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Staying Connected While Practicing Social Distancing

As the novel coronavirus keeps most of us home, this lack of in-person human contact can cause stress and loneliness.

However, there are many ways to stay connected during social distancing.

Of course, there are phone calls and texts. A quick, "I'm thinking about you" text could be a boost for someone.

But sometimes people want to see other's faces and do activities together. Sending pictures to one another is a fantastic way to send love and get some face time in. Sending random photos of what the kids are up to might be a daily highlight for a lonely grandmother.

We have put together a list of ways to socialize with friends and loved ones, as well as ways to play together, without leaving your house.

Free Social Connection

Google Hangouts can be used for messaging or free video or voice calls with one person or a whole group. Hangouts is a free smartphone app or Google Chrome Extension. It can be used on any kind of smartphone and even has fun features like photos, stickers and emojis.

For iPhones, there is the Facetime option, but it only works with other iPhones or iPads. This app allows for multiple faces to appear on the same screen for nearly real gatherings. This is a great option for virtual happy hours or family reunions.

Zoom is traditionally a business meeting tool, but can be used for virtual happy hours and family get-togethers. It is also useful for conference calls or a video call for some face-to-face time.

Skype is another free tool that can be used for video calls, chatting or conference calls. It can be used on a computer as an app or through the web or as a smartphone or tablet app.

Facebook has a whole host of virtual connectivity options. In addition to sharing statuses and commenting on someone's wall or news feed, there is Facebook Messaging, which can be between two people or a whole group, allowing for a chat or texting option. Facebook also has a new feature called Watch Party. In this feature, the host can pick out a queue of Facebook videos and line them up for the party. The host invites friends (other friends can join later, too) and they can see and hear each other, as well as comment on the videos. Bring on the cat videos!

Netflix Parties is a fun way to watch Netflix shows and movies with your friends. It is available only through the Chrome browser, but it is free. There is a chat window where group members can comment and chat during the show.

Houseparty is a video group chat app for smart phones. In addition to chatting face-to-face, you can play interactive games, including Quick Draw, which is like Pictionary. There are also screen sharing capabilities. Best of all, it's free.

Social Gaming

The Oculus Virtual Reality devices have a free feature that allows people to connect around the world in a virtual movie theater. Brothers in New York and Colorado can watch a movie with their father in Florida, chatting and commenting during the show. Multiplayer games are available as well, but all parties must have an Oculus device and the same game to play together.

Most video game systems have multiplayer games available. These are a great way to connect with other people while keeping a safe distance. Even better is using headsets to talk in real time with other players. It is an opportunity to defeat the enemy or solve a puzzle with friends but can be a way to meet new people from all over the world.

Just be sure to always practice online safety; this is especially important for children.

If talking is not important and you are interested just in interactive entertainment, there are multiplayer games and apps for just about every person and interest. Check your app store for suggestions.

Other Ideas

There are many ways to stay connected while practicing social distancing. Get creative — literally. A fun activity for kids is to create drawings or write letters to their grandparents or elderly nursing home residents to receive by mail.

Or have kids write letters to their friends or teachers from school. The most important thing is to not become a hermit. Social distancing should help keep us safe, but we need social connection to keep us sane.

Reach out and connect with someone today!

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