Recently my neighbours and I clapped and cheered enthusiastically for the healthcare workers, teachers and frontline workers who are helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and to support the stability of communities. This small but important celebration on the front lawns of our homes occurred on the last Sunday in March, Neighbour Day, which is celebrated each year. The theme for Neighbour Day 2020 was Social Connection, an apt description for this unusual year that intimidatingly lay before us. This short interval in our corona-isolated lives, where we waved and smiled and laughed and enjoyed our neighbourly connection, was a worldwide phenomenon posted on social media to show appreciation for those workers and to bring people together.
We as a species crave connection. It is enormously important for our minds and bodies to feel connected to another. It is crucial for our mental wellbeing. And in this 2020 year where “normal” life is being upended and government rules and society expectations are changing on a daily basis, we humans are realising the importance of human connection.
The more we have become isolated from others, the more creative we have become to socially connect. I have seen the ingenuity of teddy bears in windows. Yes, some are grotesque and a little scary, even for adults, with some bears loved beyond recognition, stuffing misplaced in parts of the bear, an ear missing or an evil upturned eye that make the bear seem truly possessed. Teddy bears are entertaining, for children and adults, and they give us a cheerful respite from the media’s focus on coronavirus, and the essential yet tiresome requirement of social distancing.
People report they are more relaxed due to lack of commitments. As I walk around my neighbourhood, I don’t think I have seen so many people in their front yards clearing out their garages or working on a project for their home. Families are sharing more time together, baking cakes, playing ball, and exercising together. Even the family pets are less anxious, enjoying the attention from their beloved family. People who have been in 14 day isolation report that once they leave their bubble, they appreciate the little things in life such as fresh air and connection with others.
There has also been the downside of Covid-19, with many people losing their jobs and in turn, losing connection with their work colleagues. There is intense worry about mortgage or rent, and there are bills to pay plus anxiety about feeding their family. For seniors or those with underlying health conditions, it means isolating themselves in their homes away from loved ones.
The daily routine for many who would normally go to work, or volunteer, or attend specific activities has been thrown into disarray. Some would call this discombobulation, a confusing and upsetting time. Anxiety can overtake logic, it can become fight, flight or freeze. Hence the issue of stock-piling toilet paper. I heard recently that some people were fearful that the food chain we depend on, would disappear and some have bought bows and arrows in order to hunt for food. Fear elicits a primal survival response which creates a strong reaction such as this.
What I have noticed is that people are more prepared to smile and have a welcoming word as my husband and I venture out for our daily exercise. Children sporting huge grins are tearing around the streets on their bikes or scooters forcing mum or dad to break into a run – good on you, kids, you know the secret to getting us adults off the couch more.
So in this era of Covid-19 and the wish that this is only a temporary occurrence, with the hope that life will soon return to “normal”, how do we connect with others yet keep a distance? The other day I met with some girlfriends. We talked, we laughed, we shared our lives – in a virtual environment. There were six of us in a Brady Bunch-style connection, slotted into our individual zoom frame. We looked up, we looked down, just as Marcia looked at Jan, who smiled at Cindy. As far as securing the talents of housekeeper, Alice – well, that’s just a dream. Many people have used online video for work at home and for social connection. You can play board games or cards online. There are online discussion groups.
For your elderly relatives who may resist exiting their home for fear of catching the coronavirus, there is a worldwide community group called Senior Chatters. There are virtual rooms for seniors to create friendships, or activities such as creating their own photo album to share just with friends or with this wider community. Phone, text or email are other great options.
Write a letter or get the kids to draw a picture and send it snail mail to a friend or grandparent or drop it into a neighbour’s letter box. Letters and drawings add a wonderful personal touch. Don’t be surprised if you receive a hand-written letter back. For those gaps in time when you are not connected, there are many live concerts, stage productions and art exhibits where people can take a virtual tour without leaving your home. Pop some popcorn, sit back and enjoy a front row seat. Even zoos have live virtual feeding times (just don’t wear the 3D specs).
When we return to our “normality”, what will it look like for you? What things will you keep doing, and what will you dispose of?
If you feel anxious, are overwhelmed or experience persistent sadness, contact me and I can help you find constructive ways to manage.
Janice Williams is a qualified therapist for women with 20 years experience. Janice will help you with the challenges of motherhood, parenting, anxiety, stress, grief and loss, and other life struggles to help you achieve increased wellbeing, improve self-confidence and create meaningful change.
Janice offers online and phone counselling across Australia. Online and email counselling is available worldwide.
Janice also offers Cuppa & Café Counselling, a therapeutic chat over a cuppa.