If you were to tell me six months ago that I would be video chatting 90% of my conversations, I would have never believed that.

Video chatting has historically been my least favorite medium, but now it’s all I can do to safely connect with those I love while also social distancing. Whether it’s through FaceTime, Zoom, or Shine Together virtual events, connecting with others looks different in this time—and I’m starting to realize that that’s OK.

In the past, I placed a lot of value in face-to-face meetings to get my fill of connection. I always thought that this was what was “best”—with the basic understanding that connecting with others was just as important as how you do it. But new research suggests that how you actually fill your social fuel tank doesn’t make too much of a difference for your overall mental health.

“There’s a basic need for social connections, just as we have a basic need for food,” Shira Gabriel, a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo shares with Futurity. “The longer you go without those sorts of connections, the lower the fuel tank, and that’s when people start to get anxious, nervous, or depressed, because they lack needed resources.

“What’s important is not how you’re filling the social fuel tank, but that your social fuel tank is getting filled,” Gabriel shares.

“What’s important is not how you’re filling the social fuel tank, but that your social fuel tank is getting filled.” — Professor Shira Gabriel.

Research from Gabriel’s study also shows even without “traditional” sources of connection—like a romantic partner—your social fuel tank can still be filled. “People had assumed these nontraditional connections weren’t valuable….But after researching these connections for so long, we never found evidence that they weren’t valuable,” Gabriel shares. “Nothing suggested that people using nontraditional strategies were lonelier, or less happy, less socially skilled, or feeling any less fulfilled.”

If you’ve been struggling during this pandemic because you haven’t been able to connect with others in your usual ways, this news might be helpful. The key is adapting and finding what works for you in this time, and what makes you feel the most connected to others. Here are some ways you can do just that.

Check-In With Your Social Tank

Your ‘social fuel tank’ is the connections you have with others—and the relationship that has with your energy levels. If you’re feeling drained, and experiencing a high volume of connection, that might indicate your fuel tank is low.

Take time when you can to check-in with your tank and how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling low, make sure you’re setting boundaries to protect your energy. On the other hand, if you’re craving more connection, make note of that and challenge yourself to seek out those relationships in new ways this week. Whether you’re checking in the Shine app or in a journal, know it’s a strength to address your needs, whatever they might look like.

Explore New Ways to Connect

Once you’ve established your needs, make room for exploration. Think through the ways you feel most connected now. Is it with face-to-face conversations that you can replicate in safe ways? Is it over an activity, over a film, or over a playlist? Is it in solitude, with a book or an online discussion? Is it with other Shine members in the comments of the Daily Discussion question?

Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and find different ways to feel connection. However feels best for you is the right way to build relationships of all kinds.

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