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Finding Connection During Social Distancing

Over the past few days and weeks, social distancing has become the norm for people around the world. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are staying home unless absolutely necessary, and are limiting contact with other people (especially physical contact). It’s an extreme (and hopefully effective) response to a once-in-a-lifetime global event, and let’s be honest—as important as it is, it’s also hard.

Sure, it’s hard because daily life is disrupted: schools, offices, restaurants, libraries, churches, and more have all shut down, and people are having to do their best to protect, occupy, and entertain themselves and their families.

But it’s also hard for another reason: because it limits our ability to interact and connect with others. 

Why connection matters

“We are hardwired to connect with others; it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it, there is suffering.”

Brené Brown

“Independence” is a concept that many people value these days. Believing that you “don’t need anyone”, “can’t deal with this”, or that you can “figure it out yourself” can feel empowering and affirming. There is certainly something to be said for self-confidence, but if you take it to the point where you’re denying your need for connection with other people, you’ve taken it too far.

Why? Because science says that we need other people. 

Research suggests that humans, like other mammals, are significantly impacted by their social environment. When that environment is weak, we ourselves suffer. In fact, a lack of connection can lead to problems with mental and physical health, both in the short- and long terms. 

Quick facts about social connection in humans:

Social connection and the Egg

At Design.org, we talk a lot about connection when we’re talking about the “Purpose” level of our Egg framework. To us, Purpose is something that is bigger than ourselves. When we discover our purpose—a crucial step in our journey toward happiness—we recognize how our actions impact the world around us, and what role we as individuals can play within our social circles, our communities, and our world. 

(If you want to know more about the Egg and how it can help you design a happy life, start by taking our assessment!)

Finding connection during social distancing

Clearly, connection is important. So, how do you connect on a daily basis? Going to a neighbor’s birthday party? Heading to dinner with family? Watching a game with friends?

Unfortunately, with social distancing measures in place, none of those things is an option right now. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need connection; in fact, we need it more than ever. What it does mean is that we have to get a little creative about the ways we connect with our friends and family while also practicing responsible social distancing.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Use social media—the right way.

Social media is the two-edged sword of our generation. On one hand, it’s a great way to stay in touch and share updates about your life. On the other hand, it’s a great way to get sucked into political debates, depressing headlines, and unhealthy comparisons.

When you’re working on social connection from a distance, however, social media can be an extremely useful platform, as long as you do it right.

Want to use your social media accounts the right way while you’re social distancing? Try:

  • Updating your friends and family on your health and daily schedule. Show the bad along with the good.
  • Commenting on posts that help you feel connected to other people (the type of posts you like and comment on are the types you’ll see most often!)
  • Reconnecting with friends you haven’t talked to in a while, through comments or direct messages
  • Making sure that any articles or information you get from social media shares are well-sourced and legitimate
  • Starting lighthearted discussions that get people talking and thinking

Check in, “in person.”

Social media is a great way to connect from a distance, but it can still feel a little impersonal and removed. There are other ways of checking in with your loved ones that might help you feel more connected, even when you’re apart.

A simple phone call, for example, can go a long way. In an age where text messages are the norm, a phone call demonstrates even more commitment and desire to connect. Plus, there’s something to be said for being able to hear the other person’s tone while you’re talking. 

Take it even further with video chats. FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and more let you talk “face-to-face,” in real time. Marco Polo is another app that’s become very popular lately; it lets you send video messages to your friends, who can view them and respond when they have time.

Who should you check in on? Friends, family members, and coworkers are a great place to start. The people you interact with most during day-to-day life are also the ones you’ll want to interact with while you’re social distancing, to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Additionally, it’s important right now to check in on loved ones who might be members of a more vulnerable population. Older people, or people with underlying health conditions, might need your help. Whether it’s meeting a physical need or simply keeping their spirits up, connection can make all the difference for these people during this difficult time. 

Spend time together, apart.

All the communication apps listed above make it much easier to continue social activities, even when you can’t be together. Use technology to continue interacting with people in real, meaningful ways that help you feel connected to them. 

For example, you could:

  • Start an online book club
  • Watch the same movie at the same time
  • Play games with friends online (many gaming systems support this)
  • Play games using an app (Words with Friends, Draw Something, Heads Up, Quiz Up, Psych!, Pokemon Go, etc.)
  • Play games via video chat (charades, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, etc.)
  • Take an online class together
  • Hold a religious class or discussion

As you spend this time together, you can deepen connection and make memories with friends and family, even from a distance.

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Organize a community “event.”

Along with friends and family, many of us look for connection in our communities. Connecting with neighbors can create a powerful sense of belonging, not to mention give you a support system that’s geographically close.

There’s nothing quite like social distancing for making you feel “cut off from the world.” Connecting with your community can help mitigate that. But how do you connect with your neighbors when everyone is confined to their homes?

I’ve seen several great ideas for community “events” that don’t require close interaction with your neighbors, like:

  • Hanging your Christmas lights so families can drive through the neighborhood and enjoy them
  • Decorating your house in some way (like with paper shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day), so that families out for walks can hunt for them
  • Creating a community scavenger hunt
  • Setting a time everyday when everyone on your street goes outside and yells/sings/plays music from their porches

Facebook groups are a great, effective way to communicate among neighbors. Create a community Facebook group if you don’t have one already, and use it to organize and communicate about these community events. If you are a Design.org Plus subscriber, we have the Design.org Plus – Design Your Thoughts + Future private Facebook group.

Serve others.

Few things breed connection quite as much as service. When we serve others, we’re showing them that they matter to us. It’s a way of expressing love, appreciation, and a desire for closeness—not to mention selflessness (an excellent quality to have in close relationships). 

Beyond that, putting work into something strengthens our commitment to it, meaning that when we work to serve other people, we strengthen our commitment to those people and to our communities. We become more personally invested in someone else’s wellbeing. Not only that, but we experience real benefits ourselves. Scientists call it a “helper’s high”—a sense of happiness you get when you help someone else. Beyond that high, which is essentially a rush of endorphins, being kind to others is linked to higher positivity and self-esteem, along with reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

In a time of social distancing, service might seem impossible, but there are plenty of ways to help others, including:

  • Shopping for an elderly person or someone else who is afraid to go out to a store
  • Sharing what you already have with someone who has an immediate need
  • Cutting someone’s grass, washing their car, sweeping their porch, or performing some other small act of kindness
  • Having food delivered to someone
  • Sending activities/supplies to families with kids (coloring/crafting materials, sidewalk chalk, Legos, etc.)

Ask for help.

Serving others undoubtedly builds connection, but believe it or not, so does asking for help. In the same way helping someone else makes you feel connected to them, allowing someone to help you can create a similar bond. 

Here’s the thing: we’re all going through some tough stuff right now. It’s okay to need help, and it’s okay to ask for help. If there’s something that you need, whether it’s a roll of toilet paper (good luck with that one!), a suggestion for a new board game, or some new recipe ideas, reach out to your network and ask. When you see how people are willing to help you, you’ll feel more connected to them. 

Connect more closely with those you’re physically with.

Some people might be home alone during this period of social distancing, but many are at home with their families. If you’re in the latter group, you have a great opportunity to connect with your people at a deeper, more meaningful level than ever before.

Realize that the people you’re with are hurting too, and work to deliberately foster connection between you. Share encouraging thoughts, give compliments, save the last cookie for them, do one of their chores, bond over a new hobby or activity, or simply tell them you love them. Use the time you have together to strengthen your relationship and grow closer together.

The crisis we’re facing is a global one, and social distancing is one of the few things we can do to actually help. As easy as it would be to disconnect from the world and feel discouraged, don’t let it happen.

Try not to see your time at home in terms of what you can’t do, but in terms of what you can.

Finding connection during social distancing can be challenging, but the truth is, you can still live a happy life full of meaningful connection. You just have to be willing to reach out, even while you’re staying in.

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