I’m a big fan of hosting events and parties – it’s one of my favorite parts of running the Canadian Blockchain Consortium. When I see a room full of smiling people enjoying a charcuterie spread and glasses of wine at one of our gatherings, having great conversations and making new connections, it gives me a big boost of energy and makes me feel so grateful to get to do what I love.

It’s only been a few weeks, but that scene feels very distant now. Our world has completely changed in such a short period of time. Instead of evoking fond memories, trying to imagine a room packed with people, greeting each other with hugs and handshakes, just brings up a kind of sadness that for the foreseeable future, we’re all going to be leading a much lonelier existence.

It’s an unfortunate reality that social distancing is critically important to preventing the fast spread of COVID-19 and flattening the transmission curve so our public health systems aren’t overwhelmed by cases. We all need to do our part in minimizing contact with others and avoiding large groups, even if we’re relatively young and healthy – because it’s not just about us, it’s about others who might be far more vulnerable, and you can transmit the virus the most easily while being completely asymptomatic.

Self-isolation and generally keeping away from others is the biggest contribution we can make to fighting the effects of the novel coronavirus. However, this is a big issue with its own set of problems, because loneliness isn’t just unpleasant – it can be dangerous. As an advocate for mental health who has dealt with my share of anxiety, isolation and depression, I feel a lot of empathy right now for people who are just beginning to experience some of these symptoms from quarantining or social distancing.

Solitude, isolation, are painful things and beyond human endurance.

Jules Verne

I’m active in two technology industries – cleantech with my company Absolute Combustion, and also our blockchain ecosystem – so I might be a little biased when I say that embracing tech is the key to staying connected (and sane!) in the era of social distancing.  Here are just a few of the ways that we can use our technological tools to maintain our friendships, connections and productivity while doing our part to minimize environmental contact with others over the next weeks.

Engaging Online, Meaningfully

We hear so much about how we all spend way too much time browsing social media, but I think that diminishes the importance these tools have to keep us connected. While sharing news and ideas on sites like Twitter, Linkedin and Reddit, it’s surprising how often real and meaningful conversations get started in the comment threads. If you’re usually just a reader, jump in and start speaking your mind – or share your art, music or other talent. You might be surprised at how many people want to engage.

Join the World Virtually

I had a wave of disappointment when, in quick succession, all of my speaking engagements and educational courses got cancelled as the COVID-19 news worsened. However, as people started realizing that we might be in for a longer duration of isolation than we first thought, I’ve gotten some requests to turn my presentations into webinars. This is a fantastic way to feel connected and keep up with your continuing education goals – check out the University of Calgary and University of Alberta websites for some fascinating and free to the public talks.

Change Up Your Game

Playing online games is a great way to unwind or get some much-needed distraction from the endless news cycle, but with free time to spare, addictively plunging into a solitary game might not be the best idea right now. Social games like multiplayer role playing games that encourage collaboration and dialogue between players can be a great way to get some much-needed interaction – The Sims, Adventure Quest and Runescape are just a few where you might even make friendships that last long past COVID-19.

Discover Productivity Tools

Keeping an office functional and on-task while everyone is working remotely isn’t easy, but there are thousands of companies that do it as a matter of business. The key are team management and productivity tools like Asana, Microsoft Teams and Trello do more than just keep track of tasks and manage projects – they provide spaces for virtual collaboration, the sharing of ideas, and building a strong team spirit.

Spell it Out (Old School!)

My last tip is one that has helped me through some of my biggest challenges, and yes, analog pens and paper count as some of humanity’s most important technologies! Studies show that journaling about your honest feelings and experiences has major benefits to mental health, and can increase positivity, help people gain perspective on their problems and keep focus on their goals. And it helps you connect to the only person you’ll always have for company – yourself.

 

We might be facing an uncertain future, with so many problems that seem far greater than loneliness. But in times of illness and stress, loneliness will amplify both, and we can’t diminish the importance of protecting our mental health when we most need the inner strength and confidence that we can endure these difficult times. When we’re afraid, we naturally reach to others for comfort – and for those people in total isolation, just isn’t available.

Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.

Carl Jung

Please remember that no matter how alone we are, we don’t have to be lonely. Staying connected and making a low-contact social life a priority does more than just help us, because on the other end of every engagement is another person battling the same feelings of isolation. Similar to the way social distancing is the duty we can all do for community safety, reaching out through ‘virtual relating’ is a form of contribution to our entire society’s mental health.

A strong fabric of family, friendships, colleagues and acquaintances will help us get through this crisis and emerge with a new appreciation for the in-person relating we used to take for granted – I know I appreciate my Wine & Cheese blockchain events so much more now. The pandemic won’t last forever, and what we do now will determine the shape our future takes. As we keep supporting each other from a distance, we’ll all gain more confidence this will pass and that by staying united, we can weather any storm together. And some day soon, we’ll raise a glass and toast to that.

Read more about mental health during coronavirus

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