This is the third blog in our series, Hope, belonging, meaning and purpose: suicide prevention in times of crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us into a new way of being – with ourselves and with others.

Technology has offered all kinds of answers to the question: ‘how do we stay close while remaining physically distant?’ Video conferencing, gaming apps, and social media have all played a huge role in helping to keep us connected. Many of us have likely become more accustomed to seeing our loved ones through a screen rather than in-person.

We’re becoming creative with in-person visits, too: drive-by birthday parties, distance-walks and driveway chats are becoming commonplace.

Fortunately, we live in a time when seeing our loved ones virtually is easy, and for many people, for now, video calls and distance-walks are enough to satisfy the basic human need for social interaction. For others, though, loneliness as a result of isolation is becoming a major issue.

Besides lacking physical closeness with our friends and family, those we see on a regular basis, we are also lacking physical closeness with people we may not have even realized contributed to our social wellbeing pre-COVID – our colleagues, hairdressers, bus drivers, and other people we see throughout the days, weeks and months on a semi-regular basis.

Finding a way to stay socially connected during the pandemic is probably one of the best things we can do for our mental health – but why is social connection so important?

Connection is a fundamental human need

Humans need connection with other humans. Our need for connection has been ingrained in us since the beginning of our existence – our ancestors knew the importance of convening and remaining in groups: when people work together, they can help boost each other’s chances of surviving and thriving, and the same principle holds true today.

When we’re going through a hard time, we can lean on those around us for support. If one of our loved ones notices we’re struggling, they can reach out to support us. We all have more resources to pull from when we look out for each other, and especially during times of adversity. We become stronger together.

If you’re worried about a loved one, check out this article to learn the warning signs and how to have a conversation with them. If you’re struggling, reach out to a loved one, and don’t hesitate to contact the crisis line at 1-833-456-4566.

Adapting to new socialization

We need to continue adapting, being flexible, and learning how to stay connected in a new way so we can maintain our connections to survive and thrive.

Some of us may need to take some time learning about or teaching others how to use new technology. We may also need to learn about what others are comfortable with – someone who we would usually visit in-person may prefer a phone call, something we may never have done with them before.

The more we can adapt to our ever-changing circumstances by being open and flexible with our modes of communication, the better we can balance our need for social interaction with the physical distancing required in our current circumstances and maintain our mental health.

We are all resilient and adaptable in our own ways – it may be helpful to take some time to acknowledge what adaptations we’ve already made as individuals, and congratulate ourselves on the changes we’ve made.  

Living through a pandemic is challenging, but acknowledging our resilience in the face of challenge reminds us that we are adaptable, that we can keep going. What adaptations have you already made to your daily life? How are you adapting to ensure you maintain your mental wellbeing?

Grieving our relationships

Many of us may find ourselves grieving the loss of real physical closeness and the way our relationships were before the pandemic.

Some people may not feel comfortable with hugging or touching in the same way as they were before, for example, or they may not want to go out and meet as often.

It’s normal to have changing feelings about social interactions, and it’s okay to feel a sense of loss for how our relationships were.

Be kind to yourself

We can better cope with these feelings if we are able to adapt to these new circumstances to the best of our abilities, and in a way that feels comfortable for us. This may require spending some time to think about what you’re comfortable with. Do you feel comfortable hugging your friends? Shaking hands? Going to restaurants and using public bathrooms? It’s helpful to know your comfort zone. Forcing yourself to meet a friend in a restaurant when you’re not feeling safe will not help your mental health, but having lunch with them on a park bench where you’re more comfortable will. Be kind to yourself and don’t feel bad about cancelling plans that just don’t feel right and suggesting alternatives. It may help to vocalize your level of comfort with your friends and family so they can accommodate your needs.

Our level of comfort and need for the frequency of socialization may also have changed. Some of us may need to see fewer people right now because we feel overwhelmed with the current circumstances, or because we’ve been spending so much time with family, we may just want alone time. Others may need more socialization than usual if they feel they need that because of being in isolation for so long.

Do what feels best for you and try to adapt and accept that the way you socialize now may look very different than how you did it pre-COVID. We’re all learning to adapt and as long as we stay in touch in some way, we can all be here for each other.

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If you’re feeling hopeless, desperate, overwhelmed, or are having thoughts of suicide, help is available.

This is the third blog in our series, Hope, belonging, meaning and purpose: suicide prevention in times of crisis.

All blogs in this series:
Hope, belonging, meaning and purpose
Change is hard: Learning to adapt
Maintaining relationships and social connection