For some, quarantine involves baking bread, completing puzzles or painting a spare room. For others, social distancing has become a time to nurture relationships that have faded. And, experts say that’s just as good as tackling a huge project: Reconnecting with distant friends and family boosts mental health and bolsters resilience — and that’s needed more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People have a lot of fear and anxiety,” Scott Lewis, director of inpatient units at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital in Pittsburgh told TODAY. “There’s a drop in meaningful activity, and boredom increases. Social connections and relationships are integral and there is an absence of that.”
In life before the pandemic, most people kept in touch with loved ones who were close by. It’s the easiest thing to do as people juggled school, work, exercise, social activities and kids’ sports and hobbies. But since most activities are canceled for the foreseeable future, it’s easier for people to reach out to people who live further away or foster relationships that have stalled.
“In this country, we are very busy people. We are always on the go and people have very active agendas,” Mary Fristad, a psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told TODAY. “As we start to return to a more regular life — however quickly we are able to do that or whatever form it takes — if we can retain some of that richness of connectedness to others that would be a real gift.”
Reuniting with a long-lost college roommate or a grade school pal enhances one’s well-being. Reminiscing about things you once did is actually a good thing.
“There is a large body of literature that focuses on the positive effects of nostalgia. Nostalgia improves social bonds. It can also improve the meaning in our life and our self-esteem,” Lewis said. “Social distancing is allowing us to tap into nostalgia with family and friends.”
When things are so uncertain, talking about the past helps people remember who they are and, maybe, how they’ve handled past stressful situations.
“We’re kind of re-experiencing the things we used to do and maybe haven’t done for many years,” Lewis said. “It reminds you of parts of yourself you even forgot about. It helps you feel that you are refreshing yourself.”
Connecting with a distant loved one can also help people thrive.
“Right now people are yearning to feel connected,” Fristad said. “Any connection, particularly when it connects us to an earlier time or life … reminds us of the richness of our lives.”
Connecting with distant or long-lost friends is also easier to accomplish now than other tasks. As many people grapple with the emotions of the pandemic, a lofty goal can feel daunting. Calling a friend involves less stress.
“It’s hard for us to concentrate on these things and they are not as important and do not fill us with what we need,” Lewis said. “Being able to (connect with someone) to boost our self-esteem and self-worth is easier.”
In some cases, rekindling a relationship might include an element of forgiveness, where one or both parties overcome a misunderstanding or hurt from the past. This can strengthen us.
“Forgiveness is a wonderful gift,” Fristad said. “Maybe it is time to let go of the hurt and fear. Maybe it is time to let go of the (negative) and go back to the 95% of the relationship that was positive. Letting go of anger and moving on with forgiveness is a very freeing experience.”