Virtual Interest Communities: Possibly One of the Best Self-Care Gifts to Give Yourself
Online communities are now more than just a group of people selling things and sharing ideas.
Living in seclusion, working from home, and celebrating milestones through a small screen have taken a toll on almost everyone’s mental health. As social beings, we're naturally hard-wired to participate in different kinds of physical interactions with other people to keep everything in balance. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that, at one point, we have been "trained for isolation” our entire lives, we will eventually be craving casual human interaction to exchange ideas; fangirl over a group; seek comfort and help; or simply just to talk to someone to make us feel a tad bit normal again.
But, what happens when a personal encounter is not exactly the best option? How do we cope?
We turn to online communities.
Although this idea has been around for the longest time, these challenging days have made it more encouraging to be a part of one. “The pandemic has made us realize how precious life really is, how valuable time spent with family is, and how friends and community are essential to our happiness,” says Dr. Jannel Cleto, Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrist at The Medical City.
Still on the fence whether you’d click that “Accept Invite” button or decline it? Here are some pretty powerful reasons why choosing the right kind of and belonging to an online community is one of the best decisions you can make this season:
1. IT MAKES YOU FEEL THAT YOU’RE NOT ALONE
“Despite others feeling comfortable with being independent and perhaps even enjoying being alone by themselves, there may still be fears of having no one there if ever they get ill or if they need help,” explains Dr. Cleto. This is why online communities are built around a specific common ground. Given this, they do their best to be a safe space for people who share the same love for and interest in specific themes, topics, and even products. It encourages the members to be a bit more vulnerable so everyone can eventually receive and extend comfort from the members. “The more that we feel safe with others, with the assurance of support, the more our bodies can relax and recover from the stress we have been experiencing,” Dr. Cleto adds.
Demai Granali, a lifestyle writer and a mom of two, created a Facebook group called “TITAS of BTS” where everyone her age are welcome to fangirl over the famous Korean idol group. “I tried joining existing Facebook fan groups for Filipino ARMY (BTS’ fandom name) but didn’t feel a connection with them, probably because of the age difference. Most of the members in those groups were young people and they just seem to have a different way of appreciating BTS than I do,” she shares. “This group has helped me take care of my mental and emotional health during this very challenging period.”
This holds true for Nika Diwa, founder of The Sister Circle, an online community built by four women who share the same love for Jesus and are passionate about empowering other women. “Just simply knowing I’m not alone helped immensely. We can always do hard things when we know we are supported by a loving community. Also it’s been so wonderful to have honest conversations about real topics and issues and find personal and collective revelations!” she says.
2. IT IMPROVES THE WAY YOU CONNECT AND COMMUNICATE
Nika shares that the group she has found “was built out of a personal desire in the middle of lockdown to connect. We were designed for community and to live authentically and we wanted to make space online for this. Especially since social media can be so full of unrealistic expectations and goals! We wanted to be collectively honest and be a voice for every woman to feel heard, known, and loved.”
You’ll get to talk to and interact with different kinds of people whom you may or may not have met in real life in an online community. This instance will somehow train you how to choose your words and deliver it in such a way that it doesn’t come off as rude or judgmental since you are basically dealing with faceless strangers. “Being mindful of how you listen and share the space during conversations will improve interactions,” explains Dr. Cleto. “We rely more on our sense of bearing rather than our sense of sight. We can be more mindful of how our tone, pitch, and volume can affect others.”
Also, with the existence of community rules and regulations, adhering to it will teach you how to create and sustain intelligent discussions that will benefit the rest of the group. Thus, belonging to an online community that fosters learning and camaraderie diminishes ignorance and creates deeper understanding among the members.
3. IT INSPIRES YOU TO BE MORE AND TO DO MORE
Online communities are built for people who share the same interests as yours. Some members may have years and years of knowledge on an activity, a product, or a theme, and are practically experts at it, while some may have barely even touched the surface. Either way, you get to learn from and be inspired by both depending on the amount of time you spend interacting with others.
“You learn from and get inspired by people you build relationships with. I love that the people in our group are smart, empowered, passionate, and accomplished so for someone like me who is a lifelong learner and constantly looks for a source of inspiration, I appreciate that I am surrounded by people who inspire me to be better and to live life as passionately and purposefully as I could,” says Ampy Corpus, associate director of a public relations agency based in Singapore, and a member of TITAS of BTS.
4. IT REIGNITES FRIENDSHIPS AND FOSTERS NEW ONES
“It’s a great way to battle the isolation of this pandemic and find true and warm relationships with women just like you!” says Nika.
You’ll definitely find yourself exchanging tips and techniques with people whom you may not exactly be speaking to in real life. But because you are interacting virtually, you tend to be more relaxed, vulnerable, and non-judgmental so the conversation and connection flows smoothly.
Demai shares that when she started fangirling over BTS, she didn’t have anyone in her circle to talk to about the K-pop group except for one friend whom she barely interacted with prior to her becoming a BTS fan. “As time passed and the members got to know each other, the community seems to have evolved into a place of comfort and happiness for some of us. I personally look forward to not just talking about BTS with the group, but also interacting with them like they’re my barkada.”
In the quest for that perfect online community, be intentional. Don’t just join any group just because it’s popular or you feel like it. Do so with the desire to receive and give advice, time, learnings, comfort, and even love. When you’ve managed to figure it out, it’ll most definitely be worth it.
Lead artwork by Raff Colmenar