Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody—I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.— Mother Theresa (Costello 2008,14)
Social distancing is not the most popular way to flatten the curve of a pandemic- take the forty people arrested in New Jersey just last week because they were holding “Coronavirus parties”. But it is the most effective. World-wide, we struggle to isolate or seclude ourselves, even when it may mean the difference between life or death for an untold number of people. In Louisana, because of Mardi Gras, the total number of cases rose from 3,540 to 13,540. Yep, you read it right. That one social experience resulted in ten thousand people affected, and increased the number of deaths to 151.
Clearly as human beings, we crave social connection, and studies haven proven its benefits on our health as well. It’s not just a craving, it’s a necessity. With it, as infants, we feel secure and develop confidence. Without it as adults, we develop anxiety, depression, and disconnection even speeds up the aging process (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.08.037).
Developmental psychologists have emphasized that social connection is essential throughout a person’s lifespan. In 1959, Fromm-Reichmann stated that “the longing for interpersonal intimacy stays with every hum an being from infancy throughout life;(as quoted in Heinrich and Gullone 2006, 3 )
Today you are doing your part to slow the spread of a deadly virus by creating social distance and reducing or removing situations of close proximity to friends and family.
That means no more family dinners, no more eating out, and- if you drink- no more after work trips to the bar.
Now, not only has our methods of doing things changed, but our culture too- interacting, socializing and creating personal connection with others, leaving us feeling isolated, lonely, and empty. Social distancing is necessary, AND sucking the health out of all of us!
So what can you do about it to make sure you stay safe and maintain healthy relationships and connections?
“To create the high performance habit of vision, determine the feeling you’re after.”– Brendon Burchard
Brendon Burchard, a personal development trainer, in his book High Performance Habits discusses how you can personally become happier, more productive, and strengthen your relationships, regardless of the situation. And in today’s current situation, this habit is needed now more than ever!
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”Proverbs 29:18
Without a vision for the future, for possibilities, and desires that create action in us today, the moment goes to waste, and we become apathetic creatures that invite weakness rather than invite strength.
The habit of vision might sound counter-intuitive to what you need in the present moment, but I would argue that it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
To strengthen this habit of vision, you must determine the feeling you’re after. As logical as we want our decisions to be, withholding emotion will reduce the meaning of the action step, which in turn reduces the strength and sustainability of the habit itself. So while you may not be out to developing your habits during social distancing, determining the feeling you want from the action step you take, will be the key to the result of positive relationships, and thriving mentally, physically and socially in the midst of a social connection famine.
I know you know this, and yet do everything to increase it- but social media does not mean social connection. Likes and followers on your Instagram, Facebook and TikTok pages are not real relationships. Social media is a distraction that produces Dopamine- the same neurotransmitter produced by heroine. The effects are an addictive, negatively stimulated brain and a stronger disconnected relationship that increases anxiety, depression and decreases neural connections. A lose-lose situation if you ask me.
Disconnect from social media, and connect through social media; the more senses you engage, the better. Facetime, Instagram or Facebook video is a great way to connect to someone, no matter how physically distant you are.
Share, Serve, Support
In my years of experience in health coaching, and training parents to create balance in their lives, the biggest factor in creating a strong foundation, and retaining the ability to maintain the healthy and necessary habit of social connection is sharing what they learn- and inviting others to join them.
The more you share your struggles, victories, your gratitude, understanding and sorrows, the more support you receive, and the deeper connection you create. You will be able to surround yourself with like-minded people who have your back- and those who shame or criticize for your sharing will fall out of your circle, and make room for the people who matter most to you: those who help and support you in serving a greater purpose.
Serving others gives strength to our greater purpose- after all, you are not here on this Earth to serve yourself. Everything you do has a ripple effect, and those ripples will be felt for deeper and longer effects than we can predict. So what will it be? Will you serve to lift, edify and build others up, or tear them down? We have a choice with every decision we make- but when we serve others, it becomes clear that you have a higher purpose, and those we serve have greater value than you initially saw.
How do you serve with social distancing?
- Pay for someone else’s groceries in the line behind you
- write a letter of appreciation
- make a treat for your neighbor and leave it on their porch
- pray for someone in need
- make homemade supplies for hospitals and clinics
- pay for a lunch delivery to working clinicians and administrators
- Start a Facebook Live video and tell jokes!
Really, the list could be a lot longer- add whatever good, uplifting act of kindness that comes to your mind!
Lastly, support someone else in need. Yes, you have needs too- and during this time of isolation due to a pandemic, we all have needs that are not being met. However, you will find that if you can support someone in meeting their needs, your needs will be closer to being met yourself. You will also experience an increase in compassion- a necessary attribute for genuine social connection, and healthy relationships. You’ll find that maybe your struggles aren’t so bad after all- that you absolutely do have something to be thankful for, and you can weather the storms that come with the challenges of life. Even when you may not yet see the light shining at the end of the pandemic-ridden tunnel.
Call To Action
You have the opportunity to create stronger relationships, in spite of social distancing, to strengthen your own social support, and be the support others need, too.
When you disconnect from the dopamine effects of social media, and tap into the positive stimulation of building connection by engaging more of your senses- video chatting, and phone calls can build and strengthen your relationships in spite of the need to keep your distance.
Sharing your feelings, serving others, and supporting them will help to make your own time in isolation a positive experience, and in turn your physical, mental, spiritual and social health will thrive! You will find yourself stronger, more confident and capable of succeeding during challenges because of the person you have become, and the positive impact you choose to leave on the world when you create connections that distance, fear and time cannot break.