Although social distancing is imperative for contending with this global pandemic, parents everywhere are craving connection. Here's what experts say you can do to reduce any feelings of isolation and loneliness.

By Maressa Brown
March 24, 2020
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As more families hunker down at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and hopefully flatten the curve, emotions of all kinds are on the rise. From anxiety to constantly feeling compelled to pinch yourself because of how surreal everything is right now to missing your usual, social routine, it's easy to find yourself feeling isolated. Jill Becker Wilson, a mom and grandma from Shoreview, Minnesota, says she's feeling the lack of connection, despite quarantining with her daughter, son-in-law, grandkids, and their dogs.

"Quarantining is really tough for an extrovert," she notes. "I really miss daily interaction with people—even as simple as the grocery clerk, gas station attendant, my friends at the YMCA."

Stacey Lubin, a mom of two from North Caldwell, New Jersey, misses seeing other parents from her 3-year-old daughter's class. Since giving birth to her son just last month, they've been her "biggest support." "We text and FaceTime, but it's still not the same," notes Lubin. "I also am feeling isolated from my family."

These reactions are to be expected, says Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist, anxiety specialist, and mom of four. "We are spending most of our time trying to figure out how to navigate all the changes that we’ve been thrown into literally overnight," she notes. "We are also trying to connect more with our families and make sure our kids stay connected with their friends so they maintain a sense of normalcy. But we need to go back to the oxygen mask analogy.  We won’t get very far if we don’t put ours on first."

That said, there are simple ways parents can reduce loneliness and amplify feelings of connection while doing our part for public health. Here, 10 tips from experts and parents.

1. Post heartwarming memories on social media.

There was never a better time for a #TBT post–even if it isn't a Thursday. "Get old photo albums of your own childhood, family celebrations, vacations, friends, your kids, etc., and post on social media with memories," suggests Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., a family therapist in Los Angeles, California. "Ask others for theirs. That'll keep the connections blooming and make deeper bonds."

2. Open up about how you're organizing your time.

You can use social media to get real about what's going on in your life—and how you're making the most of this time, or to engage with others about how they're making the most of theirs. Wilson explains, "I'm just posting a lot on Facebook throughout the day to share my life, to find commonality in this pandemic. I'm sharing how I’m organizing my life in this dysfunctional situation. I think it makes other people think about what they are doing with their time and what they CAN be doing with their time."

3. Cook with friends and loved ones virtually.

If you're missing time spent with a dear friend or loved one, consider ordering a meal kit (like HelloFresh and Blue Apron), then FaceTiming while you do it together. This could also work for a recipe exchange or even a friendly competition to cook up the best soup or chocolate chip cookies, suggests Raymond.

4. Create a thoughtful craft.

Whether you follow instructions for a cool Pinterest craft or make homemade cards out of construction paper with your kids, spending time on an artistic project can feel like a mood booster in and of itself—and help boost feelings of connection with a friend or loved one.

Lubin says one of the main strategies for coping with feelings of isolation has been making cards with her daughter and then mailing them to family members.

5. Bust out that stationery and pen.

Caitlin Devan, a mom of two from Lake Wylie, South Carolina says her kindergartener has kicked off a pen pal relationship with a friend's child. Feliciano encourages parents to "connect old-school," too. "Write letters and ask for letters back," she recommends.

6. Interact with people in your neighborhood from a distance.

Lauren Cook, MMFT and a doctoral candidate of clinical psychology at Pepperdine University, advises parents get outside for fresh air and movement, as much as possible. "When you go outside, you're likely to see other humans from a distance, and this is a great reminder that you're not alone in the world," says Cook. "When you see others, be sure to give them a smile or a wave. We need to acknowledge one another and show more kindness than ever before."

Devan notes that going for regular walks and talking to her neighbors, while maintaining at least six feet between them, is helping with her loneliness.

7. Put on a show for family or friends via FaceTime or Zoom.

Who says every video conference has to be devoted to a straight-up catch-up? Lubin says she and her daughter have been singing silly songs while Zooming with loved ones. Karaoke, anyone?

8. Get philanthropic.

"One way to regain a sense of power and control in what feels like an uncontrollable situation is to see if there are ways that you can give back to others," advises Cook. "This may include donating a few cans of food, sending a thoughtful card to someone, or making a financial contribution if you're able to. Or perhaps you need to accept and receive support from others at this time. Wherever you're at, think about how you can give and receive at this time with others."

9. Host a virtual book club and/or happy hour.

Sure, video conferencing isn't the same as gathering in your living room or your fave wine bar with friends, but it's still a way to foster the sense of community you're craving. "Start a book club, and join with your friends, fellow parents, or other community members,  so that you can be a part of literary dialogue," recommends Cook. "Not only will reading a book get your mind off the current situation, but it will also allow you to have stimulating conversations that go beyond COVID-19."

Feliciano says one of the most uplifting moments she's had recently involved celebrating her birthday with a happy hour—over Zoom. "We connected with cocktails," she notes. "It was fun, but we also got to talk about and process how we were feeling in the uncertainty of all of this. It was the best of everything."

10. Get creative.

Maybe you always grab coffee with your BFF on Saturday mornings, and while FaceTime works, you're craving a more IRL experience. This is when you can into your inventive side. One example from Feliciano: "My friend and I are planning to meet up in our respective cars to have coffee at a distance."

In the midst of this crisis, it can be truly heartening to know there are plenty of ways to spend time with your nearest and dearest. As Feliciano points out, "Even if we can't be close, there are still ways to connect that are powerful and life-giving."

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