We have been isolated from one another for months now. Every routine has been interrupted and all of our usual social gatherings have either been canceled or extremely limited. The challenge with this is that we are social beings. We are created for community. Even the most introverted person cannot thrive in complete isolation.
I have been a full-time professor of Psychology and Human Services for more than a decade and one of my favorite lectures deals with the psychology of personality. Every person responds differently to various situations based upon their personality type. Whether it is the Enneagram, DISC, Myers Briggs, or another personality assessment, it is evident we all view the world through the lens of our own personality. Each one of us is born with inherent personality traits and throughout our lifetime certain aspects of this are nurtured and impacted by our environment. However, regardless of your personality type, we all need people. From the time we are born, we desperately require human connection. It isn’t enough to simply be around people, we need to feel connected to those people. If we do not possess these connections, the result is loneliness.
Loneliness is the feeling of distress or discomfort when there is a gap between one’s desires for social connection and the actual experience of that connection. This can be real or perceived. If we perceive a lack of connection, then the result is the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness not only impacts our mental health, but has also been proven to impact our physical health. We all need people and people need us.
In this season of social distancing, we have had to forfeit many of our usual means of social connection. While this benefits our physical health in reducing the likelihood of getting COVID-19, our mental health can suffer in the process. This means we have to get creative in continuing to forge human connections when physical proximity is not permitted.
I have been a Pastor for the past 15 years. My husband and I Pastor Grace City Church and prior to Pastoring, I was a therapist. Throughout my years of helping people, the main thing I have observed is the need for real human connection. Not perceived connection, but actual connection.
I am an introvert and I enjoy time alone. I find time alone actually refuels me to go back out and have to exert the energy of engaging with people. As a Pastor, Professor, and Speaker, everything I do involves people. It can be exhausting, but I have learned the art of how to refuel. The first couple of weeks of quarantine I found myself thrilled to be catching up on so many things that I had neglected and I was enjoying the time to myself. However, shortly thereafter, I found myself feeling distant from people I had always felt close to. I found myself craving community. I was beginning to get lonely. Keep in mind, I have an amazing husband, delightful kids, and incredible family and friends, but I was still getting lonely. I was not engaging with my community. I was neglecting it.
How do we reap the benefits of community when we are not allowed to be around it? Here are 5 practical encouragements for navigating this season in no particular order:
1. Facetime or Zoom: FaceTime and Zoom allows for us to view each other’s facial expressions, see into one another’s eyes, and engage with each other more than just hearing one another’s words when speaking by phone. After a couple of weeks of loneliness, I began meeting in a Zoom group weekly. Our church has been hosting weekly Zoom groups and I have gathered with a group of ladies each week for the past few months. This has been a highlight of my week! I get to see their faces, learn how they are doing, share how I am doing, and engage in community. We aren’t physically present with one another, but we can still support each other. Make this time a priority and schedule it, just like you would a coffee date with a friend.
2. Talk on the phone: While seeing others faces is ideal, speaking on the phone is the next best thing. I have been having phone dates with family and friends. This has been critical to remaining in touch and staying connected. Give yourself a goal of a phone call a day or a few calls a week.
3. Exercise: Go for a lengthy walk outside. We need Vitamin D and we need the exercise. Even if you only get your heart rate up a few times a week, this is critical to your mental and physical health.
4. Attend a church service: Engaging in this kind of community will lift your spirit and remind you that you are not alone. If you’re medically and physically able to attend safely in person, then this is wonderful, but online still fosters an environment for you to engage with others.
5. Feed your thoughts: I really believe in the value of talking to myself. I spend more time talking to myself than listening to myself. Attending church services, reading my bible, and sharing my thoughts with my friends and family challenges my incorrect ways of thinking. Every thought we feed grows. Am I feeding thoughts that build me up or tear me down? Encourage yourself. You should be your best friend and you need to be kind to you. Take time to affirm yourself on a daily basis. You should be able to quickly list at least 10 things you appreciate about yourself and if you can’t, take advantage of this season to get to know yourself better. I make it a goal to encourage myself daily and to encourage others daily. Take the time to text 2-3 people every day to let them know what you appreciate about them. Encouraging others, encourages you.
In this season, we have to fight for hope. Hope for health, hope for safety, hope for whatever you are hoping for. It is important to know that hope doesn’t just happen. Hope is grown. I was born and raised in Alaska and I grew up with a huge garden. Each year we planted, tended to the plants, and then harvested them. Planting the seeds was just the beginning of the process. We had to water them and protect them from weeds, the birds, and especially the moose! You don’t plant, walk away, and then never again visit the plant and expect it to be fully grown and healthy. You encourage its growth. The same is true with hope. I have to think hope-filled thoughts on a daily basis. I choose to see the positive in the world around me and I choose to see the good in each person. I plant hope, I water hope, and I protect hope. There are those who will serve as weeds in our lives and try to rob you of your hope. We have to protect our hope. Negativity and pessimism is the path of least resistance. It is easy to get there. Don’t slide down this slope when there is so much to be hoped for!
A way to foster hope for humanity is to engage in empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of others. Empathy in this season is more necessary than ever. Empathy asks us to care for those around us. I had COVID-19. One of the most encouraging parts of receiving this diagnosis was how much it revealed my community. I remember receiving an Uber Eats gift card from a friend, while it was unnecessary, it was so appreciated. It made me feel cared for. They were empathizing with my situation. We had multiple people reach out about providing meals, asking if they could help us with our kids, or if there was anything they could do for us. Empathy causes us to have compassion toward others and causes us to respond with what we have that can help meet a need. Perhaps people around you don’t have COVID-19, but I assure you they do have other needs. How different would our community look if we each chose empathy, walked in compassion, and responded to the needs of others? We all have something to give, let’s give it.
Christina and her husband, Andrew, pastor Grace City Church. Grace City is a Hillsong Family Church with two campuses in Lakeland and also hosts online services every week at GraceCity.com. Christina is also a full-time Professor and the proud mom of twins, Justice and Adriana. @ChristinaGard