COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we are facing right now. While physical distancing allows us to fight the spread of COVID-19 to maintain our physical health, we also need to fight the spread of isolation and loneliness to maintain our emotional health. Just as human contact can spread illness, human connection promotes wellness.
In this time of physical distancing, we need to develop ways to ensure we are not creating social isolation. And that’s why I prefer the term “physical distancing” because now is the time to be deliberate about creating and maintaining positive social interactions to combat isolation and loneliness.
Here are a few suggestions to build human connection while physically distancing.
Personal Check–ins: Get in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while or reach out to someone you’d like to get to know better. Don’t rely solely on social media posts to stay connected. The next time you are about to respond to a social media post, call or text them directly. Turn a public post into the topic for a one–on–one conversation. If you are in a group chat and someone says something interesting, don’t just reply in the group chat; make the time to call the person directly.
Face-to-Face from Afar: Facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When we can’t meet in person, utilize video chats. Whether this is through Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, MarcoPolo or other apps, be intentional and deliberate about regular video chats that allow you to see one another. Consider doing what you would normally do with others. Share a meal or cup of coffee. Take a walk, exercise, play a game of Heads Up.
Build New Community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion. Find them. Or find a community that can help you explore a new untapped interest. I am not very good at growing plants but I have always wanted an herb garden. Recently I found an online community of gardeners, and they are helping me with my first herb garden. I am learning how to grow herbs while also staying connected AND expanding my social network.
Volunteer: When we give back to others, it connects us to our community and makes us feel good. This is a perfect time to volunteer as it will help you stay connected and help others in need. You can volunteer formally through organizations that connect volunteers with thousands of nonprofits. You can search for volunteer opportunities by location, COVID-19-specific volunteer work, fun volunteer activities for families or by your specific interests and skills. And you can also volunteer informally with your own network. Do you know someone whose children are at home? Volunteer to help them with a school topic you enjoy or do well. Volunteer to tutor them in math a few days a week via video conference. Or volunteer to do a project with them for an hour while their parent is in a Zoom meeting.
What tips can you share to help us stay connected? I invite you to connect with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your ideas or trade gardening stories.
Nicole Butts, Interim Presidential Associate for Diversity, Inclusion and Campus Climate