Socially Connecting in an era of Social Distancing

by Bulbul Beri

The desire to create meaningful relationships is a crucial part of our humanity. We are wired for connection neurobiologically. It’s in our DNA, as strong as our need for food, water and shelter. This finding was a result of the research explored and discussed by renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman in his book, Social.

It is known that Positive social support can improve our capacity to cope with stress, aid in our personal healing and increase our health and happiness. The famous Harvard Grant Study revealed that the single biggest indicator for health and happiness, throughout one’s life is close relationships.

In these challenging and strange times of social distancing, we have to learn new ways of connecting with each other, so that we can be alone but not lonely.

Distance doesn’t separate people… Silence does”. – Jeff Hood

For those of us struggling to connect and curb the feelings of loneliness and isolation, remember that while we may be physically distant, we need not be socially separated. It also helps to remember that you are not alone in experiencing these feelings. There is a sense of community in knowing “we are all in this together.” Through physical distancing, we are taking collective action, not only protecting ourself but also protecting others.

 

Here are some ways you can stay connected in the absence of physical contact:

Check-in with your friends, family, and neighbours regularly.

Showing kindness to others in your community improves your own well-being by increasing your sense of purpose, as well as helping others. Make a group chat via WhatsApp or Messenger to keep people connected together. Wherever you can, assist people in your life who may be more vulnerable. For example, those with no access to the internet or who cannot easily use the internet to shop online. We can write letters, notes, text, make phone calls and video calls (next best thing to face-to-face interactions). There are many free apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, Zoom, Facetime, Skype and Google Hangouts. These calls can be made from your phone, laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.

Some suggestions for connecting with family, friends and neighbours:

  • A friend of mine made an easter egg hunt for her neighbour’s kids on their front lawn, then texted the parents to tell them. 
  • A neighbour has started writing letters and posting to her family overseas via traditional snail mail.
  • Another friend has started exchanging posted letters to a girl he met online.  They want have a physical record of their deepening connection in the time of COVID.
  • Susan (from HHH) has been playing the Ukulele to her niece in Ireland over video call.
  • A surprise birthday gathering via zoom was organised for a friend’s 50th. 
  • In my neighbourhood, many residents have displayed bears in their windows or in their front yards so the children in the area can go on a bear hunt!
  • Have had virtual breakfasts over zoom with my neighbours, virtual drinks night with my walking group, virtual coffee dates with friends, and virtual dinners with family. The beauty of this for me was minimal clean up afterwards, even though I just had a party in my house!!
  • Have also been having Zoom/Watsapp family catch-ups with relatives, both local and overseas, especially older ones. Sometimes it is chaotic as everyone talks together in the beginning. Though, there is definitely a feeling of connectedness seeing loved ones faces on the screen looking back at us.

Connect with a friend for Exercise

Maintaining exercise for physical fitness, health and handling stress is extremely important. Places that we had traditionally gone to for exercise such as gyms, pools, martial arts are now closed. We have to rethink and remotivate ourselves to stay fit in a new way. We can grab a friend or neighbour (figuratively speaking) and either go for a socially distant walk together or video call each other and do an online workout together. Many fitness companies and personal trainers are providing free classes and routines online. There are many youtube channels offering the same. Just Google “free online workouts” and you will find many choices. Try a few to see which ones you like.

I personally do this with a girlfriend 3 x a week. We used to go to the gym together and now WhatsApp call on the same days and times as our original classes. We do an online class instead!

Take up a Hobby or Upskill with an old friend or a new one

While at home, and with nowhere to go, this may be a great time to take up that hobby or learn that skill that you have always wanted to do but never had the time for. Maybe you have always wanted to paint, write a book, join a book club, learn to hula hoop, speak french (OK, so this is my list). Enlist the company of a friend who may like to do the same. You can book video calls together to work side by side on your project. If you would like company but don’t have a friend who is interested, join an online meetup group specific to your project, meet new people and make new friends while learning something new or having fun with your hobby. 

I sketch with a few friends each week with some wine. This is a great way to connect, unwind and do something fun together. I also have joined a zoom peace choir that a beautiful neighbour has organised.

Play Games with friends and family virtually

When we face hurdles in life such as we are now, we can get tired and fed up. Being playful and making life fun through games, gives us a renewed sense of vigour. Games challenge us to keep playing until we win. For example, send surprise video messages to friends and relatives using WhatsApp, Messenger, or an app like Marco Polo. Use an app like Houseparty to hang out with friends and family and play games as your schedules and time zones allow.

Susan from HHH tried the Houseparty App. She experienced “a lot of fun and lots of laughs” playing Trivia, Celebrity Heads and Pictionary (her personal favourite). Her tip: Don’t forget to LOCK the party once everyone is in the HOUSE!

Get A Virtual Office Buddy

If you are working from home and miss that office camaraderie and banter, sign up with a friend or co-worker to be your virtual office buddy. If you work on your own, a virtual co-working space can offer you the buzz of a creative office environment from the comfort of your own home. For example, there is a web portal called myworkhive. You can sign up for a free account to meet other remote workers, brainstorm with and learn new skills from each other, share your daily work goals, even enjoy virtual coffee breaks together.

I am thankful for my virtual office buddy, an ex-colleague. We break up each others day with some stress releasing humour. It feels just as we did when we sat side by side in our office cubicle, a few years back.

Reach Out to People you Haven’t Spoken to in Years

You never know how much they may need that call from you! Be proactive in relationships. When we’re feeling alone or down, it’s easy to believe that no one cares. Instead, try to make a conscious effort to check in with family and friends instead of waiting for them to take the lead. Start simply: send a text to a friend out of nowhere. Show that you are ready to care and connect. If they don’t call you, call them!

Take Care Of Your Mental Health

If you feel anxious, lonely or depressed, try joining an online support group. Knowing that others are going through similar struggles can be a source of comfort and relieve the feeling of being alone. For contact details of mental health services in Australia click here. Please feel free to contact Dr Reetu if you need somebody to talk to and help you through these feelings.

 

Remember:

As well as connecting to our loved ones while we are physically distancing, we will benefit from taking the opportunity to use our time apart to reconnect to ourselves. We can do this through meditation, gratitude, journaling, positive self-talk and compassion for ourselves. Having compassion means caring for ourselves: healthy eating, sleeping enough and also on time, exercising and keeping to a daily routine. Look for things daily to be grateful for and to laugh at. Keep connected with yourself and others and reach out for help where needed. This will contribute towards your overall feelings of health and happiness, while we collectively try to flatten the curve.