To get your eye contact fix, Denworth says that a virtual gaze can work, too. “It seems that eye contact IRL looks one way in your brain, and on video chat it looks a little different, and then on the phone it looks different again,” she says.
That said, virtual eye contact is better than none at all, especially if you’re feeling lonely: According to a study on 1,400 older U.S. adults more likely to feel socially isolated, those who connected with others on video calls had a lower risk of developing depression compared to those who used only audio and instant messaging. And with respect to the nervous system, a recent study found that virtual eye contact had the same impact on the vagus nerve that an IRL gaze does.
The bottom line? There’s a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to eye contact: In-person connection reigns supreme, with video calls close behind and phone calls or emails hovering at the bottom. So if you can’t connect IRL (ahem, social distancing), chatting over video is truly the next best thing.