Staying Close with Loved Ones Six Feet Apart … Intimacy, Connectedness and Coronavirus

“It’s ironic that as the pandemic forces us into our separate corners, it’s also showing us how intricately we are all connected.”

— David Byrne

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I bring my husband tea in the morning; I put the cup down at the top of the stairs, then sit down on the landing, about 7 feet down from the top. My husband waits ’til I’m seated, then comes to collect his tea, and sits at the top of the stairs to drink it. Thus begins our morning routine, our time to reconnect after he has slept upstairs in our room, while I sleep downstairs in our son’s room. My husband returned from Asia a few days ago, (*Yes he did make it home from the trip I wrote about in my past post) and is now in ‘quarantine’. He uses only one door in the house to go outside, which I do not use, and I bleach the handle after he uses it; I keep his dishes separate, use a bucket and hot water and a bit of bleach to wash them; he does not enter the kitchen at all. He is taking his temperature every morning and evening and paying attention to any possible symptoms, as was recommended by the health clinic here. This is our routine for the two-week quarantine.

We live in New Zealand where our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is doing an incredible job. According to the Washington Post, she and the NZ government aren’t just flattening the curve, they are squashing it. Here in NZ, the vast majority of us are accepting the new norm and respecting the lockdown requirements here. But even during, especially during, this lockdown, staying connected is essential.

David Byrne, singer, songwriter, filmmaker and lead singer and founding member of the Talking Heads, has written a beautiful piece about our connectedness in his online journal: Reasons to Be Cheerful:

The World Is Changing — So Can We

The pandemic is revealing the many ways our lives intersect. Is this an opportunity for us to reimagine what we can be? It’s showing us just how tenuous our existence becomes when we try to abandon those connections and distance from one another.

So with this new forced isolation and distance, how do we maintain our intimacy, and hold on to these feelings of connectedness that are so essential?

Even though my husband and I cannot touch, cannot even be in close physical proximity, we have created new routines, like our stairway talks to maintain our closeness. I have completely come to rely on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. A simple phone call is not enough for me these days. I have a need to see friend’s faces. I message my sons more often. We ‘Hang Out’ and video chat on a more regular basis. Neighbors are checking in on each other more often – by phone, at the end of their drive or on walks.(keeping their physical distance of course). It is widely accepted that this connection with one another is absolutely necessary for one’s wellbeing.

I am seeing more and more articles about how to stay connected with friends and family during this challenging time.

Radio New Zealand featured an article about staying connected while in isolation with the help of technology; The United Way released guidelines about staying connected during Covid-19; and in The Atlantic recently, there was an article with suggestions on

The Art of Socializing During Quarantine. Writer Joe Pinsker has a few suggestions:

  • KEEP DINING AND DRINKING ‘TOGETHER’
  • REACH OUT TO FRIENDS NEAR AND FAR
  • USE A VARIETY OF MEDIA
  • SUPPORT OTHERS (OR JUST LET THEM KNOW YOU’RE AVAILABLE)
  • CONNECT WITH THE PEOPLE IN YOUR OWN HOME (*even if it is 6 feet apart)

I am definitely prioritizing connection these days. I see this connection as vital to my health and wellbeing. I am using this isolating time as an opportunity to stay connected. Byrne describes it like this:

What is happening now is an opportunity to learn how to change our behavior. For many of us, our belief in the value of the collective good has eroded in recent decades. But in an emergency that can change quickly. In emergencies, citizens can suddenly cooperate and collaborate. Change can happen. Here is an opportunity for us to see things differently — to see that we really are all connected — and adjust our behavior accordingly. 

 

We are connected, no matter the physical distance between us. Let’s all nurture this connectedness and use this extraordinary time to strengthen the bonds between us.

 

“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
― Brené Brown

I’ll close with David Byrne discussing Reasons to be Cheerful.

I’d love to hear how you are staying connected in these challenging times. And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Well-Being in the Time of Coronavirus

“Nature spontaneously keeps us well. Do not resist her!”

— Henry David Thoreau

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We are being told to wash our hands, frequently; to cover our mouths when sneezing or coughing; and to practice social distancing. This is for the common good, and I support it completely and unflinchingly. We all have to protect those more vulnerable and at risk.

But not a lot is being said about how to support our own well-being in this time of Coronavirus. Reading good books and watching good films and TV series are absolutely on my list of things to do during this time of social distancing. But I am finding that walks in nature and on the beach have become even more crucial to me these days.

A dear friend of mine is staying with me at the moment. We read the news daily, well several times a day to be honest, and wring our hands and weep with helplessness and frustration. How can so many people have lost sight of the common good? And how can so many members of the current U.S. government be so selfish and greedy?

My friend says she finds solace sitting on my couch looking out my window at the big pohutukawa tree growing in my neighbor’s yard. She finds it soothing, and says it brings to her what she can only call a state of awe.

As we sit on the deck and look at the tree, I am reminded that nature heals.   According to Environmental Psychology: “Just a walk in the woods or a stroll by the beach on a sunny morning can awaken the innermost feelings of happiness and peace.”

In this time, where we are told to keep our social distance, we must be mindful of what author Richard Louv calls ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’.

Nature-deficit disorder is not the presence of an anomaly in the brain; it is the loss of connection of humans to their natural environment. Staying close to nature improves physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It makes us feel alive from the inside.

Research has shown that spending longer periods of time in nature has huge physical benefits. Some of these benefits include:

  • Optimum nervous system functions, well-balanced heart conditions, and reduced bowel disorders.
  • Reducing the chances of developing eyesight problems like hypermetropia and myopia.
  • Lower BMI; less fatigue and fewer chances of suffering from obesity.
  • Production of anti-cancer proteins and help in fighting terminal diseases.
  • Stronger immune system.

It has been repeatedly stated that we need to keep our immune system strong to fight Covid-19.

Other studies have shown that time in nature improves psychological well-being. This can include:

  • Significant mood improvement for all people, even those suffering from mild to major depressive disorders.
  • Reducing stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

The level of stress and anxiety has skyrocketed since this virus was detected, so anything that offers stress reduction is a gift.

So even if you are doing all the right things – washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and being vigilant in your social distancing, you can still take care of your well-being. The evidence is there. The studies have been done. Get out into nature!

As Frank Lloyd Wright so astutely said, “Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.

I’d like to close with an inspiring TED Talk – Prescribing Nature for Health.

I’d love to hear how you are looking after your well-being in these challenging times. And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Social Connection: The Key to Well-Being – Why You Need It and How You Can Get It

“We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

Brené Brown

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The age old question – What is the Key to Well-Being? What is the Secret to Happiness?

Is it to be rich and famous? To have a successful career? To be admired and respected?

Why are some people happier than others? How can people learn to be happier? Is there a secret to happiness?

Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky has spent her career exploring these concepts.

1) What makes people happy?

2) Is happiness a good thing?

3) How and why can people learn to lead happier and more flourishing lives?

Professor Lyubomirsky runs a Positive Psychology Lab at University of California, Riverside, and studies people who are happy. After hundreds of hours studying what makes people happy, she has compiled a list of the 6 major components leading to happiness:

  1. Be grateful – Gratitude evokes positive feelings
  2. Look on the bright side – optimism maintains a sunnier disposition. Lyubomirsky explains:

“My students and I have found that truly happy individuals construe life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals construe experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness.”

  1. Savor the moment – Savoring positive moments offsets our negativity bias
  2. Exercise – Exercise releases chemicals that lead to positive feelings
  3. Meditate – Less stress, more happiness
  4. Cultivate Relationships – Positive Social Connections are considered by many as the most important factor in well-being.

First of all, what is positive social connection?

Brené Brown does it beautifully:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Recent research shows that people with good social connections are not only happier overall, but live longer than those with poor social connections.

The probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers… but an incredible 70% higher for people with poor social relationships.

The need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter.

So if positive social connection is so important, why is it that so many of us struggle with this?

Sharon Salzberg describes this struggle well:

Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected with others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy, and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave love, and yet we are lonely. Our delusion of being separate from one another, of being apart from all that is around us, gives rise to all of this pain.

This contraction and fear that Salzberg describes can often be linked back to infancy, and even pre-natal trauma. In a wonderful interview, Diane Poole Heller explains how we are designed for connection but how experiences in infancy and childhood can cause disconnection. Heller describes the impact of Attachment Trauma and Developmental Trauma:

In terms of the original blueprint that we’ve received, attachment patterns can be described as an unconscious blueprint that is in our body memory.

The ideal patterning is Secure Attachment:

Secure Attachment would be a positive holding environment. That means that people around you are attuned to you. They get a sense of what your needs are. Really attuned parents can eventually understand a baby’s needs, but it’s hanging in there long enough with somebody to get to the real need. And often, good mothers just naturally do that. They just have a sense about it, or they learn it as they’re having an on-going relationship with their children. And most important, of course, in all of our life and all of our situations, it’s to show up and be present. For a Secure Attachment, there is this consistent responsiveness.

According to Heller, only 40% – 50% of us have Secure Attachment patterning. The rest of us however, must learn to overcome Insecure Attachment patterns: Ambivalent, Avoidant and Disorganized.

Very briefly –

  • Avoidant patterning occurs in an environment that is highly neglectful – this Avoidant patterning can lead to a person disconnecting, dissociating and isolating.
  • Ambivalent patterning occurs in an environment that is characterized by inconsistency – parents who are full-on at times and not available at all other times. It creates a lot of anxiety because there is no predictability. Ambivalent patterning can lead to a person becoming clingy and fearful.
  • Disorganized patterning occurs when a child feels threatened, when a child feels a lot of fear and/or anger in response to the way a parent treats them. This often occurs when there is addiction, violence and chaos in a family. Disorganized patterning can lead to hyper-vigilance and/or immobilization and isolation.

(For a full description of these disorders, check out Diane Poole Heller’s website or read more about them in this article on Daily Good.)

Our lack of positive social connection can quite often be traced back to one of these patterning disorders. But there is hope. Heller describes models of trauma resolution and integrative healing techniques. She has even developed her own training series on adult attachment that she calls DARe, Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience which she describes in her new book called The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.

Heller describes a simple exercise that can help with re-patterning. This practice originated with Patti Elledge’s Beam Gleam, Heller calls it her “Kind Eyes Exercise.”

Imagine that you’re looking out into the world, and there are kind, loving eyes looking back at you. This can be completely imaginary, or maybe you’ve seen a picture of the Dalai Lama looking beautifully compassionate, or even a picture from your history, one of your family members or your dog or a friend or even a stranger, but that has that “beam gleam” in their eyes that says, “I accept you. I care about you.” It’s kind of like in the olden days, when you used to surprise people at their homes, and drop something off, like a… I don’t know… banana nut bread or something. The person would open the door and go, “Oh my gosh! It’s you. Wow, I’m so glad you’re here,” and you just see them light up when they unexpectedly see you at their door. That would be a ‘beam gleam.’ That would be, you’re totally welcome. You feel completely loved by that person. You feel like they’re happy to see you, and that’s what we’re hoping to stimulate, just in eye contact.

That description is an example of a simple exercise to work on excavating old patterning and re-patterning Secure Attachment. Of course re-patterning takes time, commitment, energy, and usually a good therapist.  But if this will lead to positive social connections, and if these connections are one of the main keys to well-being and possibly a longer life, isn’t it worth it?

 

I’ll Close with a wonderful TED Talk entitled the Power and Science of Social Connection.  It’s an informative and interesting talk.

I’d love to hear about how you stay connected to others.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.