Human connection is essential for our wellbeing — that’s true if you’re the most social of extroverts or if your idea of paradise is an empty house and a good book.
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, though, we tried to keep our distance. Sacrificing birthday parties and ball games was the right thing to do to save lives, but it’s delivered a damaging blow to our mental health and wellness. And the divisive political rhetoric filling our airwaves didn’t do anything to help, either.
In short, this is one of the hardest and most stressful years we’ve experienced as an American family. Now? Now we need to rebuild our lives. To do so, we simply need to find ways of achieving meaningful connection while maintaining a safe distance — and let’s be honest, that doesn’t start with Zoom, does it?
In-person meet-ups aren’t over, they’re just a little different
True, bars are a little off limits. And picnics in the park don’t sound so welcoming in the snow and rain. But there’s still plenty of safe socialization to be done from the comfort of your home.
Get to know your neighbors
As Americans, we are known for our neighborly ways, but when was the last time you checked in with the people next door? Bring chairs out into the driveway and sit six feet apart. Or if you’re in an apartment, maybe there’s a common area or front stoop you can use?
Signing for each other’s Amazon parcels doesn’t equal a meaningful relationship with your neighbors. And chances are, they’re feeling just as in need of social interaction as you.
Fall in love with your household (again)
When you live with someone — whether they’re friends or family — you don’t often remember to spend quality time together. Why not make a weekly standing date where you cook together and watch a movie, or go out for a walk in a nearby park?
It’s important to carve out time just for hanging out. You might see each other every day, but casual chats in the kitchen are not the same as meaningful time spent together. This goes for spouses as much as roommates!
Connecting from afar — 5 ways to overcome distance (using tech, or not)
Technology makes it easy to stay in touch. But when it comes to real engagement, all those emojis and “likes” can start to get in the way.
Here’s some other things to try:
Watch a show together
Netflix has been the savior of shelter in place. But you don’t need to binge boxsets alone.
Text some friends. Agree a TV series (and a set number of episodes to watch each week). Then discuss all the drama that goes down. Better yet, you could even count down and press play at the exact same time, so it feels like you’re really watching it together.
Top tip: the Chrome extension, TeleParty, syncs playback and lets you chat while watching. (That’s not an ad, we just think it’s cool!)
Form a book club
Book clubs are a tried and tested way to socialize — and who says they have to be in person?
If you don’t have the financial means to buy a new book every 4 weeks, see if your local library has an app. You can read the ebooks right on your phone, or listen to the audiobook. They’ll often also have great ideas for book club titles.
If your friends aren’t keen readers, have a look on Facebook. There are hundreds of groups doing book clubs that you could join, or start one in a group you’re already in.
If you can’t beat them, bake with them
This year it feels like everyone finally figured out how to work their oven. Back in the Spring, you couldn’t open Instagram without seeing your co-worker’s sourdough or your cousin’s chocolate chip cookies.
But maybe they had it right? After all, baking is really good for the soul. So why not get your slice of the pie… and share it with friends?
Set a theme — chocolate, rainbow, Japanese — and everyone has to come up with their own baking creation. Send photos in a group chat or do a video call to decide whose is best!
Send a gratitude letter
You know that rectangular hole in your front door? Well it’s not solely designed for bills to fall through.
These unusual times are great for introspection: how often doyou tell the people around you how much you really care? A gratitude letter is a way of saying “Thank you”, even if you’ve known the recipient for years and even if they’ve made a big difference to your life, in many little ways.
Handwritten letters are also more personal than a video call, because you’re sharing all your thoughts and feelings without being interrupted. And seeing the handwriting of a loved one, especially if they’re far away, makes them feel like they're right there with you.
Sending letters across the country (and around the world!) will also support USPS, who we love.
Share knowledge and insights
We’re all working our way through 2020, one step at a time. And when we come across an inspiring podcast, a great article or a compelling interview, it’s well worth sharing.
Better still, you can pair your recommendations with personal notes: “I saw this and thought of you because…” or “I remember we once spoke about this…” or “This really helped me when I felt like…”.
Your friends and family get that buzz from knowing they were on your mind, and you get to spread the word of your favorite speakers and writers. That’s a win, win in anyone’s book.
Social distancing isn’t forever, but for now let’s make it work
For those first sweet, clueless weeks of lockdown, it felt like social isolation was just a short thing we had to get through before life would resume again. But ten months in, it’s clear the world (and society) has changed — so how will you respond?
It’s up to us as Americans to make the most of our new circumstances; to look after ourselves and our community. During this time, maintaining close relationships with your loved ones is just as important as washing your hands and wearing a mask.
Our mental health and wellbeing can’t be something we put on hold.
For more actionable ways to create a happier and more fulfilling pandemic experience, check out our digital magazine The Good Life Journal, brought to you by Heylow.