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Published on May 12, 2020

woman laying on couch video chatting

Feeling Disconnected? Here’s How to Cope

A small choice of words can lead to big differences. We’ve all learned the importance of hygiene and social distancing – but it might be time to reconsider how – and what – distance means.

“It seems like a small change, but I agree with the many counselors who suggest we say ‘physical’ distancing – not social distancing,” said counselor Anne Marie Vorbach, PhD, LP, Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Marshall. “We can make this change as one of the ways to remind each other how important it is to stay socially connected – it’ll improve our health, physically, spiritually and mentally.”

Connection is Protection

Connecting can come in many forms. Loneliness can as well, and feelings of isolation hit us in more places than the heart and head.

“We are created as humans with a nervous system that naturally connects us – connects us all, to one another,” Vorbach said. “Connection is protection. Isolation is connected to poor health outcomes and it can lead to impacts and a wide range of impairments. We’re lucky that in this age, we have many ways to stay in touch.”

When it comes to staying connected socially, don’t worry about the form too much. Any sort of communication, especially when well-timed, can be a difference-maker.

“We all miss the hugs, the reassurance that comes with physical contact, but we can find alternatives. One is old-fashioned: sending cards by mail,” said Vorbach. “When received, that person knows you’re thinking about them. We need to readjust our perspectives on the ways we stay in contact, and use them all.”

An email is not less than a card, nor is a phone call a poor substitute for a Zoom or FaceTime chat. Texts, even GIFs sent from loved ones – they all add up.

“Act on impulse – if you think of someone you care about, write them a note, or craft a card,” she said. “Sometimes my husband sends me a GIF and it’s funny, or heartfelt, and it can do as much to raise spirits as a conversation.”

Combining Our Strengths

Humans have central nervous systems that co-regulate. We’ve all entered a room where someone was sitting and that person seemed upset, sad or excited. We catch those vibrations naturally.

“When we cannot see someone in person, but we can see them through a video meeting, like the virtual visits I do with patients, it affects our feelings, and we have to realize the reverse also is true,” Vorbach said. “We can feel lonely even when we’re quarantined at home with our family. Tend to your emotions – don’t deny them, or subdue them – let them exist.”

When we realize that we feel lonely, or sad, we can reflect on the fact that makes us human. Everyone feels that way sometimes.

“Feelings of disconnection are natural, too, no matter what your living situation. Too often, people feel shame because they have connections, but they still feel alone,” she said. “We can create imaginative experiences to help us with these feelings.”

Just like athletes learn sports psychology techniques to visualize their success on the field or court, we can do the same. We can imagine we’re giving – or getting – a hug, even when we’re alone and just video chatting with someone we love.

“We can hug ourselves when we send that hug to someone else, and ask them to do the same. Our imagination will help us fill in the space between a real hug and what we’re doing,” Vorbach said. “It may sound simple, or silly – but it works.”

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