Social distancing is, no doubt, important to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, having fewer social interactions can lead to disconnection, isolation, and loneliness. These feelings make people feel more vulnerable and anxious. When we are faced with mandates to isolate ourselves, we run the risk of intergroup anxiety or in-group/out-group bias. This is the natural tendency to distrust those who are “the other”, or not in our own group. We take comfort in the individuals in our in-group based on our shared common identity, while excluding everyone else.
Unfortunately, these recent events play into human fears that can lead to negative stereotypes of others, rather than bridging differences against the common enemy: this current health crisis that we are all suffering together. Instead of tribalism that threatens to disconnect people, we need to bring about unity with the understanding that we are better together than we are apart.
While we are all trying to navigate this new landscape we find ourselves wandering, take some time to strengthen the connections in your life in and out of your tribe. Shift your mindset from being socially distant to physically distant and look for ways to intentionally maintain your personal, self, and work connections that will not only help you through these uncertain times but will help others as well.
While nothing can replace the positive impact of face-to-face interactions, getting creative on how to maintain personal connections in your life will help mitigate the effects of isolation. When one feels socially isolated or lonely, it has a significant emotional and psychological impact. For the historically underrepresented and differently-abled individuals who already feel the impacts of isolation even when society is not retreating inward, the consequences are magnified. Here are a few recommendations for staying connected with friends, family, and your community.
1. Netflix Party. With this Google Chrome extension, groups of people can watch their favorite Netflix titles from their computers at the same time. They can even share their thoughts and reactions with the chat room feature included. It might be time to catch up on Gilmore Girls or the newest true crime feature with friends – popcorn not included.
2. Friends and Family Time. If you are living with friends or family, use this opportunity to spend time connecting with them and improving existing relationships. Organize game and movie nights, listen to audiobooks or podcasts together, or finally tackle that overflowing closet in the living room.
3. Reach Out. Call that friend you haven’t spoken to in years, call your parents – especially if they are older and more susceptible. They probably need some emotional support during this scary time. Look for ways to interact with others without putting anyone at risk. If you have access to technology, use it to connect: Facetime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Marco Polo, and many more free options are out there. Don’t forget your neighbors and community citizens. Ask if anyone who may be more vulnerable may need help with grocery shopping, pharmacy runs, or just need someone to talk to. Be a good global citizen and intervene when negative stereotypes about others surface.
It is also important to look inward. During times of change and uncertainty, self-care usually falls by the wayside. Add in a lack of social contact and your anxiety and stress spikes. While maintaining the personal connections noted above will help nurture your spirit, giving you a sense of purpose and belonging, taking care of yourself and your needs should also be a point of focus.
1. Get Moving. While you may not be able to head to the gym, you can still take steps to stay physically active at home. Simple things like taking frequent breaks to just get up and walk around can help ease tension and reinvigorate the body and mind. For those who want an increased heart rate, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and others have several on-demand videos to guide you through a more extensive exercise routine. If the weather permits, go for a walk or run. If you have dogs they might appreciate the extra outside time with you!
2. Be Mindful. This is the perfect time to practice mindfulness. Studies show that mindfulness practices lead to reduced stress and anxiety, better cognitive and work performance, and to general overall well-being. Whether you are new to mindfulness or have been practicing for years, there are numerous free resources that offer guided meditation. Apps like Headspace and Calm or podcasts like Mindfulness Mode and On Being are easy to access and quick to use.
3. Find Your Happy Place. Be sure to carve out time to engage in hobbies or activities that provide personal enjoyment or satisfaction. Whether this is curling up in bed reading a book, playing a card game with your kids, or working in the garden, these activities allow you to connect with your own mental well-being.
Changing the way your work is stressful. Both leaders and individual contributors need to be intentional of cultivating a culture of inclusion and belonging during these times of isolation, where it is hard to make connections with others. Finding ways to communicate, lead inclusively, and promote trust among your team will go a long way in easing this.
1. Communicate. It seems simple, but effective communication is the hardest part about working remote. Walking over to somebody’s desk to ask a question or say hello as you walk in the door are all ways we are triggered to connect with someone. Those triggers are gone when you are isolated. Close the gap by setting up a video call instead of a phone call or conference call. This helps mimic the socialization that happens in an office. Scheduling weekly or even daily check-ins ensures that lines of communication are open and people feel less disconnected from their coworkers.
2. Lead Inclusively. For those that lead teams, it is important to find ways to mitigate potential biases. Affinity Bias occurs when people act more favorably to those that are similar to them. This often leaves women and people of color behind. Create a list of your team members with their photos and keep it in front of you as you work. This will help you make more conscious decisions about workflow or tasks and about reaching out to all your staff instead of a select few.
3. Promote Trust. It’s human nature for managers or leaders to be anxious or too involved with their employees’ daily tasks. This type of behavior, called micromanaging, is enhanced when working remotely and fosters a lack of trust and resentment. When you are leading a remote team, it is critical to trust that they are doing what they should without asking them to keep you updated every step of the way. Instead of focusing on tasks and processes, look at outcomes and goals. Ask what their goals are and what they have accomplished. This shows that you trust them to do their job without continual updates.
Finally, there is great value in adopting a mindset of gratitude, despite the hardships of your current situation. Take comfort in knowing that your social isolation is temporary and that you have access to tools that allow you to stay connected and combat the negative effects of being separate and apart. By being intentional and mindful about acting inclusive with others and in solidarity with them, you can invest in your relationships so that they are even stronger when you inevitably emerge from this crisis.