Stay Connected

Michael Lee Stallard and Katherine P. Stallard wrote a great article titled “Why relational connection is so important during the coronavirus pandemic” that was published on SmartBrief/Leadership – https://www.smartbrief.com/original/2020/03/why-relational-connection-so-important-during-coronavirus-pandemic.  If you can, take some time to read the article.  If life is too crazy right now, here’s a summary.

The authors are concerned about the impact social distancing will have on our mental health, specifically, loneliness.  They argue that although social distancing is an important public health measure, it may increase negative feelings and loneliness. To combat these feelings, they suggest the following practical actions you can take:

“1. Cultivate a connection mindset. Boosting connection begins with adopting a mindset that connection is desirable and necessary. To help cultivate this mindset among the people you interact with, share this article with individuals in your social networks.

2. Maintain an optimistic mindset. There is reason to be optimistic. China and South Korea seem to be past the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak. The US and many other countries will get there, too, and, in time, scientists will develop a vaccine. It’s extraordinary what people can accomplish when they pull together to serve a cause greater than themselves. For an example, watch Larry Brilliant’s inspiring TED talk on the case for optimism, in which he describes his experience as part of the multinational effort that eradicated smallpox. 

3. Take care of yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have. To be a good connector with others, we need to make sure we are physically and emotionally strong and steady.

  • We do this by making sure we are connecting with people who energize us. Each day, schedule phone calls or video calls online with people you enjoy. Take virtual coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon while connecting on a video call. Schedule a call each evening with relatives and friends who may need connection. This is a good time to take the initiative and reconnect with friends from your childhood or college days who you may have lost touch with over the years.
  • Also, be sure to get adequate sleep, exercise (check out exercise videos on YouTube) and eat healthy. When we are stressed or lonely, these practices often get pushed aside. (Why make a salad when the potato chips are so handy?)

4. Cultivate practices that produce contentment and avoid excitatory practices. Constantly checking your smartphone, email or social media stimulates the production of dopamine, an excitatory neurotransmitter that in excessive amounts makes us anxious. (We want to stay current with the evolving situation, but slowing the pace a bit would be better for our nerves.) Do one task at a time rather than multitasking.

It’s preferable to focus on practices that produce the positive emotion of contentment because they stimulate the production of neurotransmitters including serotonin. These are activities like engaging in conversation, painting or coloring, reading, assembling puzzles and playing games. To learn more, read “Addicted to Your Smartphone, To-do List or Busyness?

5. Get creative on how you might engage in activities with others. Have you seen the videos of spontaneous outdoor concerts as Italian neighbors stand on their city balconies and sing? We saw one video of a man in a public square leading exercises and people in a row of apartments joining him in doing jumping jacks.

Our youngest daughter, a graduate student currently on lockdown in Madrid, and a few of the neighbors on her block have organized together-but-separate bingogames to pass the time while travel is restricted.

6. Pause to be grateful. Every day, take a few minutes to write down at least three things you are grateful for. Gratitude helps keep you emotionally strong and will help you connect better with others.

7. Go for walks. If local authorities allow it, go for a walk each day to get fresh air and sunlight. Remember to maintain a six-foot separation from others. If possible, walk among nature. Even being in your own yard or walking your city block will help.

8. Play music. Throughout the day, play music you enjoy. Music has been found to calm anxiety. Have your own dance party (why not?).

9. Learn something new. Boredom is one risk of being physically isolated. Check out cultural institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera in New York City and museums (and even zoos) that are thinking outside of the box about how to virtually share their treasures with you within your home.

10. Set aside time each day for a quiet period. This may include contemplation, meditation, prayer and/or journaling.

11. Never worry alone! Whenever you feel anxious or stressed, call up a friend and talk it through. Doing this will move your brain activity from the amygdala where threats are processed to the cortex where we make rational decisions.

12. Serve others. Reaching out to help others in need boosts neurochemicals that produce positive emotions. In the current climate of encouraging physical separation, this may include writing a card or letter to an isolated elderly parent, relative or friend, or calling to find out how he or she is doing. Check out local or national nonprofit organizations that serve populations in need and see how you can help safely.

Anything you can do to help others meet their need for connection also helps you. There is satisfaction, even joy, to be found in serving a cause greater than self.”