Woman holding laptop while video chatting with a friend

7 New Ways to Connect with Friends While Social Distancing

We all had our rituals: that after-work pick-up game, the standing Saturday night out with another couple, that book club gathering that usually dissolved in gossip and laughter. Unfortunately, whatever pre-social distancing ways you had of bonding with your favorite people likely have come to a screeching halt. But you can still stay connected with your friends in this prolonged period of social distancing—in fact, these activities might even bring you closer together.

Swap-Outs for Your Favorite Social Activities: 7 Ideas

1. You used to…workout together. Now you…challenge each other to work out.

Your yoga class, basketball and tennis games all have been cancelled and you likely haven’t seen running, walking or cycling buddies in a while.

Man doing sun salutation yoga pose on mat
You can stay connected to friends while working out alone. Challenge each other to stay active!

You don’t want to let this good habit lapse, though—nor should your friends. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, and can even benefit brain health, so regular workouts are important, particularly in uncertain times.

Exercise has the ability to naturally raise neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, that help you feel good,” said Dr. Kathy Wilson, a Clinical Corporate Trainer for Life Extension with a Ph.D. in psychology. “Exercising while connecting with friends really has a lot of overall benefits to your physical and mental health.”

Good news: you can still inspire each other to work up a sweat, from afar. Consider tagging your friends on Instagram in the #See10Do10Challenge of push-ups, squats and other exercises you can easily do from home.

Or, download the free Nike Running Club app and start doing runs outside or on a home treadmill and challenge your friends to do them, too. “There are a lot of wonderful ways to stay connected and active with the use of technology,” Dr. Wilson said.

But if you don’t want to add yet another app to your phone, there are simpler ways you can exercise “with” a friend, from afar, she added. “If you are planning on going for a walk, you could use your video calling option on your phone to talk and walk with your friend,” Dr. Wilson advised. “Using each other as accountability buddies is also a great idea.”

Woman preparing crab salad in upscale kitchen
Enjoy dinner with your friends from your own separate kitchens. You just need FaceTime!

2. You used to…dine together. Now you…FaceTime over takeout.

Did you have a Taco Tuesday with your buddies at a favorite Tex-Mex joint? Support local restaurants by ordering in and scheduling a FaceTime or Zoom date. Once everyone’s at their kitchen tables and by their phones, you can dive into the paper cartons simultaneously. You might not be able to pass the guac, but you can still banter over whether the chef uses the right amount of cilantro.

“Even when you’re not in the same room, dining "together" has emotional benefits,” said Life Extension Registered Dietitian Holli Ryan. “Meals have been bringing people together for generations, and they are especially important for individuals who are in quarantine alone,” she explained.

While an indulgent treat might rack up some extra calories, Ryan noted that there are ways to make healthful choices while ordering takeout. Look for menu descriptions that include baked, grilled or steamed as cooking methods. FaceTime dinner dates might be a healthier overall approach to eating. “A planned meal gives something for people to look forward to,” she said, “and can also be an opportunity to make time for a more balanced meal versus aimless snacking throughout the day.”

And if you do want to keep it healthy, you and your friends can cook following the same calorie-conscious recipe—we think recipes in the aptly named Tu Casa Mi Casa are perfect if it’s Mexican you crave!

3. You used to…explore the local farmer’s markets and health food stores. Now you…“share the health” with your friends online!

Was roaming farmer’s markets with your friends to discover delicious fresh produce one of your favorite activities? How about browsing the aisles of a nearby health food store to see what new or intriguing supplements were on the shelves? Discovering new ways to stay healthy is fun, and it’s even more enjoyable as a social activity.

Man playing guitar outside for a woman at her upstairs window
Stand outside your friend’s house and sing “Happy Birthday To You.” It’s a thoughtful way to send birthday wishes while social distancing.

4. You used to…go out for each other’s birthdays. Now you…have a birthday serenade schedule.

Steal a page from John Cusack in “Say Anything” and share your love from a social distance with a song. Create a schedule for your friends to drive to the birthday boy or girl’s house, where they will park and then blast a favorite song from their car speakers. So at 2 PM, Jan drives up in her Jeep and plays, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and a half hour later, it’s Phil in his Pontiac, playing Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Feeling especially expressive? Skip the playlist and belt out a birthday song yourself. Sing the basic, “Happy Birthday to You,” or choose a tune that reminds you of better times together.

(Whether you play it or sing it, though, be sure these “serenades” are happening at reasonable, non-sleeping hours to avoid neighbor complaints.)

5. You used to…laugh together all night. Now you…send each other funny memes.

One of the things people miss the most about socializing is the laughter. We simply don’t have the same shared experiences to make light of anymore, since most of us are experiencing some level of isolation. It’s hard to josh around about your friend’s silly sweater or those MC Hammer pants he never got rid of, when you haven’t seen this friend and his questionable fashion choices in at least a month.

This is where you can delight in the massive collection of short videos and gifs that have been circulating since the first panic about toilet paper was voiced. Enjoy them, share them—even take a stab at creating your own.

“Right now, the most important thing is to continue to find ways to connect with one another as that is what provides us with a sense of comfort, belonging, appreciation and camaraderie,” Dr. Wilson said.

She added that humor isn’t just a way to maintain friendships—there are health benefits to a good chuckle: “Laughter has many of the same benefits as exercise and connection, it helps to release those feel good neurotransmitters.”

Might those Tiger King memes actually have some power? Dr. Wilson says not to be quick to laugh off that notion: “There’s research that shows that laughter can help boost the immune system and help decrease stress,” she said. “All of those things are very important right now, when things can feel a bit more overwhelming.”

6. You used to…help each other around the house. Now you…help each other professionally.

Did you express your friendship by helping your buddy repaint the guest room or fix the leak in his sink? Many of us spend our spare time lending a hand to our friends with home improvement tasks—offering help to someone you care about, after all, feels good and adds purpose to our lives.

While you might not be able to lend a hand for home repairs, with the economy in crisis, now is a good time to shift our focus on how we can help each other professionally instead.

Some ideas:

  • Write colleagues and former coworkers a LinkedIn recommendation—job hunting likely will be on the horizon for many of us.
  • If your friends own small businesses, write Google and Yelp reviews for them. It would be a kindness right now to write recommendations for any local businesses you have experience with, from your hair salon to that caterer you used for your daughter’s wedding.
  • If you’ve got experience hiring, offer to review resumes and cover letters.
  • Make introductions between friends and colleagues, even those who aren’t in obviously related fields. Maybe your insurance broker needs an accountant.

7. You used to…give each other a big, warm bear-hug. Now you…show your love with words.

A hug hello, a warm pat on the shoulder: it’s easy to overlook the importance of affection between friends. But once it’s gone, many of us feel a void. Words will never replace hugs, but they can provide support and validation in ways that go beyond a physical gesture.

“The physical aspect of love and friendship has been temporarily removed, so we must find other ways to continue to connect and build those relationships,” Dr. Wilson advised.

Consider texting a friend to say a simple “I miss you,” or “I’m thinking of you.” Or take it a step further and put into words what it is you love the most about his or her company: is it that sense of humor? Is it loyalty? Is it that you feel like you’re a better person because of something he or she taught you? Don’t wait for a milestone birthday to express your feelings. A kind comment right now could be the ultimate pick-me-up.

If mushy words aren’t your thing, let your actions speak for themselves.

“You can send each other tokens of appreciation, like flowers or little gifts that show you care,” Dr. Wilson said. “The little things that help to build our relationships do take some thought and a little effort right now, but they are the things that will help to show another person that they are important and that we are not alone.”

About the Author: Jorie Mark earned an English degree from University of Pennsylvania before getting a master's degree in creative writing from American University. She is a content and social media expert with 20 years of experience in social media, editorial content, digital marketing, events, public relations and food and lifestyle writing. She is also a published author.