These are trying times for connections! Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the federal government are strenuously urging folks to stay home and engage in social distancing. This means limiting physical contact and interaction with others, which challenges our intrinsic desire for connection and our sense of belongingness. While this approach has certainly helped limit the spread of the virus in China, preventing further deaths, how can we maintain a healthy sense of connection at this time? Here are a few research-based ideas to help build connections. Hopefully you can use these to develop your own and others’ resilience over the next few weeks and months:
Individuals in relationships with greater emotional carrying capacity are more resilient. This means that, if you feel you can express more emotion, (both positive and negative), you might better cope with challenges. Whether on the phone, over video, over a fence, or in some other space at least 6 feet away, create spaces in the conversation for folks to share both their positive and negative emotions. To keep it constructive, you might want to set the tone yourself: be up front about current challenges, but also talk about how those challenges spurred the desire to reach out and connect. You may need to accept that friends, colleagues and family may be down in the doldrums that day or on that phone call, but also be open to putting a smile on their face in the next interaction.
Consider that, to some extent, “distance” is in our heads. Research on perceived proximity suggests two key factors that can help people who are physically far apart still feel close: frequent, deep communication and the search for common ground. First, reach out to others more frequently. This gives you more opportunities to share both the ups and downs. Deeper communication involves bringing others into your own situation so they can feel more of what you feel. We already see this with people giving snippets of their workday at home in words and pictures on social media! Second, use this time to learn more about where people are from, what and who they care about, and what their needs are. You probably have a lot more in common than you think!
Finally, actively engage your senses, attention, and emotion with others to collectively create something beautiful - especially when you hit challenges. Engage your senses in creating something beautiful with others - at home, or even virtually. Check out these touching and quirky examples for some inspiration.
There is so much we can mine from our current experiences with each other, even across distances. As we receive the unexpected (and even frustrating) gift of time to be quiet with ourselves and others, we might have more available to us than we think.