6 ways tech can combat loneliness and boost mental health during the holidays

Virtual reality, online support groups, and meditation apps can ease the stress of pandemic lockdowns and help you connect with other people.

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The winter holidays are usually a mix of stress and joy but this year that combination is way out of balance. Lockdowns, illness, and limited travel have made the end of 2020 as difficult as the rest of this pandemic year.

There are more ways to connect with friends and family than Zoom calls. There also are resources for when you need more than social time. This collection offers six ways to use technology to combat loneliness and get professional support when you need it. Whether you're looking for a new social experience or support for coping with grief, these platforms and services can help. 

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Use VR to meet in a virtual living room

Alcove, an Oculus Quest experience, came out of the AARP Lab, according to a post on the Oculus blog. The idea was to bring family members of all ages together in a virtual reality setting. People can hang out in a virtual home, take a road trip, and play checkers or other games. Family members can play with a pet rabbit or take an air balloon ride over the Swiss Alps. The initial idea was to create a VR place that was both a destination and a portal to new worlds. 

Read "The Night Before Christmas" together

Caribu is another app that can bring people together even if they're not in the same room. This app won a best of the year award from Apple. A subscription to the app includes access to books, activites, and games. Grandparents can connect with grandkids in other cities via video calls and parents can spend time with kids even if they can't be together for the holidays.

Find a virtual event on EventBrite

If you can't bear to miss New Year's Eve celebrations, check out the New Year's Eve International Virtual Global Gala. This online event features 13 breakout rooms so you can visit a virtual Oktoberfest in the Germany room, watch lion dancers from China, and enjoy poetry, song, and dance from an African dance troupe. There are also game rooms if you're in the mood for trivia and a Champagne tasting session. Tickets range from $20 to $45. 

Times Square is hosting an online version of the traditional New York New Year's Eve party. This webcast includes behind-the-scenes stories and interviews with performers.

You don't have to wait for Dec. 31 to celebrate the season. A search for "holiday events" on EventBrite turns up walks through London, performances of "A Christmas Carol," and tours or holiday lights. 

Connect over hobbies and volunteer opportunities

Amava organizes live discussions around specific topics led by a moderator. The audience was originally retired adults and empty-nesters. The conversations also include volunteer opportunities, flexible jobs, and learning opportunities. Membership is free but some sessions require a fee. The funds go to the company's Virtual Volunteer Program, which matches individuals with nonprofits. 

Try a meditation app

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a mental health crisis around the world. Social distancing and virtual work and school have helped to reduce the spread of the virus but these dominant themes of 2020 have also increased isolation, anxiety, and depression. Meditation is one way to calm an overactive mind and reduce repetitive thoughts. Ten Percent Happier, Calm, and Headspace are popular and well-reviewed phone apps that make it easy to learn the basics of meditation. Each one requires a monthly or annual subscription to access the full library of content.

Find grief support in small online groups

Circles offers sessions for people feeling grief about the loss of a child, loss due to suicide, or the loss of a parent. The company's support groups connect people who have had similar experiences. The sessions are guided by therapists. Circles is offering free grief workshops on Dec. 23 at various times. The company offers monthly subscriptions for people who want to attend multiple sessions.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...