During these current unpredictable times of COVID 19, staying connected has been more important than ever. We as human beings have a natural need for connection that shows up in many ways in our lives. From the underlying needs associated with driving behaviors to our casual desire to spend time with our loved ones, connection is a relatable need. Yet feeling disconnected is something which plagues so many people.
Feeling disconnected can have many origins. We feel isolated when we are depressed. We feel barriers between us and other people when we are anxious. Traumatic experiences cause us to feel hypervigilant around people or make it difficult to trust. Ambivalent or anxious attachment styles from caregivers during childhood lead to feeling as though we cannot have healthy connections with others. Regardless of why we feel disconnected, it is a common experience for many people. We can even feel lonely in a room full of people (although chances are, we have not had the opportunity to be in a room full of people since the pandemic started).
Prior to COVID 19, many of us met our needs of connection through social gatherings. From holiday get togethers to coffee dates to book clubs to yoga classes, we all have our preferred forms of connection. Since COVID-19, we have become resilient and creative in finding ways to get out needs met. With state protective measures vacillating in response to cases spiking, it is important to consider the ways we can continue to meet our needs for connection to feel fulfilled during the pandemic, or in anticipation of a post pandemic world.
Here are some ideas to nourish connection during a pandemic, or any time:
- Schedule face time dates with a close friend or phone calls with a family member you do not want to lose touch with. Block out at least one hour in your schedule to catch up.
- Schedule video hang outs with multiple friends across multiple locations and engage in a happy hour, dinner date, or a game. There are many online games available that can be played with multiple players across various locations. Watch a movie or show together through video sharing platforms.
- Write letters to friends or loved ones and send them via postal services. It can feel rewarding to receive a handwritten letter from a loved one and become a cherished sentimental object in the future. Send thank you cards for Thanksgiving and holiday themed cards during December.
- Journal about your favorite memory with a friend or a family member from your childhood. Write out all the details you can remember including your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that you can remember from that time. Meditate on this experience.
- Create a playlist that makes you think of a person you wish you could spend time with in person. If possible, ask this person to contribute to the playlist. Play the playlist while enjoying that person’s favorite food or light a candle of that person’s favorite scent. Journal about how that person makes you feel to increase feeling connected to them.
- Practice self-massage, yin yoga restorative poses, or progressive muscle relaxation to promote physical connection needs being met.
Try to listen to your inner intuition and hear what type of connection it is that you are truly needing in that moment. Like many other forms of coping, connection building is something that is not one-size-fits-all. It is important to match the activity with the unmet need to feel fulfilled.
– Alejandra Rose, LMFT
The holidays can be a special and memorable time of year for many, filled with laughter, gift-giving, words of affirmation and connection. But it can also be filled with tension, anxiety, and disappointment for those struggling with challenging relationships with family members. Many people have strained family relationships, or possibly even unresolved traumas from childhood that make family interactions difficult. This can bring about triggers when interacting with these family members, and with triggers come efforts (either consciously or unconsciously) to cope with these triggers.
Some examples of unhealthy coping include defensive arguments, alcohol or other substance use, binge eating or restriction. These are coping skills that might numb us in the moment, but cause long term suffering or bring us further from a place of peace and happiness. We all have our ways of coping with stress, and sometimes we are aware of these coping skills, but sometimes we are not. Coping is how we deal with challenging or difficult situations in our life. Sometimes the anticipatory anxiety around family gatherings can be so great, that we are engaging in coping behaviors for weeks leading up to a family gathering.
It is important to become aware of the coping mechanisms that you use in the face of family conflict before you are faced with that family conflict. You cannot reduce the maladaptive, or unhealthy, coping mechanism until you know what it is. And you cannot take away one coping skill without replacing it with another one, so it is important to replace the maladaptive coping mechanism with a coping mechanism that meets your underlying needs associated with the trigger.
Thinking about patterns of behavior in family members, what is expected of your next family gathering? Is it an uncle who always brings up politics? An aunt who always comments on your appearance or the food on your plate? A cousin who perpetrated abuse upon you as a child? Or a sibling who instigates an argument about even the most arbitrary topics? Regardless of what the triggering statement might be, it is important to explore the underlying need you have associated with the trigger. Perhaps you need to feel heard, to feel safe, to feel respected, to feel autonomous, to feel loved. Maybe it is to feel numb to the emotional pain you experience. Every person has needs, and when these needs are not met, we feel the need to use coping mechanisms to meet those underlying needs.
When you consider the need(s) you have in the moment of the trigger, it is important to match the coping mechanism to your need. Here are some ideas for healthy coping to deal with triggers around the holidays:
- Before the event, journal about your thoughts and feelings about the family gathering. Process your feelings about the person you are anxious about interacting with. Write about situations where you felt triggered in the past and how you dealt with it. Write about the triggers you may face at this event and write about the ways you might be able to cope with it in the moment.
- Write a no-send letter to that person (and do not send it – you can be more unfiltered in your writing if you know that no one else will read it). Meditate on your unresolved feelings towards that person after writing the letter, and consider burning the letter safely in a fireplace, or dissolving it into a bowl of water, or ripping it into tiny pieces.
- Enlist a support system for yourself for this gathering before it happens. Perhaps it is a family member who will be at the event that you feel safe sharing your feelings with. If there is no one at this event who you feel comfortable speaking to about this, perhaps enlist a friend that you can call or text if you need to during the time of the gathering to feel supported if something happens.
- Consider setting healthy boundaries at the time of the trigger if it is safe for you to do so. This can be as simple as saying “I would rather not talk about this subject,” or “Please do not comment on ____,” or changing the subject entirely.
- Write positive affirmations or statements to yourself before the event, and put them in a place you can access them when you need to, such as your pocket, your wallet, your phone case, or in your car. Match this affirmation with the need you have associated with the trigger, such as “I am enough,” “I can do hard things,” “I release all expectations placed upon me,” “I can stay calm in the face of adversity.”
- Excuse yourself for a step outside to take a few deep breaths or take a short walk around your block to clear your thoughts before returning to the conversation. When taking deep breaths, breathe in from your nose or your mouth to the center of your body, and try to count your inhale breath and your exhale breath. Try to make each breath longer with every inhale and exhale.
- Set up a support network for yourself after the family gathering. Maybe this includes calling a friend on your drive home (hands free, if you are the one driving), journaling about your feelings when you get home, or engaging in a healthy form of escape such as reading, gaming or watching a movie/show to take your mind off of things.
– Alejandra Rose, LMFT
Black History Month is the perfect time to give back to the community. It is important to go beyond the common “like,” “comment,” and “share” type of support, and to really get connected to the community. There are a lot of ways that you can celebrate Black History Month, and so we have put together a collection of resources to share with others who are also looking to get involved with either educating themselves or giving back to the community.
- Give back by making a charitable donation to an organization that supports the community. You can find some information about charities to donate to by going here: https://www.charities.org/news/celebrating-agents-change-black-history-month Give back to a Black led non-profit organization. You can find some information by going here: https://www.everyaction.com/blog/22-black-led-nonprofits-making-history Give back to organizations that promote Black leadership. You can find some information by going here: https://www.surgeinstitute.org/why-we-surge/ Give back to organizations that support Black system involved youth. You can find more information by going here: https://crittentonsocal.org/what-we-do/ Give back to Black owned organizations that focus on ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and attend trainings to learn more. You can find more information by going here: http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/
- Support Black owned businesses in your local community. You can find a section on Uber Eats this month that includes Black owned restaurants in your area, and Uber Eats also donates $1 per order. Or you can find some information for Orange County Black owned restaurants by going here: https://www.orangecoast.com/features/black-owned-businesses-and-organizations/
- Read about how February became Black History Month and become educated on why it is so important to honor and uphold this tradition. You can find more information by going here: https://time.com/4197928/history-black-history-month/
- Educate yourself on Black History Month by watching documentaries. You can find more information by going here: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2020/jun/10/13-free-documentaries-and-shows-about-black-histor/ and here: http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/10-black-history-documentaries-to-watch/
- Watch movies that support Black actors. Most streaming services have a dedicated section for celebrating Black History Month. You can find more information by going here: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/g35349723/black-history-movies/ and here: https://www.fastcompany.com/90598537/91-movies-and-tv-shows-to-stream-for-black-history-month
- Educate yourself by listening to podcasts centered around black History and race. You can find more information by going here: https://www.thehandbook.com/10-podcasts-to-educate-yourself-with-this-black-history-month/
- Support Black authors by purchasing a book and adding it to your reading list. You can find more information by going here: https://www.today.com/shop/books-black-history-month-t206986
- Attend a yoga class led by a Black teacher to help uplift and amplify Black voices in the yoga community. You can find more information by going here: https://directory.yogagreenbook.com/black-owned-yoga-studios-los-angeles/ and here: https://directory.yogagreenbook.com/directory/black-yogis-california/
Most importantly, do not stop showing support once March 1st comes around. We can support and uplift the Black community, and we should, 365 days a year (or 366 days in a leap year).
– Alejandra Rose, LMFT