Column: Stay connected and avoid loneliness in times of social distancing

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It’s pretty weird that the best thing we can do for each other is stay away from each other. But the healthier we try to keep each other through this measure, the lonelier it can feel.

The biggest policy today: stay in your home and avoid social contact as much as possible. Yes I had imagined the beginning of spring differently. Within a few days it will be my birthday and somewhere it hurts me that I can’t invite anyone. But as much as I would have liked to have organised a birthday party, my daughter’s health remains my priority. It is therefore only natural that in times of corona we each take our responsibility; social distancing is a must.

It’s only the second week

While writing this article I’m at the end of lockdown week two. I miss my grandparents and their delicious coffee, I miss my daddy I saw almost every day, I miss my best friends and my godchild, I miss my competition team I train on, I miss people around me. When my husband works, he is gone at night and sleeps through the day. The only physical social contact I have is conversations with a two-year-old. I am grateful that I can be with her and keep her healthy this way, but I also miss real contact, real conversations and people around me.

โ€˜I dare to admit that since yesterday I’ve been feeling incredibly lonely. Yes I have my family and I have no right to complain to people who are really going through this time individually. But I would be lying if I said I don’t feel lonely. It makes me realize all the more what it must be like for people who are all alone.โ€™

People are not made to be alone, a saying often proven enough in social studies. We long for connections. Loneliness is toxic to our mental health. It’s as dangerous as smoking. Loneliness often causes people depression and a lack of quality of life. 

Maintaining relationships and connections is one of the most important things to feel good about ourselves, socially and emotionally. Especially in times of corona. These small social contacts give us a boost, as it were. It avoids mood swings, and it helps us deal with stress. But now that we all isolate ourselves in the house, loneliness is our greatest enemy.

While we all abide by all the rules and guidelines to keep ourselves and others safe, it is super important to protect ourselves from more than just COVID – 19. We also need to be able to fight that loneliness, and today I’ll give you some tips that can help me and also you.


1.   Is this connection really important to me?

It is certain that loneliness is dangerous for our emotional well-being. But when do you lack the social contact to fall into that loneliness? Different amounts count for each individual. What is more important than the number of friends, is the degree of connection. 

In the beginning of the lockdown, it was obvious that we focused on the approach of our new life. Public places were closed, the house doors were fixed, our lives took a different turn. It is therefore logical that social contact, or the lack of it, was not really felt in the beginning. During the organisation of our new life, social contacts were not an issue, we were too busy with other things. Now that we have gotten used to our life in lockdown, we only now notice the effect this social distance had.

But how much do you really need social contact? How important do you think it is to talk to someone? And how many connections do you need to feel anything but lonely? Ask yourself these questions:

– When was the last time I had contact with a friend? When was the last time I heard from my girlfriend? 

– Do I feel bored or frustrated? Tired? Hungry? Or do I actually feel lonely? 

– What can I do myself to fulfill my social needs? 

– Is it portable that loneliness, is it temporary? Or do I really feel like something needs to be done about it? 


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2.   Be creative in making social connections

Although I’m just at home with my daughter, I’m pretty busy all day. Entertaining her takes up a lot of my day. Besides painting, crafting, singing, sports and challenging her cognitively, I also have to take care of a healthy lunch and dinner. When she takes her afternoon nap, I put myself standard in the chair and rest myself. Above that I still have washing machines that have to run, a dishwasher that doesn’t empty or fill itself and still needs to be vacuumed and mopped. But throughout that day we also inserted standard moments where we video chat with our grandmother.

Throughout the fuss of the day you can easily integrate social contact moments:

– Chat with family while cooking. 

– Organize virtual lunch dates. Everyone in front of the webcam with their lunch, it can be more fun but don’t underestimate the effect! 

– Organize play dates with friends of your child. 

– Start new family traditions by, for example, getting all online in the video chat or having an aperitif together at the beginning of the day.

The thing is, this situation is not easy for anyone. So be creative. Who doesn’t dare who doesn’t win. Every little effort to combat loneliness will pay off.


3.  Find your team

We all want to be in touch with our closest friends. The fact is, everyone’s life took a different turn. For example, my best friend works in the pediatric ward at the hospital. She also does a lot of shifts at night. So it’s not natural to be able to talk to her every day. We send each other messages every day and keep each other informed, but it’s not really conducive to beat loneliness.

That’s why it can also be an option to find you a team with people who have something in common with you. In my case, for example, this could be the momsquad. Many of us sit at home with a toddler and sometimes don’t know how or what. Because we are all in a different situation, it is important to find the right team so that you can find comfort and recognition together. Things that are invaluable on days like today.


4.  Quality over quantity

We can talk to someone every day and still feel lonely. This has to do with the lack of emotional intimacy. You can have a daily conversation with someone without any meaning. Nice weather today, what have you done today, see you tomorrow. A conversation like that won’t stop loneliness, on the contrary. Today it is extremely important that we focus on meaningful conversations. Focus on the individual experience, share experiences or ideas, fears and worries. The way we live today is anything but normal. It is therefore important that we dare to share these feelings and thoughts with each other. But our conversations should not be limited to COVID – 19. Because ten minutes of sawing and complaining about all the things we can’t do now will leave us feeling anything but good.

The quality of our interactions depends not only on the person we talk to, but also on the way we interact. As I mentioned before, I hear my best friend every day through messages. But because we don’t hear or see each other, I feel anything but connected to her. That’s why I try to choose a video chat as often as possible. I also notice with my daughter that this way of making contact has much more effect than just trying to keep the phone to her ear. 

Children learn healthy communication skills throughout the days at school and at home. Now that the school part is gone, it is important to pay attention to this at home as well. Ask your children plenty of questions, engage in dialogue. No matter how old your child is, they will soon realise that the situation is not normal. Annabel is 2.5 years old and she too does not fully understand where the children of the class are, why the teacher sends videos and why she suddenly has to stop gymnastics on Saturdays. Connections with people outside the house are important, but you also have to maintain those you do have in the physical environment.


5.   Get the good stuff out of this whole situation

The situation is fucked up. We all agree on that. But we can’t ignore the fact that beautiful things are also happening around us, things we hardly pay attention to in normal situations. Spring is in the country, nature is blossoming again, but also the time you spend together in the house is much more intimate. On top of that all three of us are still healthy and for that I am very grateful. I have seen stories of acquaintances who for some reason had to go to the hospital with their child. Today only one person is allowed to stay with the child. That mummy was stuck in the hospital for five days while the daddy wasn’t allowed to attend. How awful is that?! 

We shouldn’t underestimate the social distance, it has an impact on all of us. But through small actions we stay in contact with each other and that doesn’t take much energy. Smile to the neighbours on the street, to the passers-by in the corridors of the shop. Greet the baker or the man in the counter of the post office. This smile has an immense effect on you.

But most of all, we are still struggling with social contacts, even though today there are a number of guidelines we have to adhere to.

This article has been written by Stephanie De Vroe from @SMOTHERHOODS

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