One of the most challenging aspects of the current pandemic is our inability to share space, time and affection with those we care about. The social constructs of our lives are on pause, and we are being forced to isolate more than ever before. Even self-proclaimed introverts are feeling the withdrawal! We’re all yearning to resume some of the interpersonal and professional engagements that give our lives joy and purpose. Yet, many of us still have weeks of Shelter in Place to go, and those who are starting to emerge are doing so with restrictions around gathering.
Since 1949, the month of May has represented Mental Health Awareness month. Sadly, in the face of COVID-19, domestic violence is surging, suicide rates are up and depression is more prevalent. Isolation, stress, economic anxiety and joblessness are causing an increase in tension and fear for our future.1
To say that we’re all suffering from some sort of malaise is an understatement. So, in the spirit of trying to keep our moods up and our social circles intact, we thought we’d shine a light on one of the most important aspects of staying healthy –– our friendships! Read on to learn more.
Good friends are good for our health – mental, emotional and physical – and maintaining these connections have never been more important. True companions provide an intimate level of support, helping us feel grounded in the world and part of a greater community or social sphere, thereby offsetting loneliness. Our friendships create a sense of belonging, help us to reduce stress and boost happiness, improve our self-confidence and nurture us through challenging times. They also contribute to our physical health by reducing depression, building immunity, lowering blood pressure and unhealthy BMI’s and enhancing our strength and longevity.2
In the hierarchy of relationships, friends often come last with romantic partners, parents or children taking priority. But what makes friendships so special is that we choose them. We also decide how to structure them. We may not go weeks without speaking with our partner, but the frequency of communication with our closest buddies can often extend for months, even years, depending upon our life phase or geographical proximity. Friendships can also ebb and flow, strengthening or fading over time, evolving and shifting within the various chapters of our lives.3
One thing we have working in our favor right now, though, is that we’re all in this proverbial COVID-19 boat together. In other words, we’re being presented with a unique opportunity to dive deeper and bond harder due to the fact that everyone, literally, can relate to the fear, frustrations and challenges of this moment. Being vulnerable and expressing our intimate thoughts with others may feel easier now as we share this collective experience. We may even feel more empathetic or compassionate towards others. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful silver lining to emerge from this time with stronger connections and ways of engaging interpersonally?
There have been many comparisons made between COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu of 1918, but one major difference is clear: technology. Imagine enduring this pandemic without cellphones, emails or methods of communicating in real-time, and instead, being relegated to letter-writing and snail mail! As trying as this moment is, we are blessed with an abundant range of digital technologies to facilitate connection. Whether it be video, text or voice, it’s essential to lean in on these technologies as a way to offer and ask for support. Yes, Zoom fatigue is real, but most will attest that seeing the facial expressions of loved ones goes a long way towards generating real engagement. Luckily, as Shelter in Place measures start to relax, we can also start to participate in distant in-person gatherings such as outdoor cocktail hours, picnics or walks.
As we spend more time than usual with families, pets and roommates, we need our friends (and the reminder of who we are in the greater sphere of society) even more. We will emerge from this pandemic someday, but with future spikes in Coronavirus cases likely forthcoming and the possibility of ongoing restrictions in public settings, now is the time to establish new social norms and activities. Our friends are our chosen family, and whether they are in our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime, they enhance our lives with richness and help us sustain wellness. Like roots from a tree, our friends help us establish a strong base and community from which we thrive.
“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.” Winnie the Pooh