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Feeling Connected When Apart – Relating in a Pandemic

by Andrea Blundell

Coronavirus presents all new challenges to feeling connected.

Even with lockdown lifting, we can’t see loved ones if they are vulnerable or elderly, or live in a country we now can’t get to.

Or perhaps we are single, and our friends with children are choosing their ‘social bubbles’ with other families. We are left out of the equation.

And connection really matters. A study at an urban medical clinic in Buffalo, New York showed that even if we just perceive that we have social support, it not only means we are more likely to be in better physical health, but that we are less likely to to suffer anxiety and depression

What can you do to keep connection alive in a world that is increasingly based on separation?

What connection is and isn’t

Found that, to your surprise, you weren’t as tight with some friends as you thought? That they’ve dropped away in the pandemic?

Connection is linked to authenticity. It means we can fully be ourselves around someone, even as we are happy for them to be ourselves around us.

And this two-way street has to continue with things like communication. And that communication has to be healthy. We need to be honest, to listen, to talk without resorting to blame (read our article on healthy communication if you could use a brush up on this front).

Finally, connection grows with shared experiences. And this can be the most challenging element during coronavirus. How can we share experiences if we can’t even see one another in person?

5 Tips for feeling connected during coronavirus 

So how can we be ourselves, communicate well, and share experiences when we are stuck connecting at a distance?

1. Learn how to relax on video conferencing.

All those years of our parents pulling out a camera and saying ‘smile’ mean many of us end up adults who naturally ‘perform’ for cameras.  We go into fake, shiny happy mode without realising what we are doing, or we present an awkward, half-version of ourselves. 

But attempting video conferencing over just phone calls is worth it. A study from the University of California found that talking over video created a greater bonding experience than both phone and messaging conversations. 

  • Take a moment to pause, relax your shoulders, breathe.
  • Put your attention fully on the other person instead of looking at yourself.
  • If you are distracted by how you appear, sort this in advance. Declutter your background, wear comfortable clothes, buy a video ring light that makes you look nice. Then forget about it.
  • Remember you are talking to a friend or family member. They care less what you look like than you do.

2. Admit you aren’t okay.

Nobody is great all the time. And pretending we are means those around us are left trying to feel connected to a wall of fake smiles and platitudes.

Yes, we might be less comfortable admitting we are upset over video than we would be in person. We might also have less privacy with lockdown.

Keep in mind you don’t have to get into great detail. Simply admitting you are a bit stressed lets the other know you trust them, and are willing to be open.

3. Be more vocal about needing your turn.

feeling connectedIn person we instinctively make it clear it’s our turn to talk by standing closer, or leaning in.  These things don’t play over video conferencing.

If the balance is really out in the conversation, you might need to interrupt, or raise your hand to signify it’s your turn.

Or discuss in advance ways to make sure you both get a turn to talk and be listened to. Try things like starting your chats with a three-minute ‘rant’, where you use a timer to allow each person to unload their thoughts, with the other person not allowed to interrupt or judge.

4. Remember boundaries.

Yes, we are living through a pandemic. And yes, we have lost some boundaries, such as having to share space more than usual now everyone is at home more. And gained others, like more personal space in public.

One boundary that we can all still respect is around time. We don’t tend to just show up at someone’s house without warning. So why do we assume we can video call whenever we are feeling a bit off or lonely? Or feel we have to answer if someone calls? The end result can be a tense conversation that leaves us feeling disconnected.

Ask first. Send a text asking if someone can chat. Or arrange for calls at certain times on certain dates. And if someone does call when you are busy, remember you have the right to not answer and call back later.

You don’t owe anyone connection. If an ex or toxic previous friend calls or emails, you do not have to respond. 

5. Be consistent.

Don’t assume just because you are preferring to deal with pandemic stress by hiding yourself away your friends will understand, or need the same approach. They might need more, not less, connection. 

If you leave too much time between contacting friends, it can affect the relationship. Take a moment every few days to think about who you need to connect with. Send a text or an email if that’s all you can manage, even if it’s just to say, “Feeling stressed, but thinking of you”.

6. Talk about physical connection.

No, you can’t hug your grandmother or your friend overseas right now, and it can be hard not knowing when you will be able to. It can be helpful to voice this.

Letting each other know you’d love a hug creates a warm feeling of connection. Not quite as good as a physical hug, but better than not talking about it.

7. Create socially distant ‘experiences’. 

As for the shared experiences conundrum. It can require creativity. Of course not all of us are extroverted enough to dance and sing outside someone’s window. But there are still options. Have a picnic where you both bring our own basket and sit apart. Cook a new recipe at the same time over Zoom. Do a group watch of a movie. The point is to create memories.

Feeling connected starts with you

Is coronavirus making you realise that actually, you are terrible at connection? 

To connect with others we have to connect with ourselves. If you historically haven’t spent the time to connect with yourself, to know who you really are, and what you really want and need? Others are left trying to connect to a shifting target. 

  • What matters most to you, if everything else is stripped back?
  • What things do you honestly feel happy doing, and unhappy doing?
  • If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you do?
  • What values might this combine to point to?
  • What friends most share these values? Are they the ones you spend most time trying to connect with? Or should you put more effort in?

Struggle to be understood? Or always feel lonely? Book a session with a top London therapist and troubleshoot your relating. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide therapists and online counsellors who can help.

Still have a question about feeling connected? Ask below. 

Andrea BlundellAndrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of this site. A working writer for over twenty years, she has also trained in counselling and coaching. 

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