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The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

The importance of strengthening ties during the coronavirus pandemic

Almost overnight, physical distancing has become part of the Canadian lexicon. By now, we all know we must distance ourselves from others to slow the spread of COVID-19. But physical separation does not have to diminish social connection. If we’re more mindful in our thoughts and actions, the public health measures keeping us apart have the power to bring us closer together.

Today, we have more time than ever to focus on our relationships. Many people are either working from home, working fewer hours, or not working at all. It’s a harsh reality that no one saw coming, but with fewer hours spent working and commuting, there’s more time to text a friend, call a relative, or even chat with a neighbour — from a safe distance, of course.

The closure of public events and gathering places also means fewer distractions. A text message exchange doesn’t have to exist only in stolen moments of calm between competing priorities — the conversation can be the priority. Parents who usually spend their evenings shuttling their kids to activities can use the pause to connect as a family or just catch up with each other.

We also have more common ground with a wider circle of people. No one is immune to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, be it economic, mental, physical, or otherwise. While some situations are more serious than others, all of us are facing a lot of unknowns. Just about everyone will have an answer to the question, “What are you most afraid of right now?”

Confiding in someone about our fears can deepen our relationship while helping us process and reduce our anxiety. At a time when many of us are feeling overwhelmed, with a flurry of worries vying for top spot, our friendships can offset the body’s stress response, ultimately bolstering our ability to withstand the uncertainty. Since chronic stress can lower our immune system and make us more vulnerable to COVID-19, prioritizing our mental wellness is a way to protect our physical health.

Positive relationships can also be a welcome distraction from the troubling headlines. Learn more about a colleague, reach out to a relative you haven’t heard from in a while, reminisce about good times with old friends. When the period of self-isolation is over, the bonds we’ve built up will remain with us as we readjust to everyday life.  

Right now, we’re facing a sobering reminder that life is fragile. But we’ve also been given the chance to take stock of our priorities and nurture the relationships that matter. Strengthening our social ties now will help us weather the storm and emerge more connected on the other side.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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