Happy New Year! Or is it??? Today we wake up to a world none of us knew existed two years ago. Two years ago on New Year’s Day we woke up to whispers of a potentially threatening virus that was spreading across China and Europe. “Will it really come our way this time?” was the thought we all had. And I’m sure none of us gave much thought to “How will our life change because of a threatening virus?”. And NONE of us could have predicted how drastically our lives would change because of COVID-19. Sure, in the past there were several other potential flu threats on the horizon but thank God none came to fruition. As the spread of COVID-19 has taken hold of us, our lives have gone from “free to be” to “can I be with you safely?”
The freedoms we enjoyed in America prior to 2020 are no longer. The connections we enjoyed as a result of our freedoms are now under threat. I want to reflect on how human connection has changed, how it impacts our mental health and wellbeing, and more importantly, how we can and must meet this basic need.
My reason for not wearing a mask when I gauge the risk to be low (which I know is debatable) is not to make a political statement. It truly is my way of trying to get my human need for connection met. And to meet my fellow humans’ need for connection. My smile is my greatest weapon! When I was a child, my father sang a song called “Nancy with a laughing face”. I have known for a very long time that my smile communicates kindness, safety, gentleness, and love. Whether I’m in a long line at the grocery store or sitting with two very angry spouses in my therapy room, I know if I offer a smile, the people around me relax and the energy of the group changes.
When we are not able to share a smile or our mask muffles the soft hello we offer our fellow humans, or we aren’t able to hug our close friends and family, our brains do not feed us the dopamine that allows us to bond and connect. We know that when we are deprived of this basic need to bond, our immune system suffers and we die at a much earlier age. As much as we need to protect ourselves from the virus, we must protect our connections with others as well, or our mental and emotional wellbeing will suffer greatly.
So, what can we do to get our need met for connection? Since mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, find a safe way to share your smile. And smile back when someone shares theirs with you. Be sure to say “hello” louder if you have a mask on to make sure those around you can hear you. Define your “bubble” of people you interact with regularly and stick to spending time in that circle. Limit your exposure to the news, it is 90% negative. Exercise at least 3x a week. And take a walk at least 1x a week. The power of gazing into nature and moving your eyes to scan the world in front of you literally changes your brain chemistry. No masks required outside when you are a safe distance from others!
I have one request of you…spend 2022 finding small and meaningful ways to connect with your fellow human being, I need it and so do you!
Have a blessed New Year!