The “New Normal:” Seeking Connection in the Age of Social Distancing
2020 rang in, as each new year typically does…the last days of merriment from the holidays, tempered by a mild longing for the routine that January provides. Unfortunately, the stability of the new year was quickly replaced with worry. As I began to hear the rapidly changing news emerge from Wuhan, the situation seemed unimaginable—makeshift hospitals, the sick bicycling miles every day for treatment, the complete shutdown of a city and region containing millions of people, individuals confined to their homes for untold weeks. The mystery virus was scary enough, but I couldn’t stop thinking about something no one seemed to be discussing: humans are social creatures and not meant to live this way. What sort of mental toll was this taking on a vibrant city suddenly forced to isolate for a prolonged period of time? I would Google things like “mental health effects of quarantine in China,” and wonder, “are we next?”
Another day, another doubt
Not even three months later, and here we are…some of us choosing the more favorable “social distancing” as opposed to outright quarantine, but the fact remains the same: humans are not meant to exist this way. Apart from one curbside grocery pickup and neighborhood walks, no one in my family has left our home in over two weeks. My mental state and self-doubt fluctuates from day to day. I mourn for those dealing with loss, and for those who are forced to die alone. I consider the virus itself (and how I selfishly don’t want myself or my family to become sick). I worry about whether I am being too cautious (or not cautious enough). I struggle with my own limitations as a mother-turned-impromptu educator for my child. I cry. I become frustrated. I grieve my old way of life as I resign myself to this new limbo of time and expectations.
But thankfully, these things aren’t the only things I am feeling. In spite of these darker feelings, I am also discovering gratitude in unexpected places—observing the freedom of birds in springtime when I would normally be too busy to notice; recognizing that my child’s (and my own) longing for friends means we are properly attached to the ones we love and connect with; finding deliberate and mindful uses for our resources (my freezer and its contents have never shown me so much potential)! I am in awe of—and so thankful for—the technology that allows us all to stay connected. I am getting better about releasing my own pride and honestly asking for help, especially when it comes to emotional support.
Confronting where the worry physically resides
This period of time has made me listen to my body more closely. I have always held tension in the center of my stomach/diaphragm, contracting and holding stomach at any sign of stress or fear, which snowballs into shallow breathing and results in more distress. The events of the past couple of months have pushed this stress reflex of mine into high gear, but because I am forced to confront it more directly, I am better able to utilize the tools that I typically ignore to bring myself back to center. I breathe, and I visualize systematically unclenching the knot in my stomach, one breath at a time. I stretch my neck, I fold forward. I rarely find a true center these days, but I’m trying.
Connecting through discomfort
This time is uncertain, but realistically speaking, all times are—we are just being forced to confront the uncertainty in a way that challenges every facet of our being. Introvert, extrovert, and everything in between, we are all dealing with this in our own ways…together. Our mental well-being needs to be fostered now above all else. Remember to identify
the things that ground you, that make you feel whole. Check in with people you haven’t spoken to in a while, reconnect, say hello. Be honest, compassionate, and gentle with yourself, and with others. Take a collective breath with the rest of humanity, and remember that peace can be found in taking all of this day by day—you aren’t alone.
We weren’t meant to exist this way, but we can still attempt to find beauty in the discomfort, and connection within the solitude.
Fostering mental well-being: A note from Kim Shrewsberry
In this piece, Lauren Wagner beautifully articulated the feelings, doubts, and struggles that many of us are experiencing in the face of this virus. Social distancing may be a necessity as the result of COVID-19, but humans are social creatures and not meant to live in solitude. If you are experiencing emotional distress, reach out to a mental health professional. Many counselors are providing telehealth services during this time.