Here we are in 2022 and still facing a global pandemic. I believe that we are disconnected now more than ever. The hard part is in many ways we have to be. With new COVID variants still arising, the health of SO many people is such an issue. But this makes life really difficult because we are not meant to be isolated. By nature, we are social creatures.
Even for those of us that live alone, social interaction is imperative for our health.
In some ways COVID has forced us to get creative with our social interaction and thank god for technology and the ability to see people via computer and phones. For me personally COVID has actually enhanced some of my relationships. In the early months of COVID a small group of 5 of my closest friends decided to create a text thread that has been monumental in my ability to cope. In many ways COVID contributed towards our group getting closer and deeper than we ever have. This forced us to be more vulnerable, authentic and compassionate with each other in ways we may not have been if COVID didn't occur. But in many ways we are all still really hurting from the isolation and lack of normalcy.
Over the holiday I spent several weeks with my family. Although I enjoy (and very much need my alone time) I didn’t realize how much I was craving human companionship and interaction until it was time for me to go home.
I had so many emotions as I walked into my empty apartment. I felt very alone and very isolated.
This is where the work begins. A feeling.
I really resonate with Dr. Susan Davids work on Emotional Agility. She describes emotions as being sign posts. All emotions are signaling something to us. So when we feel an emotion the best thing we can do is ask ourselves “What is this telling me?” I have used this repeatedly since finding her work.
So as I sat down in my apartment I asked myself this question.
“What is this feeling signaling to me right now?”
When I feel lonely it can mean a few things. First, it was telling me that I really enjoyed my time at home and that I was all of a sudden really missing my family. It was telling me that in this moment I was sad. It was telling me that I needed genuine and authentic connection. I had a desire to see someone else and to be seen.
I got really clear on what I needed in that moment so that I could then attend to it.
Most of my friends were still out of town from New Years Eve and to be fair, I was pretty exhausted myself from the holiday. So I decided that the best move for me was to go for a walk and to smile and greet every single person I came across.
I decided that I wouldn’t wear headphones or listen to anything on my phone because that could keep me from a potential conversation or simply “hello” from someone. I can honestly say I have never done this on a walk and it was a game changer.
Throughout my walk I encountered so many people that were also smiling and willing to say hello or wave. I said hello and Happy New Year and received many in return. I was gaining contact and connection from people I literally did not know. I would probably never see some of these people again but it changed my mood in so many ways. It made me realize that even though we can’t necessarily be with people we love all the time, we can still feel connected to the greater world as a whole. We are all going through this crazy thing called life.
I highly suggest trying this especially for those of you that live on your own during this time. However I also compiled a list of a few other things that have helped me throughout COVID. I hope that at least one or two of these resonate with you.
1) Get out of the house
I understand this is not accessible for everyone and not everyone feels safe doing this. To the extent that you do, get out of the house! This is so important especially for those of us that live alone. Even if it’s just going to the grocery store and speaking with the cashier. These connections can be invaluable. Sometimes I pick random stores that I like (Target, Michaels, Whole Foods) and just make a trip in order to walk around and look at things. I have no intention of buying anything (although Target seems to get me every time). Getting out of your house and around other people allows you to remember that you are not on this earth by yourself. That in itself can make a huge difference. Even just doing a 5-10 minute walk around your block or apartment complex can be a game changer.
2) Make an SOS list
An SOS list is a short list of people you can reach out to for literally anything. Doesn’t matter what time of day it is, you can pick up the phone and call them. These are the people in your life that you can be your most authentic and genuine self and know that you will ALWAYS be loved and received. I encourage everyone to have a short list of people that you know you can reach out to for genuine and authentic connection. But I also encourage people to then REACH OUT to this list and TELL THEM.
“Hey.. you’re on my SOS list.. Just thought you should know”
This is in turn continuing to enhance and strengthen connection!
3) Be upfront about what you are needing WHEN you reach out to people
This one stems off of creating your SOS list. It’s really important (especially in hard and stressful times like COVID) to be clear and upfront about what your needs for connection are. Part of this is about boundaries. We all have our own shit going on and there will be times when the people in your life (particularly on your SOS list) can’t be there for you. This does NOT mean you are not worthy, it means we’re human.
So make sure that you are going into conversations with your loved ones with clear expectations about what YOU need from the connection. This allows you to let the other person know. That way you can work together to figure out what you BOTH may need from connecting. If your SOS person doesn’t have time or energy to connect then you at least KNOW up front.
When there is something I am needing from my loved ones I start off the conversation with something like “Hey, this is where I am at, are you in a place where you can receive this and communicate?” If this person is not in a place where they can receive, totally OK. I don’t judge that or get mad. That’s valid. I can either move on to another person on my SOS list OR I tell them that when they are ready we can connect.
Simple, clear and concise so that EVERYBODY is on the same page. This helps ensure that we’re not mis-communicating and then MISSING OUT on genuine connection that we may really need.
4) Spend time away from your phone
This seems counterintuitive especially in a pandemic where oftentimes our phones are how we reach out and communicate. However, when we spend time off our phones we truly immerse ourselves in our world. This can actually strengthen our ability to feel connected. We’re connecting to our LIFE!
A great example from my walk without my phone: If I had been on my phone or listening to something I would have missed the little baby that waved at me. I wouldn’t have overheard a grandma telling her grandson to keep working as hard as he could at school and at soccer practice. These things made me smile and feel SO MUCH joy.
This doesn’t have to be all the time but I think the more we make getting off our devices a habit the more connected and present we will feel in our lives.
5) Do something nice for yourself that brings you joy
For me this goes beyond the quintessential “self care.” This is about thinking how you feel taken care of and then giving that to yourself. What are the things that bring you an immense amount of joy? I feel taken care of by acts of kindness so some things I will do are allow myself to take a nice bath or cook myself a really fancy dinner while I sip a glass of wine and listen to a new playlist. I LOVE to peruse spotify for new music so often I will create a fun new playlist to listen to WHILE I cook my dinner.
I also feel really taken care of when I am putting my mental health first so sometimes I’ll carve out an afternoon in my schedule to go for a mindful walk or do a yoga practice that allows me to take a break in my day. Yoga is so enjoyable to me because I love how I feel when I’m moving my body in mindful ways.
Find what resonates with you here. I believe that doing things like this on a regular basis can help boost mood and your feelings of self compassion!
I want to reiterate that this is an INCREDIBLY hard time. Mental health issues are arising left and right from the amount of isolation we are experiencing. For me, living alone has been incredibly tough during this time. I am hoping that something in here resonates with you and you are able to start trying these out in your day to day.