Maintaining interpersonal relationships is difficult at the best of times, and during a pandemic it can be even more challenging. Research has shown that proximity plays a major factor in both sustaining and maintaining relationships. When someone close to us moves away, we often echo sentiments of visiting frequently and remaining in close contact. However, life tends to get in the way and before we know it, we realize we haven’t spoken to that individual in several months. In some ways, the pandemic can emulate this paradigm. 

Much of the workforce is working remotely and many are socially distancing from their broader group of friends and even family. As schools return in the fall in a virtual format, children will remain isolated from the vast majority of their peer group. In DBT, we teach skills to maintain and improve interpersonal relationships. Maintaining these relationships in new and creative ways during the pandemic can help to reduce emotional distress while increasing a sense of connectedness and social support. Clinging to old ways of connecting (non acceptance of reality) can lead to disappointment, helplessness and depression. On the other hand, turning the mind toward doing what’s effective can put you and your relationships on a much healthier path. 

Here are five simple tips to help you stay connected during a pandemic:

  1. Since the water cooler moments at work have dwindled to nothing, how about considering a workplace happy hour via zoom (mocktails encouraged!)? I would recommend that work related talk be tabled and that coworkers take this time to reconnect mindfully with one another on an interpersonal level. Healthy social relationships in the workplace facilitate productivity and increased communication and harmony.
  2. During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in relational conflict and domestic violence. Couples are overwhelmed with child rearing responsibilities and financial stressors. Many admit that while spending increased time together under one roof, they feel more disconnected than ever. Simple tips could include protecting 15 minutes a night to mindfully check in with one another without distraction. Other ideas could include creating a date night in the house or taking walks together while leaving phones or other potential distractions at home.
  3. Many families are reporting that children are consumed with technology and spending increased amounts of time isolating in the bedrooms. Ideas to consider include family dinner time where cell phones and TV are turned off. Family game night or a movie night, minus electronics, are great options to reconnect while having fun at the same time.
  4. Fears are particularly heightened for those quarantined from elderly parents or grandparents or immune compromised family members…not knowing when the next time might be that they can see one another. Scheduling out routine phone or zoom calls is a great way for all parties to have something to look forward to on a regular basis, a replacement for Friday night or Sunday dinner. Sending a care package is another way to let someone know you are thinking about them.
  5. For the younger children, who are not able to initiate social contact with friends by themselves, parents need to be mindful to foster ongoing connections and relationships. This could be as simple as a quick telephone or zoom call. For those parents that want to get creative, scheduling a virtual play date, with the assistance of the parents. Having a structured activity, such as a cooking, baking, or art project would be helpful and fun.
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