The Montfort Group

Connecting While Distancing: It Starts At Home

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are asking us to do something that goes against the very fiber of our social makeup — to stay away from each other. So, how do we keep connecting while distancing? It starts at home.

Many workers are being asked to work from home, schools are moving to online learning, and large gatherings are being canceled for the next few months. This “social distancing” is critical for slowing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing an overwhelmed health care system. Still, these necessary restrictions can come at a social and mental-health cost.

At first, we may have welcomed the respite from our routine obligations, indulging in a few days of a slower-paced life. But, over time, even the most introverted can start to feel isolated and depressed — causing us to forget that we really are in this together.

Studies have shown that long periods without meaningful contact with others can harm our overall mental health. In fact, feelings of isolation and loneliness can increase the likelihood of depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease. These feelings can also affect the immune system’s ability to fight infection by activating our fight-or-flight function — and that’s especially relevant during a pandemic.

So, as we embrace this new reality of staying physically distant from others, I am going to offer some sound advice over the coming weeks to help you curb the adverse side effects. And who knows — with practice, you could even utilize this unprecedented time to forge deeper, more meaningful connections than ever before.

Let’s start by addressing the ones we live with — the ones we will be seeing a lot more of in the coming months!

You may already feel like you’ve seen enough of these people over the last several days. Maybe they are already driving you crazy with their boredom or demands. Can they please not use EVERY cup in the house? And does your spouse really believe working in the same room as the television isn’t disruptive? The list is long, and I am positive each of you could add to it quite easily. But what if we used this time to engage with our loved ones differently? What if we could embrace this unexpected situation with grace and gratitude?

So, here are 5 ways to foster a deeper connection with those at home:

1. Keep negotiating roles and routines

So many times, our established routines have cemented our expectations of each member of our family. We have roles and responsibilities that we thought worked, for the most part. However, now, we are forced to confront those — we are forced to make changes that we may not have been ready to address. And that is one of the biggest challenges in life — to accept what you cannot change and learn what lessons it provides to you along the way.

As parents, we can use this opportunity to reevaluate what our children need from us. Maybe it’s time for an adjustment to how much we dictate and how much they are allowed to control. So much of their world is outside of their control right now, so putting them in the “driver’s seat” when possible can help them feel better.

Also, be mindful of your spouse’s feelings and exhaustion levels. Switch responsibilities up occasionally and let the small things go.

2. Don’t minimize or assume

Obviously, we are all concerned about some pretty basic things right now. Because of that, it would be easy to minimize or assume how our child or spouse is feeling instead of keeping an open mind. In staying curious through each conversation, we could learn more about who they are and less about who we need them to be. And THAT is the definition of love!

3. Keep things fun

Ask yourself what you want your children to take away from this experience? How will they look back on this turbulent time? There’s a movie that might inspire you called “Life Is Beautiful.” Even if you’ve seen it before, I urge you to watch it with a new perspective.

Have a regular game night, make food together, pitch a tent in the back yard, paint on a canvas, create funny videos to share with distant loved ones, read aloud to little ones, consider starting a garden and compost, and throw a dance party. You get the idea…

4. Nurture your spouse, not just your child

As partners, we can decide to express gratitude more often rather than criticism. Get off automatic pilot and surprise your partner with a compliment at the very moment he’s expecting to hear the same old criticism. Leave a sticky note on the computer screen, write something sweet on the bathroom mirror, or maybe make her breakfast one morning out of the blue.

Avoiding a predictable pattern of criticism will give your spouse more space to consider the merits of the suggestions you’ve already made. An authentic compliment boosts the likelihood that you and your spouse can freshly discuss any issue in the future.

5. Turn off your smartphones

It’s tempting to continually check the news, your email, or social media. Modern technology, meant to keep us all connected, creates distance in families even when we’re not aware of it. Every family needs to have technology-free time to experience each other with full, undistracted attention.

Consider implementing these rules:

  • Phones off and out of sight during food preparation and eating meals.
  • No taking calls or texting when in the middle of a conversation. Those can be returned later.
  • If you need to take a call, do so out of earshot of others, if possible.

Finally, these are difficult, unchartered waters for all of us, but perhaps the silver lining will be gaining a new perspective on the things and people that matter most.

Cory Montfort, MS, LPC-S

Cory Montfort, MS, LPC-S

I completed my Masters of Science in Counseling from Southern Methodist University where I specialized in working with individuals, couples, and families. I have extensive experience working within the mental health community facilitating groups, conducting assessments, counseling individuals, and performing crisis intervention. I hold an active License in Professional Counseling and am also a board-approved Counselor Supervisor for the state of Texas.

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