Connecting While Maintaining Distance

Marisa T. Cohen

I started a gratitude journal at the end of February. Around that time, I began to realize that I was focusing too much on the future, while foregoing joy in the present. I was always focusing on the next project or the next goal, without ever savoring the moment. That’s why I chose “I am living and enjoying the present” as my daily affirmation. Rather than switch my affirmation each day, I decided to double down, repeating this and reinforcing it with pen to paper each morning. That’s it. I was choosing to spend each day focusing on, and enjoying, what was going on around me.

It was around that time that COVID-19 was picking up steam in the news cycle. It was scary, yet still felt distant. By the time I really got the hang of the journal two weeks later, it became our reality in the U.S. schools closed; restaurants and bars shuttered; we were socially distancing. One of our most basic needs, is the need for affiliation. This is when we join together in a social manner. This need is especially high during times of uncertainty. This is because we are able to get that much needed strength and reassurance from our social connections. What does this mean for us now? How can we be together, while physically being apart?

Feeling safe is a major component of our well-being. Without this sense of security, we have a much more difficult time managing our emotions and mental state, which can affect us physiologically and psychologically. One way to feel safe is through our connections with others. While you may have seen many articles on tips to manage your health and anxiety in the wake of this pandemic, I’d like to focus on ways to maintain your connections.

1) Use online platforms to connect with your friends and loved ones via video. Create as close to an in-person experience as you can and maintain active connections with those you planned on seeing in person.

2) Join an online class. Many businesses and organizations that offered classes and shows are finding new ways to take their content online. While some are connecting attendees via video, others are presenting content while encouraging communication via chat box. For other sites that provide content only, you may want to learn something new to bring back to your friends during one of your video meetings as suggested above. You can maintain your focus on growth and learning, while also sharing your newfound knowledge with others.

3) Maintain your focus on mental health. Whatever self-care activity you used to implement, be sure to continue this practice. Don’t let the shift from workplace to in-home mask your need to pause and reflect on your well-being. If necessary, and you want or need to get assistance from professionals, consider telehealth options to help you strengthen your mental health, while fostering a connection with another.

You may have noticed that I used the word maintain quite a bit in the points above. It’s because I recently changed my affirmation in my gratitude journal, to “I am living in the present and maintaining a sense of normalcy.” With all of the uncertainty around us, take time to focus on what you can do to maintain that sense of normalcy in your own life (to whatever extent it is possible) and maintain your connections with others. While the format by which we connect has changed, the need for connection has not.

Stay safe and well.

Marisa T Cohen
Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach. Learn more about Marisa at www.marisatcohen.com.

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