We are in the midst of a public health crisis with one of the most highly contagious viruses any of us will experience in our lifetimes. COVID-19 isn’t like anything we have experienced before. Our government officials, medical professionals, and our neighbors are calling on us to make responsible choices to stop the spread. The nightly news talks about ‘flattening the curve’ to decrease both the number of cases and fatalities. Of course, we need to distance as a matter of civic responsibility and self-care. However, we have all been swept up in the concept of ‘social distancing’. In my humble opinion, this term is inaccurate and is not what we have been called to do.
What is physical distancing?
Physical distancing is the term that should be promoted as it is what is required to slow the spread. COVID-19 is transmitted through various means, including droplet transmission (occurs when a person is in close physical contact with someone who may cough or sneeze) and through fomites (occurs by direct contact with infected people or indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infect person). COVID-19 is remarkably effective at survival, and let’s be honest, thriving.
Make no mistake, I am not a medical health professional, rather, I am in the healthcare field of mental health. My training involves looking at the elements of a person’s environment, relationships, perceptions, cognitions and behaviors to assess how these contribute to, or detract from, mental wellness. An essential component to any human’s mental health is connection. Many of us speak of connection by using the term socializing. Again, semantics, I know.
We are social by the nature of being human. We require attachment to optimize our growth and development. When we are under immense stress, isolation is one of the worst decisions or behaviors we can engage in. Reaching out and connecting with those around us is therapeutic. A small example of this is smiling, a highly contagious behavior that is relational in nature. I am also a big fan of smiling because it releases powerful little feel-good chemicals in our bodies called endorphins. So much can come from small, yet significant actions.
Intentional social connection
Intentional social connection is an essential element to thriving in the midst of this pandemic. We live in a point in history where we can effectively connect, without being in the same room as the human we are connecting with. There are a number of ways to connect socially and avoid the dangers of isolation, which can include heightened anxiety and increased depression.
- Video-conferencing. Digital capabilities through platforms such as Zoom, Google Chat, or Facetime are super easy to use and have closed the gap with what physical distancing has robbed from us. In seconds, you are face-to-face with loved ones. Families are now playing games together from different places, often around the globe, using jackbox.tv or House Party.
- Texting. It is amazing what a single phrase from a friend or co-worker does for us through a simple text. Within days of the stay at home order issued in my state, I received several out-of-the-blue text messages from people in my world, checking in and asking how I was doing. The effect was cool! I felt cared for and carried the act forward by checking in on more people in my world.
- Social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have elements of both staying connected and also feeling validated. New stay-at-home parents find themselves commiserating and inspiring one another. To use this effectively for one’s mental health, social media is best consumed in moderation.
- Mailing notes and cards. Handwritten notes and cards are so endearing and evidence a truly intentional act of caring. My dearest friends connect with me in these “old-fashioned” ways. The personal touch when opening an envelope is like receiving a hug from a distance. The receiver feels special and cared for. The sender also gets a boost, as always happens in the wonderful world of giving.
- Phone calls. It is good to share air time with people, hearing their voice. Quick calls to check-in and ask how a friend or neighbor is doing, are definitely ways to fill the social connection cup.
- Porch drops. Sharing is caring! An exchange program with friends and neighbors is particularly helpful. Perhaps you need a new puzzle or they need a fresh book. Maybe you could drop off an extra package of toilet paper or bag of flour or bottle of disinfectant spray.
- Teletherapy. Having a conversation with a counselor or therapist can bring a deep sense of connection. Key elements of this relationship include validation, listening, non-judgment, motivation, exploration, and simply the permission to just “be”. The vast majority of counselors have pivoted their practices to offer telehealth services. This group of professionals knows the vital nature of connection and dangers of isolation. Perhaps now is a great time to explore this healthcare opportunity from the safety of your own home.
Intentional gestures are the ingredients for a wonderful recipe of social connection during a pandemic. The payoff will be experienced as feelings of safety, security, connectedness and love. During this time of tremendous uncertainty and fear, lean on your people. You will need to lean differently, but lean nonetheless.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a group mental health practice located in the lower peninsula of Michigan. Typically, the therapists serve residents in the counties of Livingston, Ingham, Genessee and Oakland, however, with the shift to telehealth services, they are now able to provide services to any resident of Michigan. PTS providers speak often and openly about the intimate connections that they form with their clients using virtual therapy. On-line counseling has shown to be equally effective to traditional, in-person therapy.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.