Was it only a week ago when our weekends were filled with trips to the park, the museum, and bars? When children and their parents gathered in playgrounds for playdates, and kids ran around freely outside?
Now our whole world has changed. Streets are empty, schools quiet, neighbourhoods desolate. The eerie silence is deafening. This pandemic has pressed a pause button and put all of our lives on hold.
The lack of face-to-face communication, social isolation, fear, and anxiety are taking their toll on our emotional health and putting a strain on our relationships.
Whether you live alone or with close family, the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders are putting a strain on our relationships and our emotional well-being. In some ways, our relationships may never be the same.
1. We’re missing face-to-face interaction with our family
If you're self-isolating alone, you're missing your family. The lack of face-to-face interaction is affecting the quality of our interactions. Lots of us miss communicating in person. According to a study by researchers from Loughborough University in the UK, many still prefer face-to-face communication since they feel like these are better quality interactions.
“Relationships can be developed face to face in a way that phone or email doesn’t allow,” the study says. People tend to foster better engagement and better understanding since there are fewer barriers to communication when they see each other face-to-face.
But because of the spread of this virus, we are forced to maintain our distance and work or study in isolation away from our peers and colleagues who form part of our support system. This, for many, is going to be the biggest adjustment for people because we are social creatures by nature.
2. Our chance to build social connections is limited
We thrive when we feel connected with others. So much so that according to a study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, our social relationships affect not just our mental health but our physical health as well. Our social interactions can even determine our life-span.
Studies have shown that social support can increase a person’s survival by up to 50%. But the coronavirus situation is not just limiting physical contact, it’s also limiting our social relationships and our chance to build our tribe.
How can we get quality face time when it's all on screens? This situation is limiting our chance for social interaction and the opportunity to build our social support system. In this period of uncertainty, we need our social support system most.
Until this pandemic has run its course, make phone calls. Reach out to old friends. If there were barriers between you and long lost friends before, the coronavirus has for sure wiped them out.
3. It’s making it harder to deal with stress and anxiety
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fear and worry about our health and the health of our loved ones during this time of stress can cause changes. In addition to shifts in sleeping and eating patterns, there can be a worsening of chronic health problems. Many may also turn to an increase alcohol or tobacco use as a means to cope.
Dealing with fear, distress, and anxiety is harder without our social networks. We don't know how long it will be until we can again get a reassuring pat on the back from our boss, or a warm hug from a friend, or even a smile from a stranger at a cafe.
We are dealing with stress, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty brought about by this pandemic without the power of touch and face-to-face communication.
4. When work and home life collide, it's hard to nurture relationships
Many of us are going through financial hardships as a result of job loss or insecurity due to the pandemic. Countless businesses have been affected, and the economy has been volatile.
When we're not sure where our next bill or housing payments are coming from, it's easy to get frustrated with the people around us, even if they're not the ones at fault.
As we work from home, or find a way to occupy ourselves during layoffs, we have to try nurture the relationships with the people close to us. They are struggling, too, and they need us as much as we need them.
5. It's easier to succumb to anger and frustration
All of us are taking on extra responsibilities. Parents are under pressure to home school, while they're simultaneously trying to work remotely. Medical staff, healthcare workers, first responders, grocery clerks, delivery persons, and other vital workers have been suffering the onslaught of this pandemic for weeks.
When emotions are high, and we're tired, scared, and overwhelmed, it’s easy to succumb to anger and resentment. This situation is placing so much pressure on people and in turn, straining relationships.
You may have experienced this in your own home, seeing tempers flare, fights break out, and relationships falter. Do your part to lend a hand to those who are struggling, and to keep a cool head yourself.
6. It’s Changing The Way We Deal With Grief
Those who die from this illness often die alone, as family and friends are not allowed to visit a terminal patient's bedside for fear of spread. Loved ones are unable to give a last goodbye or kiss, but have to grieve in quarantine. Funerals have gone virtual, which means we are unable to get a hug or a reassuring touch from friends and family. We can't mourn together.
This is perhaps when it's most essential to reach out and share your grief with others who are experiencing the same thing. You can't be there in person, but you can try to do the next best thing, which is to be there for each other in voice and spirit.
7. It's easy to see which relationships are important to you, because those are the ones you keep
Tough times teach us so many about ourselves and about the people around us. We can see pretty quickly which people genuinely care about us, and which people we care about most. When someone reaches out, reach back.
We now know the value of something we have taken for granted, human interaction, and touch. Simple things, such as breathing in the same air, can be dangerous.
We may shy away from shaking hand altogether after this, or be more wary of letting strangers into our homes. We may turn further inward.
But hopefully, because of this virus we now know which relationships are worth keeping and which ones were merely surface.