How You Can Cultivate A Sense Of Connection During COVID
How To Re-Engage—Safely
It’s been several months since the public has been encouraged to stay home, self-isolate, and wear protective gear to safeguard ourselves and others from COVID-19. During this time, we’ve fixed old habits and picked up new ones, craved community and found solace in solitude, and missed the outdoors while developing a new appreciation for the inside of our four walls.
And while it may come naturally to assume that we must wait for this moment to pass before reconnecting with our former routines and longed-for friends, we can begin to re-engage safely at present. If you’ve been feeling detached from your pre-pandemic life, loved ones, and emotions, here are a few ways to reconnect with them all.
How To Connect With Nature
While in isolation, many of my friends and family got into the habit of taking casual walks. Whether to clear their minds or engage in a low-impact activity, they got on foot. When I walk, however, I do it quite quickly—blame the two New Yorkers I have for parents—and it’s usually with purpose and a destination in mind. But after weeks of staying at home, I’m craving more mindful connection to the outdoors. If you are, too, here are a few ways to do so. (And though these activities take place outside, please wear a mask if your local officials request residents to do so.)
Use Your Senses to Connect With Nature
If you want to engage in something that feels active and intentional, use your senses. Once outside, whether you decide to sit still or be on-the-go, ask yourself a few questions. What’s the farthest thing you can see? What’s the nearest thing you can hear? What scents are you smelling? What can you immediately touch? How does the air feel on your skin?
In Japan, the practice of connecting to nature through our senses is called “forest bathing” (or shinrin-yoku). But as TIME notes, you don’t need a true forest; you can do it “anywhere in the world, wherever there are trees.” Walk aimlessly and slowly. (Check out our guide to walking meditation if you need some assistance.) And if safe to do so, it’s advised to leave your devices, like your phone and camera, behind.
Try Grounding for Physical Connection
Grounding, also known as earthing, is the act of physically connecting to the planet’s energy to benefit your body and mind. This can be achieved by simply walking (or standing) barefoot, laying on the ground, or submersing yourself in a natural body of water. It’s that easy. The theory is that electrical charges from the earth can have positive effects on your body. A study by the Journal of Environmental and Public Health referred to the earth’s surface electrons as an “untapped health resource” and concluded that the practice may be as essential a health element as clean air and nutritious food. So get out there and get dirty.
How To Connect With Your Body
Online exercise classes have become a welcome benefit for those who don’t want to interrupt their established exercise routines. But for some, the accumulating stressors of a newly restructured life, international pandemic, and racial revolution mean allowing—even if unintentionally—one’s wellness to fall by the wayside. Not everyone finds peace in performing. So here are a few ways to get back on track with your body, if you so desire.
Check In With Your Body (& Be Kind)
Dr. Anna Hoffman, a licensed psychologist in private practice near Madison, WI, says that if your body has gotten smaller, larger, or softer during the pandemic, you are not alone. “Many people have experienced changes in weight and muscle tone since staying home,” she says. “Reconnect with your body by checking in: soften your eyes and forehead, unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, still your hands, and let your belly grow soft with your breath. Notice where you are holding tension.” She suggests trying this softening practice at routine points in your day, such as when you sit down for a meal.
Moreover, Hoffman emphasizes that no matter what our bodies look like, we should be kind and grateful to them for providing protection when we’ve needed it most. “Our first reaction to those [bodily] changes might be sadness, frustration, or embarrassment,” she says, “but I encourage you to practice deep gratitude toward your body. It has kept you alive during a global, deadly pandemic. It has also housed your fears, boredom, and frustration for months. Thank your body for keeping you alive.”
Move Low & Slow
Whenever you feel ready to engage in exercise again, start low and slow. Catapulting a body that’s been at rest into an intense activity can result in injury, so take your time. Begin with morning and nightly stretches. Take walks or light jogs. Use one of the many canned goods or water gallons that you purchased in a panic months ago as hand weights. And once you feel in control of your person again, remember what movements brought you joy pre-pandemic and resume them at your own pace. To get started, here are six yoga poses to strengthen your immune system.
How To Connect With Your Emotions
Once the #SaferAtHome order was imposed, Instagram posts began to flood my feed that felt well-intentioned but intimidating. According to these squares of text, if you aren’t using this “gift” of newfound free time to learn a language, develop a new skill, embark on entrepreneurship, or make some internal revelation, you’re squandering it. While encouraging on a good day, these posts feel threatening on a bad one. The posts often leave me feeling guilty about both my present (on the days I opt for Netflix over nurturing) and my future (What if I come out of this, gasp, exactly the same?). If you too have been feeling overwhelmed, here are a few ways you can reconcile with your emotions.
Journal to Navigate Your Emotions
Hoffman says that one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic has not only been sitting with a myriad of unpleasant feelings (like “dread, grief, worry, boredom, anger”) but doing so without access to our usual coping mechanisms (like socializing or going to the gym). “As a result, I think many of us went into autopilot,” she says. “Just trying to get through our days without panicking.”
Even once we enter the world again, Hoffman says that our emotions still may not be streamlined. We could feel relieved but also uncertain. “No matter how you’re feeling as we reenter the world, take time for emotional reflection,” she says. “You can journal. What emotions can you name? Notice what happens in your body when you sit with this feeling. Become curious about whether this emotion has a message to impart: Is it pointing me in the direction of something I want or need? Is it motivating me to take some action?” To get started, here are some tips on how to start a journal (even if you hate writing), plus some journal prompts for nearly every emotion.
Get Creative to Increase Happiness
If, on the contrary, you feel you have no words to write much less speak, look to what you can create. This can be achieved intentionally or subconsciously. As revealed in our exploration of art therapy, you can directly ask yourself what your feelings look like and then draw them, or you can let your hand lead the way while collaging and see what the selections reveal. Whether you write short stories, play an instrument, or knit things that will never be worn, lean into it—whatever it is. Studies show that creativity can increase happiness, improve focus, and reduce stress, all of which will grant you a stronger, more grateful grasp on your emotions.
How To Connect With Loved Ones
While we’re all likely anticipating the moment we can have a big barbecue or birthday bash again, the CDC maintains that in-person gatherings continue to increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Additionally, not everyone may feel ready to gather simply because the powers-that-be say we can, if and when that happens. For now, there are ways you can safely reconnect with family and friends that allow for social distancing and social engagement. Respecting your loved ones’ boundaries, and maintaining yours, will be key. Expect that things will be awkward and embrace it. And if space allows—like, say, six feet or more—use humor to overcome it.
Send (Or Give) A Gift
There are few things more unexpectedly heartwarming than a “just because” gift, one you receive (or send) simply because you crossed a loved one’s mind (or they crossed yours). During this time of social distancing, you can embrace the idea of absence making the heart grow fonder by reconnecting with family members, friends, or lovers through the lost art of letter-writing. Be intentional about the stationery and stamps you use so that they truly represent and celebrate the recipient. We’ve been interacting digitally for so long that many of us are likely craving something tangible, and a handwritten letter is forever worthy of becoming a keepsake.
When in-person interactions are permitted again, bring a sentimental token with you. (Along with your mask, of course.) Whether you arrive with a trinket you’ve had to hold on to since March or buy a bouquet of their favorite flower for your socially distanced date, the effort will show that despite all that’s kept you apart, you’ve been thinking of them.
Keep Interactions Small
We’ve been spending so much time to ourselves lately that, for some, being in or around a group of people could now feel depleting to one’s energy. If that rings true for you, don’t feel guilty about seeing only one or two people at a time (when your state or local regulations allow), nor about taking days of rest before doing so again. And if, conversely, you’re invigorated by interacting with others, play host while following safety mandates so that you can control space, sanitation, and activity to ensure that everyone is happy, healthy, and comfortable.
How To Connect With Coworkers
So many of us are in varying stages of employment. To frontline workers, we respect and are so thankful for you. To the unemployed, we wish you support—head here for tips on impact-driven companies, networking, and saving money during a recession. And for those of us working from home, here are a few ways to maintain both strong relations and boundaries with your team while working together from a distance.
Engage in Mindful Conversation
To stay connected once we all retreated to our own homes, The Good Trade team began asking each other mindful questions every morning on our Zoom call. Since starting this tradition, we’ve shared our go-to karaoke songs, favorite things to cook, most beloved “Queer Eye” cast member, least favorite habits, biggest risks taken, and more. Doing this not only breaks up the monotony of asking “How are you?” but it gives us the space to discuss things other than how we’re feeling since, at the moment, how we’re feeling may not always be grand. And yet, it still feels like an honest conversation.
Whether communicating through video chats or Slack messages, you can strengthen rapport with your coworkers through mindful conversation. It’s not often that you experience something so monumental with so many others. (You undoubtedly have at least the Year of 2020 in common.) And if you need help with an opening, we’ve got 99 mindful conversation topics to get you started. (Plus, these will be just as useful if and when offices re-open and you find yourself back in the break room.)
Long before COVID changed our lives, a friend of mine learned a practice at work that my partner and I have been implementing at home ever since it became our new, shared, close-quartered “office.” My friend and her coworkers established a protocol in which you ask your associate (whether via email or before you enter their physical space) if they are, indeed, ready to talk. It prevented them all from abruptly interrupting or unintentionally commandeering one another’s workflows. And it can be just as effective at home if you find yourself sharing workspace with roommates, lovers, and friends.
Whenever we do head back to cubicles and communal tables, you can use this practice to limit the number of in-person interactions with coworkers until you feel comfortable re-engaging in such. You can also consider if a question can be asked or a task completed through email or a productivity tool. Additionally, it won’t be unreasonable to keep hand sanitizer at your desk or an at-the-ready face mask hanging from your coat hook. In fact, it may be required. And it’s okay if you no longer want to share mugs or swap food containers.
As there’s no clear understanding of someone else’s comfort level until it’s explicitly expressed, politely take caution. And don’t be afraid to share with your coworkers how you’d like your own communications to be handled.
How are you staying in touch with yourself and others? Share in the comments below!
Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!