How are you feeling as we enter this week of social isolation? I don't know about you, but I've lost track of which week this is, let alone which day. 

Are you feeling anxious?  Lonely?  Okay? Apathetic?  Are you adjusting to a "new norm"?  No matter your response - You're not alone.  Everyone is feeling a bit off-kilter.  This is just not normal.

My daughter turned 16 yesterday.  Need I say more? No!   This is not the best time to turn 16.  We tried to make it as engaging and fun as possible.  Her friends were amazing at jumping in to help create a virtual party, complete with virtual games, a virtual dinner (yes, we had pizza and cupcakes delivered all across the country simultaneously), virtual birthday cake, and virtual movie watching via Netflix Party.  All her friends were "there" chatting in the group chat during the movie. I think we did the best we could do while social distancing.

But when it was over, she burst into tears - "I just want to see my friends!".  And this is my "never-enough-me-time" introvert child!  This experience told me everything about our inherent need to connect. We are social animals, and if there remained any doubt about it, this experience should put that doubt to bed once and for all.  While the technologies are helpful for sure, they simply do not replace real, human interaction.  And the reason you're likely feeling "off" at best or fully depressed is because social connection is a basic human need with many benefits.

Connection is the "C "in our CARE acronym for Practices that Pay Off.  Those practices that you and your kids need for a lifetime - across all stages of growth and development.

And science backs that up.  Many studies show that connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. Conversely, decades of research have shown that isolation and the resulting loneliness are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk. 

The disconnection and social isolation we're experiencing with the coronavirus are highlighting a truth that before today, we could easily question or dismiss: living without connecting with others causes strife and stress.  While technology seems to connect us more than ever, there's so much more to "connection".  The screens around us disconnect us from nature, from ourselves, and from others. Wi-Fi alone isn’t enough to fulfill our need.  

What exactly do we mean by "social connection"?  

When researchers refer to the concept of social connection, they mean the feeling that you belong to a group and generally feel close to other people.  Brene' Brown, who studies vulnerability and belonging, defined connection as "The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship."  

If you grew up in a family where no one connected like I did, you need to learn how - it's a learned skill - and the first time you actually connect with someone, it can feel scary because it is strong. On the other hand, if you grew up in a family that did connect, it will be like breathing to you - you just do it without even being aware.  But all of us can get better at connecting once we know it's importance, and how easy it can be.  And, it's critically important to your health and the health of your kids at this strange time.

Connecting doesn’t mean that every introvert must become a social butterfly.  Having human connection can look different for each person. And if you’re not sure where to start in finding meaningful connection, that’s okay.

Here are some ideas to help you out:

  • Do a random act of kindness
  • Eat lunch in a communal space
  • Join a new club, or try out a group activity
  • Reach out to an old friend you’ve lost touch with
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors
  • Volunteer for a cause you care about
  • Ask someone for help when you need it

Connecting with your kids

Developing or maintaining a close connection with your child and with yourself will help you get through this period feeling better, and rebound with greater success.

 

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