The Power of Technology for Communication
In my practice, I have been able to continue to offer therapy sessions to my Conejo Valley clients over the telephone or by video conferencing. These are practices that I would definitely recommend as you seek to connect to the important people in your life. A simple phone call can help you check in and catch up. You may want to treat your phone call in the same way you would treat a coffee date. Schedule a time when you are both available and can chat without interruption.
For both businesses and relationships, new technologies for communication have been a big help. Using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet, people have been able to have extended family dinners, virtual cocktail hours and even online graduations in the spring. It is important to remember that even the best virtual experience is not the same as the real thing. It can be difficult to read visual cues over the screen, and there is often a delay that can throw off the natural rhythm of conversation. Be patient and take the time to listen to your conversation partners.
Text messages and emails are also convenient ways to check in with people. Be careful with how much you try to communicate by text. Since people cannot hear your tone, they may not interpret your words correctly. However, a short text that shows that someone is thinking about you will remind you that you are not alone.
Shared Virtual Experiences
Online technology has also created ways for people to connect more deeply through shared experiences. Most video game platforms have developed ways for people in different locations to play both cooperatively and competitively. Smartphone gaming apps have options to play word games, help friends grow crops on a virtual farm or explore someone’s custom-built world. These sorts of activities are not deep emotional connections, but they are the small moments of connection that help maintain healthy relationships.
Another shared experience involves watching content together. Many San Fernando Valley households have video screening services like Netflix and Hulu. Start a conference call and have everyone begin the same show or movie at the same time. If it is lighter programming, you can encourage people to comment in real time. If it is a more serious program that requires focus, have a conversation after the show. Experiencing and unpacking emotions together often leads to deeper friendships.
Meaningful Old-School Methods
It would be a beautiful thing if handwritten letters made a comeback in the pandemic. Often, people talk about more formal letters as a way to connect to older people. It is certainly true that grandparents love to receive cards and notes from their grandchildren. This is a wonderful way to touch base with elders who are more vulnerable to the virus.
However, you do not need to limit your letter writing to senior citizens. A handwritten letter takes time and thought. Because you cannot easily delete mistakes, letter-writers are more careful with their choices of words and sentiment. These types of letters are true reflections of the authors. Even the fact that your hand held the pen provides a physical connection to the reader.
Another reason I recommend this practice is the fact that it is a slow process. Unlike technological connections, letters do not allow for an immediate response. You and your correspondence partner must wait for one another. However, I think there can be a powerful sense of connection in anticipating the response of the other person.
Now that California is starting to reopen, it is a great time to explore the area with a friend or two. Most reports suggest that being outdoors is less risky than gathering indoors, and the San Fernando Valley area has some wonderful places to walk outside. Areas such as the Conejo Canyons Open Space, Topanga State Park and Stough Canyon all have hiking trails where you can maintain some distance while walking together. It is important to wear a face mask as a safety precaution for your friends and other hikers.
Connecting to Yourself
The French mathematician Blaise Pascal once wrote, “All humanity’s problems stem from the inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” As a licensed therapist, I think it is important to look for ways to connect with yourself during this time of social isolation. Sometimes, a desperate need for connection is actually a way of avoiding dealing with your own emotional concerns. While I do not think you need to take a vow of solitude, this is a powerful time to examine your life and how you feel. There are a number of practices that can help you.
Many people refrain from sitting in some form of meditation because they are afraid of observing what is happening in their minds. The majority of people have thoughts that run around quickly. In most forms of meditation, you learn to observe what is happening inside your head. What thoughts keep reappearing? What arguments do you replay? These can be clues in helping you move forward. As a bonus, the deep breathing of meditation tends to calm you down, an important ability during this stressful time.
In many ways, a journal is like writing a handwritten letter to yourself. For some people, a journal is simply a way to write out their frustrations, fears and hopes. The act of writing makes them more concrete. You will realize that some of the worries that are rattling around in your head are unfounded when you see them in print.
Spending time alone can raise some emotional issues. When I was younger, I used a packed schedule to avoid dealing with personal issues. If you employ the same strategy, this may be a very difficult time for you. For folks in the Conejo Valley and San Fernando Valley areas, I am available for remote counseling sessions. You can contact me online or leave a voicemail at 805-375-5860 to set up an appointment for a free 15-minute consultation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT