22 Mar Staying connected from a distance
We are a social species; however reserved we may be in our social interactions, the need to connect with others runs deep. That connection gives us many things – a sense of identity through our family and our “tribes”, security, love, laughter and meaning. For all these reasons and more, social connection is vitally important for our wellbeing and we know that loneliness is correlated with poor mental health.
The call to isolate and distance ourselves is therefore something that runs contrary to our very being. We know it’s logically for the best but emotionally it’s more complicated. Our natural instinct in times of worry and uncertainty is to want to come together and not being able to do so can add to the stress of an already difficult situation.
I’d like to take a few minutes to explore this a little more, to give us all some hope about how we can meet this challenge together meaningfully and in good heart.
Have you ever felt been in a room full of people and felt completely alone?
Or sat in complete silence with someone and felt completely connected to them?
Or smiled and felt loved when you’ve received a letter or a text from someone miles way?
These examples show that we don’t need to be in physical contact or surrounded by people in order to feel connected. What matters is making that connection meaningful – it’s having a positive, purposeful intention to connect with another person or people and being present in that connection.
So what does this mean for us practically?
Think about who the important people are for you to connect with and think about the best medium for that. Consider picking up the phone or setting a time for a Skype/ FaceTime/ video application of your preference. Write a card, send a letter, send an e-card... show someone that you are thinking about them.
Who else can you reach out to? Are there people locally who might need a bit of help or a bit of social connection? Helping others is a win-win all round; everyone’s wellbeing improves.
How often do you spend time with your loved ones but you’re not really there with them? You may even be having a conversation with them but you’re running through your mental to-do list, sorting out the children, finishing off a bit of work. Maybe you call people when you’re doing something else or message people back and forth whilst watching TV.
The greatest gift we can give to anyone else is our time and our presence in that moment. Worry drags us into the future but taking time to be present grounds us; right here, right now, in this moment things are okay. If you’re spending lots of time with your loved ones, make sure you’re being present for them. Realistically it won’t be all the time especially if there are new found working-from-home arrangements that need to be sorted and children who need to be entertained, but make sure some of that time is quality time.
Social media is indeed social, but deeper meaningful connection requires something more. Think about what enriches your life and how you want to spend your time. Be purposeful about your choices. Think about how you are connecting with the world, what you are using and the message you want to put out there.
Technology gives us the ability to connect and communicate but it also challenges us. It gives us the ability to be constantly connected which our brains are not evolved enough to deal with. Whilst we need to keep up-to-date with the news, we don’t need to be immersed in it. Social media connects us, but it can also divide us. All of it can provide hours of procrastination, frustration and stress. Be purposeful with how you connect and what you consume.
Take time away from tech
This is even more important in an environment where we might need to be online more than we would normally. Manage your boundaries and choose when you want to connect. Use technology to deal with the challenge of technology. Turn off notifications, mute conversations, remove apps from some devices. Use apps like Freedom (others are available) to block sites and other apps for periods so you don’t have to rely on willpower alone! Hold each other accountable, monitor how much time you’re spending “online” and check in with yourself about whether this time is working for your wellbeing and productivity. Get outside in nature, read a book, listen to music, switch off.
In this climate of fear and uncertainty, everyone is trying to find their own feet. People respond differently under stress; some will show their anxiety, others will put on a sense of bravado as they grapple inwardly with their concerns. Some take risks, others become more risk averse. It’s easy to say one is right and the other is wrong, but ultimately we are all human and our humanity drives our behaviours. When we’re fearful, we are not our best selves. We lose our ability to be empathetic, to make rational choices and to communicate well. We all need to take time to see things from other people’s points of view. We need to lean in to our disagreements with a desire to understand. We need to recognise that a lot of this situation will always be shades of grey rather than the black and white certainty that as humans we crave.
It’s a challenging time but within that challenge is also a wealth of opportunity for us to collaborate without coming together. Courage, connection and community will get us through this.
Keep calm and stay connected.