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“Being forced into isolation has made it abundantly clear how much we mean to each other, and how much we need each other.” With Kat Vellos

Being forced into isolation has made it abundantly clear how much we mean to each other, and how much we need each other. I’ve spent the last several years working on my new book to reverse the world’s loneliness epidemic because the overly-busy, hypermobile, tech-addicted workaholic culture has unfortunately fractured a lot of people’s social […]

Being forced into isolation has made it abundantly clear how much we mean to each other, and how much we need each other. I’ve spent the last several years working on my new book to reverse the world’s loneliness epidemic because the overly-busy, hypermobile, tech-addicted workaholic culture has unfortunately fractured a lot of people’s social wellbeing. But now, in the coronavirus crisis, our lives are being completely overturned. Whatever “normal” was has gone out the window. People are reaching out to each other and offering support to each other in ways that would never have just spontaneously happened while everyone was rushing around living their normal lives. What is emerging now are: openness, generosity, slowing down, valuing each other, and valuing life.


As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Vellos.

Kat is an experience designer, speaker, author and facilitator with a passion for cultivating community and creating experiences that help others connect deeply and authentically. A prolific community-creator, she founded Better Than Small Talk and Bay Area Black Designers which was profiled in Forbes. Her debut book We Should Get Together was released in January and has been helping adults around the world create fulfilling friendships that last.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Igot my degree in graphic design then spent a few years as a graphic designer and editorial art director for an award-winning investigative newsmagazine. But I wanted to feel like I was making a bigger impact in the world. So I spent some time designing and facilitating experiential learning programs for non-profit organizations that prioritized education, social justice, creative expression and personal development.

During that time, the iPhone was invented and when I came back to doing design full-time, I had a passion to combine my expertise as a visual designer with my passion for helping people. The path of UX (User Experience) Design was the perfect way to share my unique skill set. This practice allows me to create design solutions across a wide variety of applications by learning deeply about the problem and the people affected by it.

I currently use my UX and facilitation expertise to combat the loneliness epidemic by making contributions to the social wellness space. I recently released my first book, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, alongside launching my coaching practice, speaking engagements and podcasts (all virtual now), and consulting work which are all focused on helping people experience greater wellness and fulfillment through the cultivation of thriving platonic relationships. The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has made my book title sound strangely ironic since we absolutely should not be getting together in person right now — but we definitely need to cultivate our connections. The strength of our bonds are more important now than ever. Much of the book’s content can be used from afar and I’m working on a companion guide specifically for cultivating closer platonic relationships from a distance.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My life has been positively impacted by an enormous array of books, but one that I always come back to is The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It could just as easily be titled, “How to be an excellent human” since it functions as a guide for how to do that in all areas of life. Peck posits that the main areas of personal growth we need to pay attention to in life are the deliberate practice of self-discipline, the intentional practice of love as an action/verb, and the appreciative acknowledgement of grace as the foundation of our lives. I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about exploring their behavioral patterns and being in a perpetual practice of growth and development.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Things are bad right now, there’s no denying that. And they’re probably going to be bad for a really long time, but this is unlikely to be the end of humanity. It’s understandably hard to let go of the fear, uncertainty and the feeling of enormous loss for the lives that will be taken by this pandemic. All of those feelings are valid and deserve to be acknowledged. There’s no reason to feel pressured to push those feelings aside and act positive all the time. That said, searching for a glimmer of light in the darkest of days is often the only way to get through challenges like these. So here are five reasons that I feel we can be hopeful during the coronavirus crisis.

Being forced into isolation has made it abundantly clear how much we mean to each other, and how much we need each other. I’ve spent the last several years working on my new book to reverse the world’s loneliness epidemic because the overly-busy, hypermobile, tech-addicted workaholic culture has unfortunately fractured a lot of people’s social wellbeing. But now, in the coronavirus crisis, our lives are being completely overturned. Whatever “normal” was has gone out the window. People are reaching out to each other and offering support to each other in ways that would never have just spontaneously happened while everyone was rushing around living their normal lives. What is emerging now are: openness, generosity, slowing down, valuing each other, and valuing life.

Openness. Over the last ten days I’ve been on multiple zoom calls with easily over 300 strangers. I and a great number of the people that I met on these calls are coming together in community to support each other in a time of crisis. I witnessed a mass mobilization of support for small business owners, freelancers, artists, makers, creatives, healers, therapists, community organizers, and many more — all pulling together a wave of collective empathy and creativity to support each other and our communities in a time of need. Gatherings like The Great Discontent’s Virtual Potluck are a wonderful example of this. The openness, curiosity, and willingness to help other people is truly remarkable. Let us hold on to this openness as we move forward.

Generosity. The senior citizen population unfortunately doesn’t get a whole lot of care or attention on a day-to-day basis, but since they are the most vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis, people are realizing what a tremendous loss it would be to lose all the elders in our community. Support groups like Shopping Angels and Quarantine Buddies have sprung up overnight to provide volunteer grocery shopping and errand running for seniors. Generosity for the most vulnerable in our society, as well as generosity towards healthcare workers and their needs for personal protective equipment, are showing just how much love and kindness are present in our communities. Let us carry this generosity forward into the future.

Slowing down. In researching my book We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, one of the primary reasons that adults gave for their inability to make and maintain quality platonic connection during adulthood is because they felt too busy. Busyness rules people’s lives, and it has for many decades. Suddenly with half of the world forced into home quarantine and isolation, suddenly people are a lot less busy. And while it may be frustrating to stay home and not move around the world as easily as we are accustomed to, the upside is that people suddenly have more free time. If we are home and healthy, we are truly blessed: there’s time to connect with loved ones, to practice and share music even if it has to be done virtually online. We have time to evaluate our lives, to create art, to cook and eat nutritious meals, to do all of the things that we brush aside when we feel like life is moving at too fast a pace to allow us time to breathe and reflect on how we are living our lives. Let us carry this gentle presence forward.

Valuing each other. Being forced to stay away from our friends, family, loved ones, and even our mildly interesting acquaintances and co-workers has made us realize how much we really love being around other people! It’s baked into our evolution, our very history of survival on Earth. We are connected to each other energetically and emotionally, and the physical distance is showing us just how much we matter to each other. If we’re all not too paranoid to get near people once this is over, I suspect we’ll expand into abundant joyful gatherings, warmth and appreciation for each other like we’ve never seen before. Let us carry this open-hearted depth of appreciation forward.

Valuing life. The suddenness and severity of this pandemic has shown us just how fragile life can be. Not just for the ill, infirm, and elderly — but also for the young and healthy people who’ve never had any immunity weaknesses before. No one is safe from this inexplicably tragic illness. The fact that it can strike anyone at any moment of any age anywhere, has forced us to see how we really are connected, and how precious, tenuous and valuable our lives are. I hope we look back on these moments and remember how grateful we were to breathe every day. How grateful we can be in this moment of inhaling and exhaling for another 24 hours. I hope we remember to cherish each precious day spent in the company of people we care about, fully appreciating what a gift it is to be alive. Let us carry this appreciation for the beautiful ephemerality of our lives forward.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Self-care: The very first thing you can do to support others is to make sure that you’re first taking very good care of yourself so that you can be there to support others. As the flight attendants say, put on your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help anybody else.

Do the things that you need to do to take care of yourself whether that be getting enough sleep, drinking water and eating healthy food, staying inside and away from crowds so you severely reduce your risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus, and practicing good hygiene and hand-washing. Additionally, allow yourself moments of peace and rest. Take the breaks you need to sustain you for the long haul. Then, when you’re feeling grounded and capable of caring for others fully, turn your attention outward. You can be there for each other in four ways: tangible, emotional, energetic, and verbal.

Tangibly: Let others know how you are willing to support them in actual tangible ways. Whether that’s offering to get them groceries or supplies, preparing hot meals, handling the trash bins for your more vulnerable neighbors, or donating extra funds to someone whose income has been impacted. If you feel awkward trying to come up with a way to offer tangible support to someone who’s anxious, it’s okay to ask them to tell you specifically what they need.

Emotionally: Being there emotionally for someone can look like letting someone cry or express how scared they are without trying to dissuade them from their fears or convince them that everything will be okay. You can comfort someone without invalidating their feelings. Let whatever emotions that are there come out, and hold space for those feelings without judging them. Allow others the full range of their emotional experience just as you would want someone to accept you fully as well.

Energetically: If you are inclined to meditate this is a great time to do so. Hold loving attention in your consciousness and awareness and send it out to all of the people that you want to send positive love and protection too. Yes, I live in Northern California and a lot of people will think this sounds very woo woo, but it won’t hurt you to try. Whether you call it prayer, meditation, positive vibes, or simply intentional loving thought, allow yourself to take quiet time to hold those who are dear to you in your mind and heart. Energetically send this support to others who are anxious in this time of need.

Verbally: As they teach us to do in kindergarten, use your words. Tell the people in your life how much you care about them, how much you support them and how much you want to support them through these anxious times. If you prefer writing, take this time to write a letter. Get a sheet of paper, address it “Dear ___,” and start with, “I want you to know…” Let your loving feelings flow out of the pen like a river. Or, if you’re more comfortable in conversation, tell the other person how much you care about them and invite them to lean on you as a source of support. Ask them to tell you what kinds of things make them feel calm and cared about. Then do those things. Periodically check in to see if they want to make any adjustments, as our needs often change in response to what’s happening in our lives.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

The best resource is probably the simplest, but it is the most consistently reliable. And that is simply returning to the breath — deep breathing when we’re angry or stressed out or anxious. It will always be one of the best things that we can do to feel less anxious and afraid. Take yourself to a place inside where you feel comfortable and you won’t be interrupted, then get yourself into any position that allows your lungs to expand fully, whether that’s sitting up, lying down or standing feeling your feet grounded on the floor. Close your eyes and take 20 deep, long, slow big belly breaths. As you inhale, feel gravity holding you solidly to the Earth. As you exhale, imagine your worries and tensions floating out the crown of your head, floating up to the sky where they attach to a cloud and a breeze gently pushes them away. Every breath is a gift. Every time we put our attention on our breath, we receive the gift of feeling more alive and more at peace.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Growing up I often heard the famous saying of Persian origin, “this too shall pass.” Nine years ago when I did my first Vipassana ten-day silent meditation retreat, the teacher also instructed us to remember the ephemerality of all things with the similar phrase “this will change also.” Even though it was incredibly challenging to practice meditation for more than eight hours a day, it was also a perfect setting to try accepting that lesson in transcendence. It can feel scary to accept the truth of ephemerality because it means that we will have to let go of things we hold dear, including one day our lives. But this realization also has the potential to liberate us from mental and emotional suffering.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What we need the most today is the harmonizing influence of conscientious kindness. My wish is for every person to consider the impact of their actions on all the other people who can be impacted, whether that’s someone they pass on the sidewalk that they unknowingly pass the virus to or the healthcare worker who has to work two weeks in a row without adequate protective equipment because too few people considered the impact on her when they chose to go out with friends instead of staying in at home for a few weeks. What we need right now is a deeply empathetic visionary kindness that considers the way our actions can ripple out and affect the lives of millions of other people. This has never been more painfully obvious. So what I’m wishing for now is a wave of conscientious kindness.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Twitter: @katvellos

Instagram: @katvellos_author

weshouldgettogether.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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