Dangers of Loneliness and 5 Positive Habits for Nurturing Friendship
Don’t let human connection be a collateral casualty of Covid
Cultivating friendships is never easy. It takes effort, courage, time. The easy thing to do is not call, not email, cancel plans, avoid tough topics. It’s easy to keep friends at arm’s length and not let them into your inner world.
This was true even before coronavirus.
Social distancing has made it even easier to hole up and not connect with people. But that’s especially concerning now, when we’re already dealing with other trauma-related consequences of Covid-19 and this national nightmare.
The American Psychological Association (APA) explains some of the direct mental health dangers of chronic loneliness including exacerbated stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia...as well as physical ramifications like cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and obesity.
Friendship is vital to the human experience
Humans have been social creatures since long before we walked on two feet or ever spoke a word. Friend groups provide emotional support, safety in numbers, and helping hands where needed.
Though it sometimes becomes an echo chamber, friendship strengthens shared values and motivations—in the form of accountability. It gives us a sense of mutuality and reciprocal support. The best friendships bring education and diverse perspectives.
Positive Habit: Start a weekly WhatsApp discussion with 3+ friends (or strangers)
· Books and articles
· Netflix shows
· Creative projects
Friends help us work through ideas without pressure. Good friends correct our folly and hold us accountable. They hold up a mirror for self-reflection, provide an outlet for stress, and a source of non-romantic human touch—something we need desperately, to anchor us in a lonely and tumultuous world.
Language of friendship
Friendship is built around ritual and story. A language that evolves over time, as comfort and familiarity deepen. Successful friendship language is based on positivity, opportunity and challenge, kudos and acknowledgement, gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness.
For best results, give up the right of being right. Relinquish control of the conversation. How? Be vulnerable. And be receptive to their vulnerability. Without judgment. Approach friendship from a place of gratitude.
Positive Habit: Each day write 2-3 things you’re grateful for about specific friends.
We all have shortcomings. And we all have pet peeves and deal-breakers. The important thing is transparency and respect born of empathy. We’re all in this together. So, repair conflicts quickly and directly instead of letting them simmer. Friends fight. Usually they make up. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we go our separate ways—and that’s okay. But address the problem before it festers.
If a friendship is worth it, we can adapt creatively to flaws—like telling your always-late friend to meet 20-30 minutes before the actual time. Spare everyone the stress and embarrassment. Worst-case scenario? You’ll have 20-30 extra minutes to hang out.
Language matters...listen first
Friends want to make each other’s lives better. But sometimes one person’s perception of a situation is wildly different from another’s. That’s where friends often butt heads—familiarity can lead to carelessness in empathy and interpersonal communication.
Clients often speak of well-intentioned friends offering comfort in terms like:
Don’t worry it’ll all work out in the end
Relax, it’s not that big of a deal
All you have to do is...
Over-soothing can make people feel their issues are being minimized, or their struggles aren’t legitimate. Even if it's just miscommunication, careless language can leave people feeling unsupported, abandoned, brushed aside.
The best way to offer support is to listen first and empathize. Then ask whether your friend wants help problem solving or just a supportive ear. Often it’s the latter. Sometimes we just need someone to vent to.
Maintaining friendship during Covid
It’s easier than ever these days to interact with friends at a social distance. Sometimes it’s the little things; a quick text sharing something of interest. A response to social media posts. Simple messages that say: I’m thinking of you. You matter to me.
Positive Habit: Send one simple message to one friend each day.
· Express gratitude
· Did you know…
· What do you think about…
· What are you reading/watching/hearing/playing/eating?
· Remember when...
But resist the urge to watch the clock or tally interactions or push for a response. That’s anxiety doing the talking—don’t let it do the walking. Keep in mind that people are busy, forgetful. People have uncommunicative days. People suffer social anxiety, mind-numbing depression. People have reasons.
Focus on the big picture. Let patience take the reins—imagine how you’d feel if you were slow to respond and a new friend jumped down your throat about it.
Deepening the friendship bond
Building a friendship is a long-term endeavor. It’s planting seeds and watering...weeding...tending. It takes patience and empathy. Reciprocal relationships don’t keep a ledger—the give and take is free-flowing and balanced. Communication is not a one-way street.
Shared experiences good and bad help deepen friendship bonds. Inside jokes and shared stories are threads that entwine the tapestry of our life with someone else’s. Memories are stored in our brains as electric pathways carved by neurons sent from our five senses. When friends gather and tell stories—even on a screen—those pathways light up in unison and reinforce the connection.
Social-distance connecting in a more complex dimension takes a little more thought. But there are plenty of tools to facilitate. FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp video...seeing people’s faces in real time—even behind a camera—satisfies at least part of our need for living connection. Fortunately for us we can even set up group video chats and get a digital taste of community.
Positive Habit: Schedule a weekly Zoom gathering.
· Board games
· Virtual bar
· Music jam sessions
· Writing circle
· Book club
· Watch sports reruns
Forming positive friendship habits
Like anything else, you get good at friendship by practicing. Forming a habit requires methodical repetition—whether it’s biting your nails or eating more vegetables. The way to get good at something is to do a little bit every day.
Schedule it. Write down your daily friendship habits for the month and surrender control to the calendar. It’s freeing to know you don’t have to make a choice—it’s so simple. But it does take consistency and effort.
Positive Habit: Spend 10 minutes each day nurturing friendships.
Sick of screens?
· Send a letter or care package
· Go tandem grocery shopping
· Meet at a park or community garden
· Have virtual workout dates (e.g. Peloton)
· Visit through a window
Friendship is one of those things where you get out what you put in. It takes some effort and creativity to maintain friendships through Covid-19, but the payoff is worth it—in terms of feeling more fulfilled, less stressed, and more connected to something greater than your lone self.
How are you maintaining friendships through social distancing? Let us know in the comments.
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Produced with Quillpower