Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are heeding warnings and staying home (if they are able) to protect themselves and others. As the situation remains uncertain and continues to evolve, people around the globe are coping with new realities of life in isolation and finding creative ways to maintain aspects of everyday life, health and wellness, often using technology that has primarily been utilized for other purposes in the past.
While social media and working from home have sometimes been described as isolating, they are now helping to connect people and providing enrichment. I spoke with several individuals who are getting creative with technology in the areas of self care, education and celebration to find out what motivated them to create and connect this way.
With gyms, spas and doctors’ offices closing around the country, routines, along with physical and mental health, are being compromised at the exact time that they are most critical. This also means that scores of trainers, instructors and coaches are currently out of work.
Numerous wellness facilitators are heading online and offering fitness classes, meditations and other activities through Instagram Live, Zoom and other technologies in order to help people stay occupied and on track.
Erin Pasko, a SoulCycle instructor and dance teacher, decided to host 45-minute online dance classes a few times per week streamed from her mother’s dance studio, The Dancer’s Workshop, in Wall, NJ once her regular classes were put on pause, because she felt it was the best way she could help and provide positivity during this uncertain time.
Pasko posts class information and signups on her Instagram stories at @ErinPasko so anyone can join in. The classes are hosted through Zoom, allowing participants to see and hear Pasko’s instruction, but also to display their moves if they choose to keep their cameras on.
“I want to help people maintain a sense of normalcy, get their blood-flowing and heart rates up, disassociate from the anxiety-inducing state of the world and stay positive. Dance challenges the body and brain, forces people to connect with music, reduces stress and lifts spirits,” Pasko explains. “Using the Zoom technology makes it easy to reach people via email and gives members a sense of community, as it feels like everyone has gathered into a single room.”
Similarly, in order to fight fear with connection and community and provide an opportunity for her clients and friends to tend to their mental and physical health while in isolation, actress, personal trainer and F45 and Krav Maga Unyted coach, Alexandra Daniels has been teaching a circuit workout twice a day, several days a week via Instagram Live through her handle @alexandra_wren. Daniels decided within two hours of Los Angeles shutting down all gyms that she would provide guided workouts on Instagram Live to replicate the energy and camaraderie created during her in-person workouts.
“It’s easy to blame a lot of the disconnection in our society on all of these virtual-modalities like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, but in times like this, what a beautiful reminder of how they can bring us together and give people a sense of community, connection and routine … when there is none,” Daniels shares of why she implemented the Instagram workouts.
School closures mean that millions of parents are trying to sustain learning for their children. The internet has quickly become a space to facilitate learning, whether for those of school age finding continuity, parents figuring out how to teach or adults using their free time to enrich their minds.
To help parents navigate time at home with children, professionals like Dana Rosenbloom, Child Development and Behavior Specialist, Early Childhood Consultant and powerhouse behind Dana’s Kids, are offering free webinars with tips for parents on home-based learning. While Rosenbloom has always used Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts for sessions with parents, now she’s added webinars, classes and individual sessions for children and additional resources for parents through Instagram and Zoom, with more to come.
“I’m finding that while we are not conducting in-person sessions, many of the children I work with feel comforted to see me via web, where we can play a game or just connect about what they’re thinking about,” Rosenbloom says, thankful that the technology is helping her instill confidence in parents and reassurance for children.
When NJ schools announced closures for COVID-19, many implemented distance learning plans using Google Classroom through which teachers can regularly log in with students, take attendance, help them revisit skills and keep everyone on the same page.
“Having Google Classroom has been an amazing way to stay in touch with my students. They are reading news articles critically and writing daily responses,” describes one ninth and tenth grade English & Language Arts teacher. “With access to this technology, I can comment on their papers, write to them in real time and answer their questions. We have open communication, and I can share announcements with them individually or as a whole.”
While not every school has plans that are this advanced and not every student has access to the same technology, online programs are providing resources for students at home and facilitating communications between families and schools.
One of the many heartbreaking elements of the pandemic is that countless celebrations that are being cancelled or postponed, from weddings to college graduations to sporting competitions. While in-person gatherings are being put on hold, people are finding new ways to connect and celebrate virtually to mark milestones or simply prevent themselves from feeling truly isolated.
After months of planning their daughter’s bat mitzvah that would bring family from far and wide to Maryland to share in the occasion, Elana and Josh Stein were forced to postpone once policies advising against large gatherings were put into effect. So as not to let the studying, preparation and speechwriting go to waste, the parents set up a Zoom meeting, providing their daughter Isabelle the opportunity to do her hair and makeup, put on a dress and deliver her bat mitzvah speech virtually to more than 70 proud friends and family members – conference participants from all around the country.
“I was so happy I could watch Isabelle’s bat mitzvah speech online; it was the next best thing to witnessing it in person and made me feel like I was there,” family member Nancy Ruderman shared about the experience. “Even though we couldn’t be together, we saw family members virtually and viewing it online didn’t diminish any of my feelings of excitement and pride.”
This week, for the first time ever, my best friends and I coordinated a happy hour via FaceTime. We grabbed our wine and cheese and sat on our respective couches and discussed our anxiety, college memories and laughed until we cried about who knows what.
Coming together, even virtually, temporarily pushed our worries aside, made us feel like everything was almost normal again and cut through the isolation we’d been feeling, but also begged the question: Why hadn’t we done this sooner?
While Instagram Live will still be used to share the mundane and Zoom will continue to host professional meetings, the ability of the platforms to transcend these norms to fuel the mind, body and soul has been proven. The heroes of COVID-19 are the healthcare professionals at the front lines of the crisis working tirelessly in far from optimal conditions and those who continue to work to ensure the rest of us are healthy and fed. However, the thousands of individuals creatively using technology to enrich the lives of others during this emotional time are helping fight the feelings of powerlessness and anxiety with positivity and proactivity and building a sense of community despite isolation. While these actions may seem small compared to the enormity of the coronavirus, they make an immense difference in bringing a little help, hope and happiness to so many.