How to Stay Connected Through Physical Distancing

One thing that’s giving me great joy during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is the freedom to get outside, breathe in the fresh autumn air, feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and keep my body moving.  

It appears that I’m not alone in this pursuit. Every day I see people outside doing what they can to feed their minds and bodies with ingredients that are life giving and life sustaining. However, what I did notice on my daily walks, was a change in how people acknowledge one another, and it got me thinking about the psychological impact of what it means to be separated from others.  

Language is such a powerful tool, that the World Health Organization recognised their error in describing the importance of maintaining physical distance as ‘social distancing’. This choice of language has had a powerful influence over how we think and feel that we have subtly, but consistently, been taking in the message that other people are a source of threat and infection. 

Our primal brains are hard wired for negativity and our protective mechanisms are readied and our defences are enacted. What you may be noticing is that when you come into contact with a person (even at distance), your gaze will turn down, you take a wide berth around them, you feel slightly anxious or awkward and you find yourself in avoidance mode. This is survival 101.  

In contrast, connections to those in your inner circle are likely to be flourishing. You may have already set up phone dates with your loved ones, using FaceTime or video-based services to chat or check in and sending text messages to let people in your life know that you’re thinking of them.  

This is perhaps the upside of the downside of the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that we can connect and even “see” those we love, will in the end, make this more bearable and tolerable.  

The way we live our life has shifted rapidly. We’re now cultivating new and novel ways to connect and build our relationships. As a positive psychology practitioner, this is a great reminder that we’re all capable of change and that change can happen quickly when the reason or need is compelling and motivating. As Viktor Frankl in his greatest work‘A Man’s search for Meaning’ states so well, “For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” 

So how can we take the best of what we are doing and apply this to those we don’t know, to those in the world that we will meet in passing and have small, micro moments of connection with during this pandemic?  

Here are a few suggestions that can bring balance to your primal brains protective function and to remind us all that positive connections can happen in a second: 

Smile Broadly and Openly

I’ve always loved this quote, “everyone smiles in the same language”, and boy does the world need more of this right now. What you may not know is that studies have consistently demonstrated the power of a smile and its effect on others. In fact, according to a paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, our facial expressions along with our smiles are contagious.

Why not give it a go, rather than turning your gaze down, flash your pearly whites while you are on your walk and out in the fresh air. You might just make someone else’s day, and there’s a great chance that you’ll make your day just that little bit more joyful. 

Say G’day 

Let’s bring back this great Australian saying to connect and create a positive interaction. As you pass people on the street, when you see your neighbour, as you engage in your exercise, or when you’re out shopping, just say G’day. All it takes is a second of your time. Chances are you will both experience an upward lift in positive energy and positive emotions. 

Carry Out a Random Act of Kindness

Doing for others makes us feel good. Research shows that helping others has benefits for our mental health, including stress reduction, improved emotional wellbeing, reducing isolation and negative feelings. From the simple to the extra-ordinary, the sky is the limit on what you can do for others. If you’re struggling for inspiration, check out the Random Act of Kindness website. Challenge yourself to do one random act of kindness each week. 

Express your Gratitude

Showing gratitude is one of the greatest strategies for improving mental health and wellbeing, as it helps us to build new relationships and boost existing ones. The power of a “thank you” can be easily underestimated, and if you’ve been on the receiving end of a genuine, heartfelt thank you, you will know how powerful it can really be.

Express gratitude to your checkout staff, pharmacist, doctor, barista, and food delivery driver for their contribution to your day. They’re helping us maintain a degree of normality and to have some creature comforts that make each day a bit easier.  

Pay it Forward 

It’s an oldie but a goodie, this phrase describes the action of being the beneficiary of a good deed and then repaying the kindness forward onto others. Remember any act of kindness can cause a positive ripple effect by restoring our faith in humanity and the human spirit. Imagine if our news headlines were filled with stories of a new pandemic, where people continued to spread love, generosity, and hope. Now that’s a headline that I would like to see. 

While we cannot change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we can change the way we behave and act. This is the last of our great freedoms, the power to choose how we show up. Yes, these are challenging times, but we can bookend our experience by making our own lives and the lives of others a little kinder and softer.  

How you will look back on this time in history? What will be your standout memories?

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