The coronavirus is forcing you to move away socially, and the pandemic has once again put many of us on lockdown. We want to be together, and it shows in our Thanksgiving plans. Ohio State University has found, in new research, that 40% of Americans plan to attend Thanksgiving gatherings despite the surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and CDC warnings.
Whatever your plans for Thanksgiving, relationships are essential to mental and physical health. How do we stay connected when everything seems to conspire against being with our people, staying with our community, and extending our reach to our loved ones?
While it might seem like a Herculean task to maintain connections, it’s worth the time and energy to figure it out. A new study from the University of Stirling has found that social distancing leads to increased loneliness. Add to that a recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital which found that social connection is the most powerful factor in preventing depression, especially since it has been compared to 100 different variables (watch less TV and do less). naps as well!).
Obviously, connections have a big impact, but how can you maintain them when the coronavirus forces you to go our separate ways? And how can you maintain your relationships when the pandemic makes it so difficult to be together? Forge bonds by giving, bringing together and using the power of guts:
Forge links by giving
Think of others. To maintain relationships, start with empathy. Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience found when people were asked to think of others, they made better decisions. Specifically, they made more effective choices in avoiding pain when the well-being of others was at stake. When you decide on a course of action, you will do a better job if you consider the people around you.
To be generous. Generosity is another way to foster relationships. Whether you are volunteering your time, giving to charity, or offering help to a colleague, generosity is the glue of strong relationships. According to one study, when people were generous, they tended to be more satisfied and engaged in their work and happier with life in general. In another study, when people volunteered their time, they tended to see a gain in their wages and career growth. And in yet another study, generous people were seen as more attractive. Look for organizations where you can volunteer your time and build relationships with other volunteers. Find ways to contribute when a colleague is struggling with a difficult problem at work. Give a helping hand to an elderly neighbor. Altruism has many benefits, but the main one is the way it connects us and cements relationships.
Forge links through groups
Share a cause. You can also maintain bonds by joining a (socially distant) group of like-minded people. Belonging is not just about being together with people, it is about sharing an identity or a purpose. One of the ways to look at what is most fundamental to our instincts and neuroscience is to look to animals. When they exhibit characteristics similar to ours, it suggests that human neural instincts run particularly deep. For example, a study from the University of Vienna found that birds sharing responsibility for their offspring and nested closely together, exhibited more generous behavior. A separate study from Ohio State University found that when vampire bats were sick, they maintained a social distance from their group mates. Their highly social nature led to behaviors that would protect others in times of unease. This applies to humans: When we share common interests, mutual goals, and emotional commitments, we tend to behave in ways that improve our relationships and the health of the group.
Create a group. If you can’t find a group that exactly matches your interests or priorities, start one, even if it’s virtual. Getting through the pandemic is tough – really tough – so reaching out to like-minded people is a powerful idea. If you can’t find something you want to join, start something new. Create a unique club, perhaps with those who knit poorly or who have given up on leavening. Or if you miss your coworkers and love to read, start a book group at work. You can start with one person and then invite others to join. Whether you connect with a person or a group, you will be contributing to your own well-being and theirs.
Be a connector. Everyone needs strong networks. Close and primary relationships, as well as secondary or tertiary connections (those people that you might not see as much of, but still important members of your wider community) are like straps or nets that provide support. You can add value to your community by introducing people to each other. When you know someone who is looking for advice and someone who is a guru on the subject, do all you can to present it. When you connect people with others, you strengthen your bond with each of them and you also strengthen the community as a whole.
Forging bonds with grain
Be tenacious. Nurturing relationships takes effort, sometimes a lot. And since Aristotle, tenacity – persistence, unwavering effort, and maintaining a firm grip on what is important – has been seen as a virtue. Focus on friendships and nurture your network. Be the person who takes the initiative and makes (virtual) coffee. It can be easy to walk away or wait for others to turn to them. But investing your time and energy in maintaining relationships is well worth it. In times of stress, your employees may not be as engaged. Stay motivated so you can in turn persuade others to attend yoga (social distancing) classes together, participate in virtual wine (whine) on Wednesdays, or even shop online through FaceTime.
Inspiring optimism. In addition to tenacity, the key elements of courage are persistence and resilience. All of these characteristics suggest a future direction and a belief in the value of what lies around the turn and beyond our current struggles. Keep going even if things are difficult. Plus, be positive. People prefer to be with others who are optimistic and can see the glass as half full. You don’t need to be unrealistically aroused, but adding an optimistic outlook to those around you will help you and others – and strengthen connections through shared positivity.
Contributing to the community, reaching out, and building relationships will help you get through and help others get through. Our relationships are among the most important ways to fight the negative effects of quarantine and the coronavirus. Build bridges and bond – effective short and long term strategies too.