My workdays are very different these days. There seems to be no connection between life today and life in March of this year.
In the not so distant past, I would rush around the house scrambling to get ready and gather everything that I needed for the day: purse, keys, ID badge, snacks, coffee.
These days, my morning commute looks very different. After showering, I pour a cup of coffee in my kitchen and stroll into the living room. There, I settle myself in an overstuffed chair, put my feet up on my ottoman, and log into my agency’s server.
Like millions of people around the world, I have joined the telecommuting club. Unlike those working from home for years, I found out at 4:30 pm on a Friday that I would begin using telehealth with my clients starting the following Monday.
In the initial rush to identify and learn a telehealth platform and ensure that clients continued to receive the mental health services they needed, we lost the human connection. Contact shifted from in-person to being separated by a phone or computer screen.
A few weeks into the Coronavirus quarantine, I noticed the loss of connection spread to my relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.
Connecting On-line Isn’t the Same
Don’t get me wrong; I am thankful for the technology that has made it possible for many of us to continue working while in quarantine. However, the transition from in-person relationships to on-line relationships has left a lot to be desired.
As a society, we have become accustomed to navigating social media and the Internet. In fact, in a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 70% of people use social media to connect with others, read the news, share information, and entertain.
“Communication, thus, makes us human.”~Elza Venter
Emotional Connection v Social Media
Relationships with others can be significant mental health support when they are healthy and have appropriate intimacy. Close relationships reduce stress, enhance self-esteem, and help you to manage stress better.
During the pandemic, close contact with intimate relationships increases a person’s sense of safety. The more physically close you are to someone, the more likely you will feel safe from harm. During COVID, this has not always been possible. However, there are ways that we can increase our emotional connection when we are limited to social media and technology to connect.
- Take time each day to reach out to a friend or loved one.
Write an email, have a video chat. Let others know that you are thinking of them.
- Connect more deeply through social media.
When reading and commenting on loved one’s posts on social media, take a few minutes to write a meaningful comment rather than clicking the “like” button and moving on. Photos of someone’s garden harvest becomes a meaningful conversation when you include words such as “You have become a wonderful gardener.” Or “I can’t wait to see what you cook from those beautiful vegetables. In addition to being a gardener, I know you are an amazing cook!”
- Go old school. Write a handwritten letter or send a handwritten note card from your stash. Jot a few lines about how you are doing and include a favorite memory that you have of them. “I remember those fun summer days we spent at the river when we were in high school.”
Social Reciprocity is No Longer Automatic
Living life with physical distancing has resulted in telecommuting, telehealth, tele-church, tele-community meetings, and tele-social interactions.
Reciprocity, the transactional positive social interactions that we took for granted before quarantine, are harder to find. The smile, one of the most common of kindnesses, is often hidden from view under masks and face coverings and many other nonverbal cues that we are accustomed to experiencing. So we need to engage in reciprocity intentionally:
- Make eye contact. Eye contact is more crucial than ever. Historically, we have relied on our mouths to express for us.
- Check-in with someone. Ask them about their life, their work, their experiences. Give them a call via phone or video call.
- Write a note or letter and mail it to friends or family members.
Physical Touch is Harder to Come By
Physical touch communicates affection and intimacy, safety, closeness, and a willingness to support. Humans need touch to stay both mentally and physically healthy. Too little physical contact can lead to increased anxiety and depression.
As we spend less time engaging in physical connection with friends and family, it is more challenging to get enough physical touch. Seek out ways to increase the amount of physical contact in your life: hug your partner or child, cuddle with your pet, give yourself a foot massage.
Where to go from here?
Take time to reflect on how Coronavirus and quarantine have affected you and with intention, reach out to others in your life and connect with them. Accept that loneliness is to be expected. You are human and need connection.
. . . . .
Seeking Health and Happiness One Day at a Time.
Marcy Berg is a writer and therapist living in the Pacific Northwest and Exploring thoughts on mental health, wellness, and happiness. She can also be found at Growing Through Life