“I believe this is the start of a massive cultural change toward how we connect,” says Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist who studies the effects of our physical environments on our moods and behaviors (such as being cooped up at home because of coronavirus), and a life coach. Chambers has noticed that his male clients and friends are talking about their emotions with him, which he says didn’t happen pre-coronavirus.
“With barriers of simple surface level chitchat removed and the feeling and need for survival during a crisis, it’s allowed them [men] to open up and be more vulnerable,” says Chambers.
“I believe this is the start of a massive cultural change toward how we connect.”
Dr. Anthony Puliafico, a clinical psychologist who directs the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Westchester, has also noticed this change.
“We [men] have license right now to talk about what’s stressing us out because we’re all in it together, whereas in the past it might have felt too forward or weak,” say Puliafico.
Though men leaning on one another for emotional support is perhaps an unexpectedly positive consequence of coronavirus, it doesn’t discount the loneliness many people are feeling as they practice social distancing because of COVID-19, the official term for the disease caused by the virus. Considering the mental and physical impacts of loneliness and social isolation (the risk of premature death goes up by more than 25 percent for both), there are ways we can take advantage of social distancing to forge deeper connections with our loved ones, says Chambers.
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Since it looks like we’ll be riding out this pandemic for a while, here are some tips backed by psychologists to help us all use this time to get closer to the people who matter most to us.
Know yourself and what you need from social interactions
Some of your friends and family might want to talk your ear off about COVID-19 and others would do anything to get away from the subject. It’s important to figure out where you fall on this spectrum.
Seek out the family and friends who can provide the kind of socialization you’re looking for and check in with your loved ones to see what they need when it comes to talking or not talking about coronavirus, says Puliafico.
Being proactive can make the difference between a bonding interaction versus a stressful one and can help you get closer to your friends and family.
Find moments of solitude
It might seem like an oxymoron during a pandemic where a lot of us are lonely but it’s important to connect with yourself.
You can meditate, pray, or do whatever activity allows you to be present in the moment and sit with your feelings and thoughts, suggests Chambers.
“This allows us to reframe the difficult times … and then we can spread that positivity to the people that we connect with, as we’re more grounded and centered. This allows us to have a deeper connection without falling into the emotional worries and anxieties because of the time we’re in,” says Chambers.
Though, of course, you’re allowed to feel whatever emotion you’re experiencing.
“We’re all in it and I think we’re all feeling understandably anxious,” says Puliafico.
Make time to connect with loved ones
We might be stuck in our homes but this doesn’t mean we all have more room in our schedules.
“I know a lot of us have extra time right now but a lot of us are actually busier, whether it’s due to increased work stressors or homeschooling kids,” says Puliafico.
Carve out time every day to connect with your family and friends, even if you feel like you don’t have the bandwidth. This is important as it can help us manage our own stress and feel socially connected, according to Puliafico.
“For the first time, my siblings and parents have been very regularly on a group FaceTime and I’ve been having similar group online conversations with friends and with more regularity than the past,” says Puliafico.
It’s also key to ensure you’re present during the interaction.
“It’s that intentional connection where you’re putting the time aside, almost like a meeting at work, to hear each other and know that someone else is thinking about you,” Chambers says.
Keep up with your social routines
Your weekly dance class with your friends might be the saving grace that gets you through the week and gives you time to keep up on their lives. Coronavirus has curtailed those kinds of plans (and many others) as gyms are closing throughout the country.
Though you probably shouldn’t be socializing in person with your friends, you can still connect over shared activities.
“Many of us meet up with people to exercise or to go to the movies once a week and I think there are creative ways to do that virtually. Whether it’s FaceTiming with someone while you’re taking a walk or taking the same exercise class at the same time and connecting virtually,” says Puliafico. “Keeping those social rhythms in place can help maintain some normalcy in our lives right now.”
Pretend the person is right beside you
Hanging out with your friend through a screen isn’t the same as talking to her in person. But try to give her the same eye contact you would if she were there in the flesh.
Eye contact can deepen the connection between two people, says Chambers. He also says to use the video calls to your advantage as you can talk with a friend from the comfort of your home and vice versa.
“It really is a chance to connect on a quality level … now is the time to go deep,” says Chambers.