4 Reasons Why Staying Connected to Others Matters ... A Lot
How not to let the COVID bubble undermine your emotional well-being.
Posted Sep 22, 2020
It used to be a fluid and unavoidable component of our lives—interacting with others. As we adjust to the pandemic and our new reality, interaction with others becomes, in many cases, optional. We can almost entirely exist in our own bubbles, creating a life that is free of the social burdens of the past.
Many no longer need to go to an office and communicate with colleagues in a direct manner. Social events are canceled. Parties, school events, neighborhood potlucks are things of the past. Interacting with colleagues, gym mates, neighbors, friends, kid’s teachers, extended family, strangers can all be pushed to the side. After all, in the covid world it does take extra work and planning to initiate social outings or to speak to with others on a regular basis. And then there are the masks, making talking and listening even more challenging. It becomes far too easy to justify and rationalize not calling that old friend or not participating in that pesky zoom happy hour. Make no mistake; keeping up our social connections and social skills is essential to mental health and to getting through this time with our emotional health and wellbeing intact. Here are four reasons why staying connected with others matters.
1. We are wired to connect: We learn to trust that our needs will be met, and how to manage our emotions, and how to feel and give love through our attachments to our caregivers. This biological and evolutionarily wired drive is a bond that begins the moment we are born and endures throughout adulthood. Even if you are living alone, very independent, or introverted the need for social connection in order to maintain mental health is still present. When we isolate ourselves or limit ourselves only to our immediate environment, we become sad, depressed, and find distorted ways of viewing the world and our future. Being around others helps us to maintain a realistic perspective, stay optimistic, and regulate our emotional experiences. We need the touchstone of others to keep us stable and grounded. Without connection, it becomes easier and easier to see only the bad in the world, get stuck in negative thinking spirals, and to become angry and unmotivated. Connecting with others will help you see yourself, the world, and your future in a more positive and realistic manner.
2. Loneliness abounds: We need to connect and zoom is not sufficient. I see it in my young children after a full day of classroom zoom, they want to talk and talk and talk. They need connection and we adults need it too. For adults it is easy to not pay attention to what might be going on for them on a deeper level. If you find yourself irritable, overly anxious, sad, lacking in joy, you just might be lonely. You may find your joy returning if you spend more time participating in social distancing events, call a friend regularly, make FaceTime calls when you can. It isn’t going to be the pre-pandemic days, but even small moments of joy can bring enduring happiness and gratitude.
3. You misinterpret social signals: Not maintaining regular social interactions means that your social muscles are weakening. You will have a harder time picking up the subtleties, the non-verbal signals, the intuitive/instinctive pieces of social interactions. And not seeing people regularly brings on a sense of not belonging and a feeling that people don’t care or want you around. When this happens you are more likely to misinterpret the motives of others or see others as against you—“Why did she look at me like that,” “What did he mean when he said I look different,” “She was glaring at me the whole time.” And too, avoiding social interactions puts you out of sync with others. Instead of recognizing this as a fact and skill base that can be put back together, you second guess and criticize yourself “Oh no, that went horribly,” “They must think I am an idiot,” “I can’t believe I said that, what do they think of me now?” The more you make connecting with others a priority, even through FaceTime and social distance gatherings, the less sensitive and self-critical you will be during your social interactions.
4. Avoidance begets avoidance. More than ever it is easy to rationalize to ourselves why we aren’t going to participate in a social event or call an old friend. There are countless reasons to justify this stance, most notably not wanting to catch COVID. And too, the expectations of others have changed so people really do understand if you don’t participate or cancel at the last minute. Nonetheless, the more you avoid social interactions the harder and harder they become. Doing this on a chronic level can lead to real anxiety around social interactions to the point that you become socially anxious or agoraphobic (where you don’t want to leave your home at all). It is important to push yourself to interact so that connecting doesn’t become something you fear at all costs. And so that you are ready when the post pandemic world opens up.
Keep in mind that you are not the only one feeling socially distant or out of sync. Give compassion to yourself and others as you navigate this new terrain. Notice if you are rationalizing or justifying why you are not making an effort socially. Instead, make a point to accept that you need connection for your own mental and emotional health. This will not only help you through these trying times but it will also help you remerge from the pandemic with your psychological health intact. For more on being calm through stressful times check out my book, Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now.