With the outbreak of COVID-19, day-to-day life has changed overnight. We’re being encouraged to stay home as much as possible in order to help limit the extent of the outbreak. Many schools and organizations have opted to adopt a work-from-home and virtual classroom model in an effort to “flatten curve” and to reduce the impact of the outbreak. Social media is buzzing with the latest hashtags: #selfisolating and #socialdistancing.
While these steps are for our own and our community’s overall safety, it brings with it some challenges. One of the biggest challenges is navigating how to stay socially connected when you are working or completing your schooling from home. You might be worried about feeling lonely and unsupported because your usual ways of spending time with friends and family are no longer an option. But the good news is that you don’t have to feel lonely. Here are some ways to cultivate connections in a creative way during this pandemic.
Even for those who typically work from home, these new guidelines can change your usual routine. For example, I often work from a coffee shop on my work from home days so that I don’t feel cooped up during the day. But because most states have closed bars and restaurants with the exception of takeout, working from a coffee shop is no longer an option.
It’s important to be realistic and to acknowledge that there are going to be drawbacks and challenges associated with working from home and having fewer opportunities to see your friends and family in person. When you acknowledge these challenges, it gives you an opportunity to respond. Trying to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist will wind up backfiring on you.
For example, it’s important to acknowledge that you will likely have to be more proactive about making time for friends than usual. Without identifying that challenge, you may find yourself in a situation where you are frustrated because you haven’t spoken to a single soul in days. It might even be helpful to sit down and make a list of all of the challenges you are facing so that you can come up with a plan for how to address them.
It is also helpful to think about your current situation as categorically different from your regular routine. Think of it as comparing apples to oranges — your life before and during this pandemic are two totally different scenarios that you can’t compare. This can help you refrain from falling into “the grass is greener” mindset that might leave you thinking, “Working in the office and being able to meet up for drinks with friends is so much better — being stuck at home is the worst.”
If you think that way, you will feel that way. Instead, try to view being at home right now as a completely separate experience, free from comparison, so that you can make the most out of it. Yes, you are stuck at home; yes, you aren’t able to meet up with friends at your local haunt. But you can still connect with them in other ways. Comparing your past to your present will only fuel discontent. And then you’ll definitely feel stir-crazy.
Now that we’ve covered some mindset shifts you can put into place, it’s time to talk about practical ways you can stay socially connected with coworkers, classmates, friends, and family. One good rule of thumb is to think about connection over efficiency. In other words, while you might typically choose to send a quick text, email, or message to a friend in the name of efficiency or practicality, consider calling or video chatting with them instead. Seeing someone’s facial expression and gestures provides a much richer sense of connection than emailing or texting. So feel free to let go of your usual efficiency and instead seek the option that will give you the greatest sense of connection.
Another practical way to ensure social connections is to schedule a group video chat with your friend group or family members, using Google hangouts or another platform. Have a watch party where you all watch the same show or movie, take an exercise class together by watching the same exercise video on Youtube, or start a book club where you meet by video chat once a week to discuss an article, podcast, or book. All of these ways require a bit more intentionality than just meeting up at your favorite restaurant but they can create an even deeper connection between you and your friends than a typical hang out might.
Your friendships don’t have to be on hold while we are all self-isolating. Try some of these practical tips and mindset shift strategies and you might be surprised that you feel even more connected to your friends and family than before. There are opportunities for growing and deepening your friendships even in the midst of so much change and uncertainty.