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Stories | 03.25.20

Finding Connection and Community While Social Distancing

Adler University is dedicated to continuing the pioneering social justice work of community psychologist Alfred Adler, who promoted gemeinschaftsgefühl, a type of “communal feeling,” as central to mental well-being. This foundational piece of Adler’s work teaches individuals to ground themselves in social interest, community contribution, and a sense of global oneness.

It is important—especially right now during the challenging COVID-19 public health situation—that we take care of our own mental health, as well as help promote good mental health and well-being in our communities. In the spirit of social interest, our experts have offered advice for maintaining community and connection in a virtual world.

Marina Bluvshtein, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Adlerian Practice and Scholarship, recently led a webinar on optimal psychological survival in which she emphasized the importance of focusing on connection and community in times of crisis. “COVID-19 is not a curse to succumb to or a plague to suffer through, but a challenge to overcome in cooperation with others,” Bluvshtein said. Despite social distancing and shelter-in-place measures taken to stop the spread of the virus, we can find ways to connect.

Michael Davison, Psy.D., Director of the Master of Arts in Forensic Mental Health Leadership program in Chicago, echoed Bluvshtein’s thoughts. He has found that the people who are more able to “thrive and grow in times of crisis” are often people who:

  • connect deeply to themselves, others, and something beyond themselves
  • maintain or develop a deep compassion for others
  • contribute to something that makes the world or other people better

Practicing Self-Care and Managing Emotions

In a recent Global News Canada interview, Shahar Rabi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology in Vancouver, shared recommendations for how people can stay calm and manage their emotions during this time.

Rabi recommended journaling, deep breathing, and staying active as good tools for feeling happier, calmer, and more grounded. He also said that it is important that people have compassion for the difficult emotions we may be experiencing, like anxiety, sadness, and fear, remembering that they are completely normal emotions to feel during crises. Difficult emotions often pass on their own when we give them recognition, Rabi said.

Bluvshtein recommends staying busy and engaging in sensory activities, including dishwashing and baking, which help people feel connected with their senses and more grounded in their emotions.

Checking in with Family and Friends

As many people are confined to their homes, Bluvshtein recommend taking time to connect and pay special attention to children, family members and others living in the same household. This can be done by practicing attentive listening, checking in with others’ experiences of what’s happening in the world, and helping each other make sense of the situation.

Bluvshtein said that it is important to recognize that people in the household are likely going through different changes from their “normal life,” such as working from home or being recently unemployed. This change can cause stress, in addition to stress caused by the pandemic.

“A lot of times, all that people need is to be listened to and have their concerns feel validated.” Marina said. “We need to acknowledge that we are all vulnerable and that it is OK to feel vulnerable.”

For those not in the same household, she recommends taking time to call, video chat, and message friends and family. What we need as people is not to “be connected” but to “feel connected,” Bluvshtein said. She recommends getting creative about how you connect and to find things you can do and create together virtually.

Connecting with our Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic also reminds us how important it is to contribute to our communities in whatever ways we can, especially during a crisis. A key component of mental well-being is altruism, or the concern for the well-being of others. Davison said that engaging in or witnessing acts of kindness produce oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure and increases our sense of optimism.

It is important to realize how this situation affects other differently, especially the most vulnerable, those who have lost their jobs, and those who cannot stay home because they are performing essential jobs to help others. Even in a virtual world, there are ways we can help others—even just by staying home—and contribute to communities.

“Look to transform the stress, overwhelm, or suffering often associated with times of adversity or crisis into something that contributes to the world or prevents or relieves the suffering of others,” Davison said, “Because people often feel more compassionate toward the suffering of others after they go through and survive a trauma, they might feel moved to do some virtual volunteer work, take up a cause, or make some other positive contribution to the world.”

When feeling lost during this public health crisis, Bluvshtein recommends anchoring oneself in the future, and considering, “How do you want to remember this time five years or ten years from now?”

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