Maintaining productive online relationships during lockdown and social distancing

Allow us to introduce to Dr. Miloni Sanghvi, a Psychologist & Outreach Associate, at Mumbai’s Mpower - The Centre who offers valuable tips on maintaining relationships in the time of social distancing and social media.


Wednesday, 1st April, 2020: I’d already lost count of what day of lockdown we’re in. I reached out for my heated phone, “Your average screen time has gone up by 50% from last week, to 5 hours and 43 minutes.” Within a second, I was imbued with a concoction of shock, embarrassment and denial…25% of my day on my phone?! I reassured myself that this was a “quarantine thing”, putting my phone aside and carrying on with my day.

With the ongoing nation-wide lockdown, we have precluded physical human contact. There is a noticeable trade-off here- as social distancing necessitates in-person meetings to recede, social media triumphs as the regnant form of interaction.

The increased use of Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Zoom, and other apps demonstrates how we are turning to social media to maintain connectivity with our friends, family and colleagues during quarantine. Online connection serves as a replacement for physical contact, mitigating a sense of feeling disconnected with our social networks.

In expressing our feelings to loved ones, discussing the current climate and sharing useful resources with each other online, we feel reassured and supported. Moreover, by being present on group chats, we develop a sense of togetherness in facing the challenges that result from being in lockdown.

Although social media play a crucial role in human interaction, said platforms can also elicit emotional distress. Members of online groups do not have homogenous interests and levels of enthusiasm; some members may be gung-ho about sharing the live coverage with all their contacts; however, others may be unreceptive to this, feeling emotionally exhausted. Individuals have varied responses to the same situation, and these differences can cause strain on one’s online and offline relationships. For many, online engagement may be proving to be more harmful than helpful.

Effective communication via social media

It is important to identify and respond to others in accordance to how you are feeling. Listed below are ways to foster productive relationships online:

1. Understand your own relationship with social media

Monitor your online use and how this impacts your psychological well-being. Look for patterns such as what causes you to feel distressed and what alleviates it. Subsequently, find a balance that works for you. For instance, I find it that I work most effectively and comfortably when I respond to personal messages in the evenings, using the day time to have work-related conversations.

2. Maintain professionalism

Whilst you may now be working 100% virtually, maintain the level of professionalism you exercise at your workplace. While you connect over apps such as WhatsApp or Zoom to communicate with your supervisor/colleagues, use formal language and conduct, and ensure that you are available online at your regular work hours during ‘work from home’ (WFH).

3. Set boundaries and limits

Set ground rules on your chats in terms of what is appropriate to share and what is not; it is acceptable to say “no” if you need to. If you feel frustrated by certain online chats, politely confront the member(s), sharing the impact this is having on you - they may not be aware. Staying silent may further strain your relationships offline with these individuals. You can also limit your intake by putting your electronic devices away for a part of your day, keeping your phone on silent or dedicating a specific amount of time to consume information.

4. Create filters

You may not be able to completely snub your electronic gadgets as you require them for essential tasks. Use strategies to filter essential from non-essential. Mute or exit unnecessary groups (temporarily), explaining to group members why this is necessary. Make a list of tasks you need to achieve through social media. Focus on meaningful relationships during this time, and get the necessary updates from them. If required, set your status to reflect that you are responding to urgent messages only.

5. Use platforms more mindfully

With WFH, we have better learned what tasks need in-person attention as opposed to those achievable online. Wherever possible, we can use this to guide future decisions and overcome the costs of meeting in person, such as the time and expenses required to travel to the meeting.

Social media enables online interactions to occur with ease, allowing for a seamless connection between the digital and physical worlds. Be mindful of how the use of these platforms impacts us and our relationships, taking necessary steps to safeguard our wellbeing. Finally, take into consideration others’ contexts and tolerance levels as you share content!