means to stay connected with people who are physically distant from us, virtual social interactions are more distancing than in-person interactions (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Waytz and Gray (2018) conducted a literature review on the interaction between online technologies and empathy, emotional intelligence, perspective taking, and emotion recognition. They discuss a longitudinal study that investigated the relationship between online technology and sociality in Dutch adolescents through self-report measures (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016). They found that social media use and online communication can in fact boost empathic processes (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016) – but only if it is used to supplement already existing off-line communication (Waytz & Gray, 2018). As we’ve come to realize, online communication cannot be used as a solid substitute for face-to-face interaction (Waytz & Gray, 2018). Though this sounds bleak, don’t fret, Zoom-ed Out! There are ways to enhance online communication and make it more meaningful. In addition to the weekly breakfast/happy hour Zoom dates with friends, one thing I started at the beginning of Quarantine was weekly Zoom yoga classes with friends. Every Sunday, I schedule an hour block with two of my friends to do a CorePower online class. All it takes is for someone to share her screen and we do the class together, and then re-hash everything that happened to us during the week. I find that doing something active together makes it something fun to look forward to, and since yoga is “exercise” it makes it easier to block out that hour on the schedule, even if half of it is spent catching up. If it’s a hard yoga class one day, we’ll all be struggling on screen together and then commiserating about it afterward – enduring this hardship together serves as a good ice breaker so the conversation doesn’t feel forced. It’s fun to crack jokes and laugh through the poses that we’re all bad at, so it feels like I have a friend by my side, toughing it out with me. However, I get it if you’d rather not practice your downward dogs weekly. In that case, my suggestion for you is to schedule some sort of weekly activity with your friends so that even if it’s over Zoom, you’re not spending the entire time watching the screen. You could try cooking, baking, or making cocktails together – the world is your oyster! Anything goes in this day and age – as long as it’s virtual!! Hopefully the days of Quarantine are becoming more limited, but in the meantime, try being active on Zoom and see how that helps 🙂

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[Hannah]

Dear QuarantineCrew,

Being stuck in quarantine has caused my anxiety levels to reach record-breaking highs. I have my ups and downs, but I cannot seem to manage it – I feel as if I have no control and not knowing what could happen in the future just makes it worse. Any advice on dealing with this feeling?  Especially since we have no idea what is still to come.

Sincerely, Get Me Off This Roller Coaster

 

Dear Roller Coaster,

I don’t know anyone right now that has not felt this. I think it’s safe to say we have all had at least one moment where we have not felt in control and like everything was not okay. Any sort of plans you make always seem to be thrown out the window and, to make things worse, we are restricted to our homes.

Berinato (2020) discussed that this anxiety and feeling of uncertainty is a form of grief known as anticipatory grief. This means, as you mention, that there is this feeling that just washes over us when we are uncertain about what the future holds.

But, thankfully there are some things that you can do to calm and manage these feelings. Your goal, which can be easier said than done, is to find a balance between your thoughts that cause that feeling (Berinato, 2020). Instead of letting our minds spin out of control, we need to learn to let go of what we cannot control and live in the present moment (Berinato, 2020). So, instead of stressing about what the other person in the shop is doing and if they have COVID – focus on what you can control. Keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

We need to learn to accept that there are many things during this quarantine period that we do not have control over and in doing so we can find some control through acceptance (Berinato, 2020). We need to learn to feel such feelings, accept them and understand that it is okay to feel this way as we are the first to experience quarantine and COVID.

We could also see this quarantine period as an opportunity to show a little more empathy towards each other. We need to understand that we are not the only ones feeling this overwhelming anxiety and grief. One way to do this ~safely~ is by using social media. We all know it can be a platform for negativity, but it is also one for positivity. Waytz & Gray, (2018) paper found that social media can be used to show prosocial behaviors and can enhance our social interactions by allowing us to form deep interpersonal connections. We can use social media to safely build empathy for one another. So, when you are online, purposefully reach out to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Let them know you support them and here to chat. Another helpful resource is The war against kindness. This resource will teach you how to “build your own empathy gym” and has 5 challenges that allow you to practice showing kindness and empathy. Challenge 4 specifically speaks to using social media, but I would challenge you to try them all out.

Hopefully, this advice was helpful to you. Please let us know how these challenges go if you choose to try them out. Take back control and be present in the moment.

Sending virtual hugs and support

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[Katherine]

Dear QuarantineCrew,

I used to have my childhood friends, until last year, when we each moved to different cities for either school or work. And since then, we’ve just grown out of touch. Personally, I moved by myself across the country to Maine for school. I’m a pretty introverted person, so it takes me a while to make new friends. At school, there were a couple people who I said hi to and chatted with as we bumped into each other in the hallways or in the dining hall. I was happy and thought I was starting to build deeper friendships. Then COVID forced me to go back home and the people I sort of knew have stopped calling. I’m just struggling and feeling really lonely, it feels like I’m all by myself without any friends (even though I interact with my family and classmates on a daily basis).

Sincerely, Socially Distant Beyond Six Feet

 

Dear Socially Distant,

Feeling like you’re alone and without a support system is really difficult. It’s difficult under normal circumstances, but understandably even more so now, when there are so many new stressors and fewer opportunities to find friends. Moreover, it makes sense that you feel lonely despite being around people at home. In fact, the quantity of social interactions or the number of people in your network may not correlate with how lonely you feel. Only you can judge how lonely you are. Though it’s difficult emotionally, the effects of loneliness are deeper than that. Loneliness affects our physical health and our quality of life in every way. It can even change your gene expression! In particular, genes involved in suppressing inflammatory chronic diseases may be underexpressed (have a smaller effect), and genes that increase inflammation may be overexpressed (have a larger effect) (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009). So, first of all, acknowledge that things are difficult, it’s normal, and it makes scientific sense. Loneliness affects much more than your mood.

While you may be longing for deep interactions with close friends to not feel lonely, Sandstrom and Dunn (2014) found that interacting with many, more shallow acquaintances, termed “weak ties”, is also really important to boosting your well-being. So, try starting up a conversation with people in your classes even if you don’t consider them a close friend or not. Those weak-tie conversations will make you feel good!

Another strategy you can try is being nostalgic. Nostalgia is something our brain uses to cope with loneliness. Zhou et al. (2008) found that nostalgia can increase perceived levels of social support and strengthen mental health. So, look through your old photos or have your grade school lunch again. If being nostalgic isn’t for you, that’s ok too. I know that, personally, sometimes nostalgia can make me more sad for what has been lost. If you’ve felt that way, I’ve found that reminiscing about the past can help remind me that I’ve gotten through challenges before, and that I can get through them again. In this case, reminiscing about the past can help me realize that I’ve gotten through stressful times before and I’ve also made friends in new places before. So, what’s different now? Nothing 🙂 

Finally, consider reaching out to past friends. Personally, what prevents me from talking to old connections is that I feel bad that I haven’t texted them in years. But, just because you may not have talked to them in years doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to hear from you. So, send them a quick “Hi! How are you?” text and see where it takes you! 

I’m sorry there isn’t a silver lining here; I wish there was. There will be an end to this pandemic. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and do what you need to do. We believe in your strength and resilience.

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References

Berinato, S. (2020, March 23). That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief 

Cacioppo J.T. & Hawkley L.C. (2009). Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447–454.

Cat Lazy GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/18cbfd63880bd05b137e386460ab93d0/tenor.gif?itemid=14497432

Challenges—Overview. (n.d.). The War For Kindness. Retrieved November 19, 2020, fromhttps://www.warforkindness.com/challenges

Free Classes – CorePower Yoga On Demand. (2020). Retrieved 17 November 2020, from https://www.corepoweryogaondemand.com/keep-up-your-practice

Paper Throwing Sheldon GIF – ThrowingPapers ImDone Nope—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/80fae08fe31e7aa019df98ddbb837b97/tenor.gif?itemid=5610220

Positivity GIF – ZooeyDeschanel NewGirl WeveGotThis—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/dd1df0dcaf3deddf0ede3053001dcca5/tenor.gif?itemid=5446786

Quarantine Got Me Like Bored GIF – QuarantineGotMeLike Bored HappyMonday—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/28c39e83612dc4c5d9e3ac2cd236f907/tenor.gif?itemid=16731484

Quarantine Isolation GIF – Quarantine Isolation Jamming—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media.tenor.com/images/67c8b64852ea9775f88ccbaa761a064a/tenor.gif

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.

Season 3 Ashley | GIF by Bachelor in Paradise – Find & Share on GIPHY (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from https://media0.giphy.com/media/3o7TKzAybUsDof1RTO/200.gif

Sheldon Tbbt GIF – Sheldon Tbbt PaperBag—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/0ceaac88f791192b90fd42194fa7aa1e/tenor.gif?itemid=4992098

This Is Fine Anxiety GIF – ThisIsFine Anxiety Calm—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/4faafe42aa7265478a8e9ad509e9a6fe/tenor.gif?itemid=5078122

Toy Story Dinosaur GIF – ToyStory Dinosaur Uncertainty—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/98d0b287bba5840b0ec85dd4d8f0c2b4/tenor.gif?itemid=11760759

Vossen, H.G.M, & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 118-124.

Walter White Breaking Bad GIF – WalterWhite BreakingBad Chemist—Discover & Share GIFs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/8316d229553b5bf0399acc9b83925e24/tenor.gif?itemid=15293759

Waytz, A., & Gray, K. (2018). Does online technology make us more or less sociable? A preliminary review and call for research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(4), 473-491.

Yoga Lesson Fail GIF – Tenor GIF Keyboard – Bring Personality To Your Conversations | Say more with Tenor. (2020). Retrieved 16 November 2020, from https://media1.tenor.com/images/4558061d1ab5221e6fa700e7bffb7e56/tenor.gif?itemid=10274998

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Gao, D. G. (2008). Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia. Psychological Science, 19(10), 1023-1029.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • Christi // Nov 21st 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Quarantine Crew! First – love the advice structure of the blog. I feel like it is really hard to get advice about stuff and be honest when everyone is pretty upset about the same stuff and no one wants to be the person that thinks they have it the worst. I think now more than ever, empathy has become really important. But, often with my friends, we all feel like 2020 has been trash, which makes it easy to empathize with each other, but we find little comfort in the fact that we are all so helpless in changing anything about our situations. Sometimes it is nice to be able to take joy in other people’s successes/happy moments, even if you are not going through something as positive.

    I really like the idea of scheduling a regular time with friends. When trying to find time every now and then to chat, it is really hard to coordinate. It is so easy to get caught in something else and miss your scheduled catch up.

    – Christi

  • Anonymous // Nov 23rd 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Hi Grace, Hannah, and Katherine,

    Loved this post! Super creative and relatable.

    I love Grace’s idea and I do it to some capacity. I do live instagram workouts and it definitely makes things more fun and holds me accountable. I feel more energized being motivated by others.

    Hannah – you definitely gave me some great tips about focusing on what you can control. It’s so hard to do sometimes, but is really the best way to live. This war against kindness resource is cool!

    Katherine – thank you for the tips to cope with loneliness, we all could definitely use them right now!

    —Camerin

  • Anonymous // Nov 24th 2020 at 8:48 am

    I would like to start by saying that the format of this post was very interesting and creative. I like how you managed to make it look like a real social media post through the clever use of emojis and whatnot to mimic the interaction features of typical social media platforms. Presentation aside, I think it is nice how you acknowledged people’s concerns and reminded them that it is a common struggle. It does not take away from one’s suffering, but I feel like it hurts more when you think it is only happening to you, a form of cosmic injustice. I also really like the part where y’all encouraged people to not worry that much about things outside of their control and focus on what they can change. It reminded me of this quote: “If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.” – Dalai Lama.

  • Anonymous // Nov 24th 2020 at 8:57 am

    I also think it is important to remember that loneliness is not determined by the number of friends you have or how many interactions you have in a given day. Above all, it is a state of mind and having a positive outlook, being optimistic, etc. can truly help a person feel better even though their situation may look grim because it is all subjective at the end of the day. There are plenty of people living with a lot less, but more contently.

    It is important to live with purpose and I liked the recommendation to plan activities with friends because it provides this opportunity to partake in a purposeful pursuit.

    ps: the above post with the quote from the Dalai Lama was by Patrick as is this one, sorry for forgetting to sign off

    -Pat

  • Rachel R. // Nov 25th 2020 at 12:01 am

    Hey y’all!

    Absolutely loved how you framed this! All of your responses were super comforting and helpful, while also backed up with all of the psych research we’ve seen so far.
    I especially related to Hannah’s section – it can feel like everyone is a bit more on edge right now (whether from mutual anxiety or general ~mind spiraling~), so taking the time to build more empathy for each other while we’re all in uncertain times together is a really important challenge to take on.
    This balance on focusing on our emotions & what we can control while also recognizing the emotions and challenges of others can be tough to maintain, but is essential to staying more connected to each other and to our own internal feelings. Even if it’s just starting with small actions on social media, the little things we do to keep this balance can have a big impact! I definitely want to try out the challenges you linked 🙂

    – Rachel

  • Julie // Nov 27th 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Hey Grace, Hannah, and Katherine (QuarantineCrew!)

    This was an awesome post. Like others have mentioned, I absolutely love the set-up, it’s super creative and was really engaging to read. I also related to all of the issues brought up, and I think you all did a great job of providing evidence-based solutions to those issues.

    Grace, I love the idea of doing a weekly yoga class with friends. That’s something I’ve always thought would be fun to do, but never actually took action on it. Hearing that you and your friends have been doing it weekly is inspiring, and I think I’ll reach out to some friends soon to get this started.

    Hannah, your section was really comforting, and though I know others are feeling this way, it’s nice to be reminded of that in writing, which feels more tangible than my thoughts. The phrase “control through acceptance” really resonated with me, as it has become clear to me throughout quarantine that there are some things I can work on and change, and these are the things worth spending time on, rather than stressing and worrying about the things that I can only think about. I’ve also found that taking action on other things, no matter how small they may seem (like cleaning my room), gets my mind off of those stressors and worries, giving me something to focus on and to accomplish. That being said, I think distractors are helpful only as long as, like you said, you’re still allowing yourself to feel and accept your feelings.

    Katherine, your comment on how you feel bad about texting old connections after not speaking to them in years is so relatable. I’m always nervous that the conversation will be dry and end after not really saying anything of substance. But when I have sent those texts, even if it’s just a quick catch up on what’s going on in our lives, I’m always left feeling happy. Plus, it’s nice to know that someone is thinking of you, so when I’m on the receiving end, it’s always a good feeling.

    -Julie

  • Suyeon Lee // Nov 28th 2020 at 1:52 am

    Hey Quarantine crew!

    I absolutely loved this post and I was completely immersed in the content of your post as I was reading it. The structure of the post–how you wrote like you are writing a letter– is so creative!

    Grace, you showed multiple sides of social media and online communication; yes, social media has limitations that makes it impossible to have the same effect as in-person face-to-face interaction. Although, as you said, it is only ‘supplementing’ off-line communication, I agree that making the best out of this online communication is the best way to stay connected to our friends under the current circumstance.

    Hannah, it was interesting to know about “anticipatory grief” you were talking about. Since no one right now can predict our future–even what we would be doing next year and where we would be–it is hard for us to avoid anticipatory grief. Your suggestion of relying on social media seemed effective since social media is one of the few means we could keep in touch with others and share this grief with others.

    Katherine, it was very interesting to see how loneliness could not only affect the mood but also one’s physiological state by changing gene expressions. I would love to see which parts of the genes are impacted and what these processes are in details in the future research. Also, thank you for providing a potential solution for dealing with loneliness: nostalgia. I guess it’s time for me to go to my hard drive and look at old pictures I took back on campus.

    -Suyeon

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