How to Stay Emotionally Connected while Socially Distancing

A licensed psychotherapist weighs in on how to navigate relationships in our new normal.

person lying on couch

The world has changed rapidly over the last week. Times of transition like this can bring up fear, anxiety and even a sense of loss. Most of all, the directive for us to “socially distance” from each other can make us all feel lonely or stressed — and rightly so.

Plus, when we are stressed, we typically rely on old coping mechanisms. That's why you might find yourself isolating, drinking or eating more than usual, or distracting yourself on your phone for hours. None of this is wrong or bad, but it may clue you into the fact that you have some unmet needs for connection and community.

Fortunately, there are ways to address those needs together — even if we have to stay physically apart. Here are some ways that I recommend to feel connected to others in a time of social separation. 

1

Continue connection rituals

Many of us are used to drinking, eating and/or exercising together. Consider who makes you feel safe, soothed, secure and seen, and invite them to video-chat during meals and even cozy drinks on the sofa in sweatpants. Livestream a yoga class together with your usual yoga pals and enjoy a coffee together (virtually) afterward. Eighty percent of communication is nonverbal, so although the loss of touch is palpable, the video screen can show us a lot more of what's happening for another than just using the phone can. 

Consider sharing about what it's like for you in the time of the coronavirus, but also shine a light on what is bringing you small bouts of joy and pleasure if that feels accessible. For instance: spending more time in bed in the morning if you're working from home, cooking a meal that would normally "take too long," the new plant you bought for your kitchen, or the Netflix series you've binged watched. Do not expect that text chains will satiate your connection needs. A scheduled chat lets you know you matter to others and they matter to you. 

If you share a home with others, consider new ways to connect with them. Are there traditions you can try? Books you want to read simultaneously and discuss? Questions you've been wanting to ask? 

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and loved ones: What are you actually afraid of? Verbalizing our fears aloud helps to ensure they don’t stay in our bodies and impact our health. Recognizing the monster under the bed is what quiets it, not ignoring it. 

2

Care for the most susceptible people in your life

Whether it's a grandparent, a friend or colleague who is immune compromised; an acquaintance who is not getting paid because of business closures; or anyone else going through a tough time, ask them: How are you doing? What do you need right now?

3

Connect to yourself

Connecting to other humans is essential for our wellbeing, but so is solitude and turning inward. Use this time as an opportunity to slow down and get quiet with yourself. Notice what comes up in your aloneness: the creativity, the imagination and the difficult emotions. You may be surprised at what you find when you have uninterrupted time. 

4

Spend time in nature

Go outside — there are no rules against that! Make eye contact with people you don't know, or take a walk with people you do know, while keeping the proper distance from them. This may help provide relief from isolation. Plus, seeing your friends' smiles and hearing their laughter in person can have uplifting effects. Read this piece to learn more about the benefits of getting outdoors, plus three simple forest-bathing exercises you can do, no matter where you live.

5

Join virtual group conversations

During this time of social distancing, I will host three virtual support circles per week with THE WELL. Identifying gatherings like this that emphasize anxiety reduction and deep connection may be just the right balm for de-stressing and healing in a difficult time. 


NEED SOME EXTRA SUPPORT DURING TOUGH TIMES? OUR STRESS COMPLEX IS HERE TO HELP. 

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