With Britain going into lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, it could mean months of self-isolation and not seeing family and friends. Technology can help make this less of a burden. The services below will make sure you can speak to, see and even watch Netflix with those you care about, almost as if they were right there with you.
Some apps come preinstalled on your phone, while some require a simple download, but they're all free and relatively easy to set up; most of the time you don't even need to create an account, and can just use your mobile phone number. Even if you need to set up an email account, this won't cost you anything, and will be worth it to enjoy quality time with family.
All video-calling applications require internet, be it mobile data or a wireless connection through your home's broadband. Video calling can use quite a lot of data, so be careful if you're using your phone's data connection rather than home WiFi.
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll is well aware of the need for human contact. "The one piece of advice I'd give someone struggling with self-isolating is to connect – connect with others, connect with nature and connect with yourself."
"The important thing to remember, whatever your age, is to interact meaningfully. When online, truly connect with others by messaging friends directly, rather than passively scrolling or liking comments and photos. Passive online usage has been shown in research studies to increase feelings of isolation and low mood, whereas actively and genuinely interacting with others will boost self-esteem and wellbeing."
Communication apps and services
Zoom has been getting a lot of attention recently. It's a business-focussed group video calling service, but many home users have cottoned on to the fact that's it's great for socialising, too.
A free account lets you have video chat meetings with up to 100 participants, with the only limitation being that each call cuts off after 40 minutes. This is enough for a virtual cup of tea or aperitif with friends or family, and 1:1 chats don't have the limit.
You can display video thumbnails for everyone in the chat as a 'wall of faces', or set Zoom to maximise the video of the person talking automatically. We found it worked well with small groups, but can become cacophonous with large numbers talking over each other.
The FaceTime app comes as standard on all Apple devices, such as iPhones, iPads or MacBooks, and you can video or voice call anyone that has an Apple device through their Apple ID or phone number.
You can start a call through the FaceTime app or the Messages app. If you have a group chat on Messages, you can also start a group call with all involved. You can have up to 32 people on FaceTime at once!
FaceTime allows you to flip your phone camera to front-facing (to show the call recipient your face) or back-facing (to show the call recipient what you can see). Back-facing is useful for showing what you're doing, whether it's a walking tour of your house, a bit of eco-therapy, cooking or a puzzle.
Read more: How to keep your mind active when isolated
Much like FaceTime, Google Duo allows you to video call with one person or up to 12 people at once. The app is free and has a big advantage in that it doesn't require any particular type of smartphone - you can use it on your Android or Apple device, or via your computer's web browser. Be aware that group calling only works on your phone or tablet - for web-based group calls you'll need Hangouts (below).
Hangouts is an instant messaging app that also allows for video and voice calling. It used to be just for users with a Google account, but now allows you to invite anyone to chat.
You can video call with up to 25 of your friends and family at once, or 150 people just on a voice call - you can get your whole neighbourhood chatting at once.
Facebook is a great social media platform to stay in touch with relatives and friends through status updates, stories and the chat feature. You can also video and voice call through the Facebook Messenger platform.
If you have a group chat set up with your friends or family on Facebook Messenger, you can also do a group video call so everyone can get involved. Just look for the little video camcorder icon in the chat window.
WhatApp is a hugely popular instant messaging app that allows for individual voice or video calls, as well as small group video calls. Most people will have WhatsApp already installed on their phone; it looks in your phone's contacts and finds anyone who also has the app installed, so making a WhatsApp call is as easy as calling someone normally.
Similar to FaceTime and Google Duo, you can swap your front and back camera, allowing you to show what you're doing instead of just your face.
Some people aren't keen on using Google or Facebook products due to privacy concerns, or even WhatsApp, as it's owned by Facebook.
Help is at hand, with Signal. This is an Android and iPhone messaging and voice and video calling app that encrypts all communications.
It's created by a not-for-profit organisation funded by user donations, so you don't need to worry about anyone selling your data.
Launched in 2003, Skype feels like an evergreen platform to call your friends, family or colleagues. You've probably already got it installed on your computer.
While it may no longer be the number one video-calling platform, it's simple to use and free if you're using WiFi. Just add the person you want to talk to through their Skype ID or email address and you can instant message, audio call or video call.
You can also show call reipients what's on your computer screen; just hover your mouse in the video and click the icon that looks like two stacked squares at the bottom-right, then click the 'share screen' button.
Have a video party
The Netflix Party Google Chrome browser extension allows you to watch a Netflix film or TV programme with your friends and family (virtually) in the room. The extension allows you to pause it for everyone so you can chat about what's going on. It's almost as if you're watching in the same room together and having a lively discussion.
Netflix Party really allows you to connect by doing something you would usually do together in person, but over the internet.
Keep chatting, stay happy
Being at home doesn't mean you have to feel lonely - there are ways to connect with friends and family without leaving the house through apps, games and video calls, all of which will help boost your mental wellbeing.