With the need to be physically distant from others in this season, it can be a very trying time for human connection. Here are 8 ways to be physically distant but stay socially connected.
A positive look at our great opportunity during this trying time.
I’m writing this in the midst of a world in chaos. COVID-19 AKA Coronavirus is ripping through the world and destroying much of the societal norms that have existed to this point. Affecting China for several months at this point, the spread of the virus has become fairly widespread. As a result, governments everywhere are making necessary decisions with far reaching consequences – closing borders, reimbursing small businesses, and mandating that most social gathering and large scale events not occur, or occur within certain sizing limits.
The stress on society as we know it is enormous. Many organisations are rightly concerned for the mental health of those affected by the over-abundance of reporting on the illness. The sentence “social distancing” is thrown around ad nauseum and leaving people feeling not just alert but completely disconnected from their lives and from others.
There are many seasons in life where we may be required to physically cut ourselves off from others, or to limit our in-person contact. All of which can carry the same levels of pressure and a sense of isolation as a viral outbreak. Perhaps you’re in the midst of the current chaos or experiencing your own reasons to need to be cut off from others.
And so instead of helping feed the sense of dread, I would love to offer a positive spin on what’s possible at the moment. Instead of being consumed with what we can’t do, I would love us to be consumed with what we can do. Here are 8 ways to be physically distant but still remain socially connected.
#1: Remember what you’re still able to do
I think what’s so depressing at the moment is all the things that we’re being told we’re not able to do. We can’t leave borders, we can’t fly, we can’t have big group gatherings, we can’t be as physically close as we would like to be, we can’t work, and we can’t control how these external circumstances will develop.
But what can you do?
Basketball coach John Wooden rightly said “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do”.
You might not be able to go into the office, but what can you get done from home? You might not be able to go out of the house, but are there some home tasks that have been waiting for a while that you can do? You can’t see them physically or go out as much, but what can you do to stay connected? What hasn’t your government banned and what is still possible within the current advice and framework?
Some harder ones at the moment may be that you’re not able to work at all or to earn sufficient income. Could it be an opportunity to upskill, to reskill, to develop side hustles to supplement or replace the current status quo? You might not have given much thought to your automatic responses and the people you’ve chosen to put around you in life, but could it be that you have more control over this than you know?
Opportunity is all around us, but only if we’re able to see it.
#2: Feed faith instead of fear
I think one of the stupidest things people are doing at the moment besides purchasing 278 years of toilet paper and pushing old ladies to get 13 kilograms of mince is watching fictional movies about virus outbreaks. Movies like Contagion and similar shows about virus outbreaks have had a huge surge in popularity. Many of these fictional worlds have completely different rules to the real world and are designed around creating drama and a sense of tension. It’s a movie – everyone is going to get sick, and it’s probably going to be the case that everyone dies. If we’re not careful, we open the door to drowning our own selves in fear with a world that does not exist.
When I was at university, I did my honours thesis on the psychological effects of video games on the mind. My key findings were around just how powerful an effect fictional worlds can have. Soldiers who had lost limbs were able to retrain their brain to stop feeling a sense of phantom pain. Educational potential is through the roof. Brain activity mirrors that of a supercomputer during a state of immersion in games and indeed any form of entertainment.
If that’s possible for good, imagine how much potential there is for evil and destruction if you’re dwelling obsessively on fictional movies or constantly negative news reports. Being informed is important, but is it really helping you having a news site put in caps lock how one more person getting the virus means the world is ending? Are you increasing in faith and hope and reaching others, or are you becoming a negative, cynical person?
Your faith or your fear are going to grow in this season. The one that grows the most will be the one you decide to feed.
#3: Don’t lie to your friends
I wrote a blog a while ago about how we need to stop lying to our friends. Many of us have the illusion of connection, but because of our high levels of dishonesty, people don’t actually know us at all. What a terribly lonely place to be when you’re trapped behind a false mask, craving for someone to see underneath.
The solution is very simple but takes a lot of bravery – be real. Stop lying.
Times like these put huge amounts of pressure and strain on existing relationships and feelings. The level of dishonesty in our lives is going to be exacerbated by the pressure of physical isolation. We can stay in our bubbles of “everything is fine”, or we can be more real than we’ve ever been.
#4: Take stock of what the stress is telling you
The words of one of the old Jewish proverbs said that if your strength fails in the day of calamity, there wasn’t much there to begin with. This is a brutally harsh statement to hear but I think what it tells us is that crisis just reveals what’s already there.
This could be seen as a horrifying thing that you finally have to confront the things you’ve been running from or trying to avoid. It could be really hard to deal with how quickly you blow up or blow out under pressure, or when you find a dark side to yourself being highlighted by what’s going on.
Or you could take it with wisdom and decide now is the time to do something about them. Perhaps even more confronting may be that a push for social distancing may not actually be changing your life at all – maybe this has already been your life.
If you need healing, if you need hope, if you need to find your purpose again, imagine if instead of being depressed this whole time that you haven’t done those things, use this time to focus on doing them.
#5: Use social media and technology well
I’m a huge fan of social media. I think it gives us such powerful opportunity to stay connected with people over long periods of time and really enhance our interactions. Of course, not everyone uses it very well.
I would encourage you more than any other time that you not use social media to whine and complain and destroy, but to love and to share and to connect. I wrote more extensively on this one here.
Get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Zoom, Teams, HipChat, Line, WeChat, whatever you’re using, even if it’s TikTok – just don’t use your connective technology to disconnect.
#6: Use the time well
I was really encouraged this week by Dr Caroline Leaf who pointed out that Isaac Newton made some of his greatest discoveries during home time isolation during the Great Plague of London. Fact check: Yes, he did indeed, and he was only in his mid-20s to boot.
It could be very, very easy to max out all our hours on Disney+, Netflix, Hulu and whatever other distractions and escapes we have in our lives. Those things aren’t wrong on their own, but we could seriously derail our lives and increase our levels of angst and depression by wasting all our hours away in fictional worlds at the expense of our current one.
What could you be doing with this time? John Maxwell made a profound point on this topic – “Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have. Our days are identical suitcases—all the same size—but some can pack more into them than others. No one has a magical ability to make time, but if our lives have direction, we can make the most of the moments we have been given.“
Wouldn’t be one of my blogs without a John Maxwell reference somewhere!
#7: Spread the load
If you’ve lived your life relying on one person or a few people to be all your emotional and social support, this will probably be the most stressful time of your life. Because at times like these when all of us are under the pump, that one person or those few people are able to support you much less than they have before. You may have even started getting angry or frustrated because of their inability to fully support you.
In truth, we only have ourselves to blame. If we’ve structured our lives depending only on a few people, they will be struggling under our full weight. Instead, if we build our lives like a building, with multiple strong supports, the distributed weight will hold, even under pressure.
The apostle Paul tells us that we are parts of a body, each finding meaning and purpose as a part of the greater whole. Have you seen what happens to a body part when it’s removed from the body or it’s only relying on one part for life? Unless it’s been prepared for medical transport or something similar, it withers up and dies.
Likewise, we die out when we refuse the connection of the greater community.
To be socially connected is to be in connection with multiple people for multiple reasons. Teamwork makes the dream work. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to sustain a strong and healthy adult.
#8: Consider the spiritual side of your life
At this time I see a clear line between people. I see people who are really fearful, really anxious and very consumed by the current events. They can’t talk about anything else, they’ve lost their aspirations, and they have no sense of hope.
The others are accepting the reality of the situation, but their lives are hopeful and looking forward to the good things to come, even seeing the good things that are around us even now. They may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death like all of us, but they have a reason not to fear.
This comes down to what you’ve built your life on. If you’ve built your life on the fleeting opinions of people or the creeds of half-truths with no strength behind them, then your world will be chaos at the moment.
But if you’ve built your house on the rock instead of on the sand, you’ll find yourselves dealing with these troubled times with greater clarity.
The pressure of our current circumstance is revealing which one you’ve built your life on. I would encourage you now more than ever to consider the state of your heart and spirit and find truth. Only the truth, and indeed knowing the truth, can set us free.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – they’ll find it. Keep searching, keep asking, and you’ll find it. More on that in How Easter Changed My Life.
I don’t know what the future holds or when this chaos will all be over, but I do know that all of us have the same measure of time afforded to us and are given the same information. We can either allow physical distance to turn into social isolation, leading us quickly into depression and despair, or we can build and strengthen our relationships and remain socially connected.
The choice is ours to make.