A major part of our mental health and well being comes from relationships. We are driven to find belonging and feel connected to the humans around us. It doesn’t matter whether you are naturally extroverted or introverted, all of us are healthier when we have emotional bonds with others.
During the COVID-19 outbreak of early 2020, a lot of us all over the world are being asked or required to limit our contact with others. At the time of writing this, states are even putting in “shelter in place” orders that restricts leaving your home without an approved reason. We don’t know how long it will last, but there is evidence to suggest it may be a little bit before things return to normal.
In this new normal, we have found some suggestions for how to protect your mental health through connection that don’t require you to have physical contact with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Try some of these simple things right after you finish reading. It will help you and your mental and emotional health, as well as those you care about.
The first thing to do is to be the person who shares goodness. There is an overwhelming amount of negative, fear-based messages out there in the world. You can be a lighthouse to those who feel like they are drowning in bad news by being a beacon of good news.
Think of someone you like. It could be a friend, a colleague, a Zumba class buddy, a member of your pickleball group, or an aunt you haven’t checked in on yet. Think of that person, and then find something that would make them happy, then send it to them in a quick text. Here are some ideas:
Share a smiling picture of yourself, your kids, or your pet
Share a comedy routine you found funny on YouTube
Share a message of optimism and hope
Share a favorite motivational quote
Share an easy recipe you know or found that uses basic ingredients lots of people have in their pantry
Share one of your favorite songs that has encouraging or happy lyrics
Share a video of unlikely animal friendships
Sharing good news in personal messages will open up conversations that will give you a sense of connectedness to your circle, even while you aren’t able to see them in person.
What about sharing on social media? That is a great idea too! We need to balance out the negative in our feed with positive. But keep in mind that for your mental health, the best feeling of belonging usually comes from the one-on-one connection. Person to person. If you feel extra generous and loving, go ahead and do both
During this time, it might feel like the world is upside down. There are very few constants in our lives, but one thing that will never change is the happiness boost we get from being generous, kind, and compassionate to others. Service is one of the best ways to get that happiness boost, even when the service is a small gesture. Here are some small, but impactful, ways to serve those around you without risking spreading germs.
Call people on the phone that you know have a difficult time texting, or are at home alone.
Order a gift from a small business, and have it delivered to someone’s house. It’s a double whammy - You help the small business owner AND your loved one.
Pick up a few extra grab & go snacks or freezer meals at the grocery store and drop them off to someone who isn’t able to leave due to a compromised immune system
Create a piece of artwork or a craft for your friend and send them a picture of it. Then when the social restrictions are removed, you can celebrate by bringing them their gift.
Read a favorite book or an article with someone specific in mind. Highlight the paragraphs you find meaningful or relevant to them and send it to them.
Give a stressed out mom the night off from cooking and send her some money for food delivery through your favorite money sharing app
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a prominent religious leader in South Africa and led the country during apartheid. There is no denying that he had many long periods of loneliness in his life, physically and emotionally. Yet he made it through them while keeping his joyful and celebratory spirit. He has some great advice on how to feel connected to others, even when you can’t be in their presence.
When he feels weighed down by troubles, he has a practice of thinking of all the others around the world who are also feeling weighed down by troubles in the same moment as him. This practice makes him feel a desire to help them. The empathy for his brothers and sisters around the world gives him a sense of interconnectedness. He no longer feels alone.
Regardless of your background, you can feel connected to everyone else at the human level. Right now, so many people are feeling what you are feeling too. Thinking about how others are feeling may raise your level of compassion and empathy and motivate you to want to connect with them and help them know they are not alone.
Here are some ideas of how to reach out to others in a meaningful way:
Write handwritten letters and mail them
Go through your phone contacts or your friends and try and send a quick message of hope and love to as many as you can in an hour.
Use an app like Marco Polo to send video messages to groups of family members or friends
Use Facetime or Skype to have a virtual dinner party (or dance party)
During this time of uncertainty, we need each other more than ever. We need to put forth a little more effort to let others know how much we love them and care about them, and the benefit is that our mental health will be much better with our effort to be connected.
Be a lighthouse in the dark, and we will make it through this storm.