by Jennifer Wang

Coronavirus has turned our daily routines upside down. One of the most impactful disruptions has been in how we connect with other people. Almost overnight, it seems we have been stripped of our normal interactions with co-workers, friends, relatives, religious communities, and social communities. Even for an introvert like me, this change has left a noticeable gap in my life. 

The word isolation has now entered the national vernacular and takes the idea of social distancing to a scarier level. That maybe has been driving some media-bingeing behavior, I know it did for me. Until a week ago, I watched very little TV – I’d turn it on maybe once a week to watch a show on Netflix. I checked the news online once in the morning and once during lunch, and that kept me pretty well-informed. But when the coronavirus became a global pandemic (and when I started trying to play the stock market…but that’s another story), I found myself compulsively refreshing my browser for the latest news and stock prices, and watching local news well into the night. 

Luckily my mindfulness kicked in pretty quickly and showed me that I was relating with technology in an addictive way. My mind was scattered and my body felt clenched, and it seemed like there was an invisible force propelling me to keep watching the news and clicking on article after article, even though I wasn’t learning any new information. So pretty quickly, I stopped trying to play the stock market (I wasn’t doing a very good job anyway), and I budgeted my TV and online news time to specific periods of the day, which are still more than they were pre-virus.    

These last few days, as social distancing has kicked into high gear and as I’ve pretty much been staying inside my house, I’ve become so grateful for the technology that was causing me pain last week, and that I know has caused a lot of people pain over the last few years through addictive behavior, digital bullying, or unintended social distancing. Now my devices, especially the ability to video-chat, are allowing me to connect with my family in LA, coworkers, and my mindfulness community, in a way where I actually do feel connected to them when we talk. I have to admit, not multi-tasking while on zoom has taken some getting used to, but with a few self-reminders, I’ve been able to give most interactions my full attention and really feel that connection.

I’ve also appreciated how being at home, without appointments to rush to, has given me the chance to lean into the extra space in my life and to use that space to reflect on what is important to me. I’m slowing down more, appreciating my dog more, reaching out to friends more. I’m actually feeling pretty un-isolated, despite living alone (sorry Archie!), so I thought I’d collect a few tips to share of ways to stay connected, some involving technology and some not. 

Please enjoy, and let me know in the comments if you have discovered any other ways to feel connected!

  1. Experience and enjoy the extra space you now have in your life for yourself. Take a few moments to relish moments of not having to get somewhere by a certain time. This will give you a fuller emotional tank from which to reach out to others.
  1. Reach out. This one may seem obvious, but don’t wait for people to text you. Use this opportunity to reflect on who in your life is important to you or those you want to strengthen a connection with, and reach out to them. Maybe it’s a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Maybe it’s a relative who is at high risk. We could all use some extra TLC right now.
  1. Be extra intentional about how you connect with people. Many of us have a variety of media to choose from – calling, video-chatting, texting, social media, emailing, even snail mail! Be intentional about which channel will bring you the greatest connection in that moment. Maybe where you would have texted before, you can call instead. Then switch it up! Try doing an activity together like an online yoga class or walk around the block. 

And when you text or engage on social media, be intentional about what you’re posting. Are you inundating your friends and family with articles upon articles? What mood or energy might your message produce in that person? Through the interactions are you giving or receiving care and support? 

  1. Be present. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I get on my computer, my desire to multi-task kicks in hard. It’s taken discipline for me to keep my hands off my keyboard and stay present with the work meeting or facetime call I’m on. And we all need it right now. We need eachother’s presence and the beauty of video calls makes it possible for us to receive that presence without being in the same room.
  1. Be extra kind. When you start or end a work meeting, take the time to ask how people are or to chat about what’s going on. When you ask, give that person the space to really respond rather than just the typical “i’m fine”, and when you’re asked the same thing, consider sharing from your heart as well. 
  1. Cut eachother some slack. We are all going through a lot right now, even if not everyone is showing it. Some people may say stupid things. Some people may make mistakes. Cut eachother some slack and address it in maybe a kinder way than you would have before (tap into #1). 
  1. Get in your car and drive around. I did this on Saturday and it helped me just to be around people and activity without the risk of contact. Just go to the bathroom beforehand so you don’t have to get out of your car for a pitstop 🙂
  1. Pay attention to animals. My dog has no idea what’s going on, and that’s kind of comforting. The squirrels outside my kitchen window are just climbing around gathering food like it’s any other day. And it is. Watch them and let yourself just be with them as they go about their daily lives, whether that’s from a window or outside on a walk.
  1. Remember our interconnectedness. The speed at which the virus has spread has shown us how connected the world is. But it’s not just human beings that are connected. We share a connection with the rest of the world. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in No Death, No Fear: 

“Looking deeply into the flower, we see that the flower is made of non-flower elements.  We describe the flower as being full of everything. There is nothing that is not present in the flower.  We see sunshine, we see the rain, we see clouds, we see the earth, and we also see time and space in the flower.  A flower, like everything else, is made entirely of non-flower elements. The whole cosmos has come together in order to help the flower manifest herself.  The flower is full of everything except one thing: a separate self, a separate identity.” 

I would add that if the flower was planted by a gardener, we can also see them in the flower, and their parents who gave birth to them, and so on. Many people think of this as the “butterfly effect”. What each of us does has an impact in the world, as small as the action or word or even mood may seem. 

We can practice this by practicing a healing walking meditation. With each step, imagine that as your foot makes contact with the earth, it is sending healing into the earth and to all beings that are also making contact with the earth. Through that step, you can connect with everyone else who is also feeling anxious or alone or afraid in that moment.

  1. Exercise compassion. Compassion is not a state, it is an act. By bringing to mind someone (including yourself!) that may be experiencing some sort of pain, whether it be emotional or physical, and feeling empathy as well as the active wish for that pain to be eased, you are strengthening the bonds of interconnectedness. You can externalize that compassion by taking any of the actions above. By engaging in compassion, you are also decreasing your own anxiety, as studies show that helping others helps with anxiety and depression.  

As much fear and uncertainty as there is right now, we can use this extra time and space to retrench and re-evaluate what is important to us, and to simplify our lives to focus on those things and those people. Even if we physically cannot be near others, we can strengthen our connections through our intention and care, starting with ourselves. We are not alone.