From the President’s Desk: How I’m staying emotionally connected while being socially distanced

Robert Simpson

Robert Simpson

President & CEO

For the last 20 years, Robert has specialized in strategic communication and public relations, focusing his passion for storytelling to help organizations achieve greater impact. As PR Associates’ leader, Robert plays a role in collaborating with clients and our teams to develop strategies and create experiences that deepen audience engagement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work. We’ve collectively packed up our computers and set up home offices from our kitchen tables, spare bedrooms or that room in the basement we always planned to turn into a home gym.

I remember the day four years ago, when we at PR Associates locked the door of our downtown corporate office, and our team moved into their home offices spread across the country and became virtual. At first, the idea of working at home, the work flexibility, working on a beach or wherever else life may take me felt liberating, even exhilarating. Especially the thought of working in my bathrobe until lunchtime with the odd naked Friday thrown in for good measure. (Note: Always have a pressed shirt handy for unexpected online meetings.) Yet, after my first three weeks of working at home, I started to feel the stress of being isolated.

I started yearning for the water cooler conversations, the daily chatter about hockey scores, or most of all, the collegial Thursday after work beer night. Working from home, I realized, required quiet confidence, and I wasn’t getting the positive reinforcement I normally relied on from body language and the vibe of being in the office.

And beyond the lack of interaction with colleagues—there was no idea of osmosis, no overhearing others talking-there was also a lack of interaction with the broader world. Especially now with social distancing.

Given all this, I quickly realized if my work-from-home experiment was going to be successful. I wasn’t going to become a statistic—people who feel socially isolated have an increased risk of an earlier death by as much as 26%–I needed to develop some strategies to stay emotionally connected.

What I needed to learn was how to be emotionally connected when I was alone.

First, I learned that being by myself offered a rich array of thoughts and feelings and the opportunity to relive shared experiences. Now, I often stop working for a few minutes every day and look through family photos, or remember the places I’ve been, the people I’ve been with and the feelings we experienced together. Over the years, I’ve written my feelings in a journal, and now I have enough musings that I’m turning them into a book.

I also take time each day to connect with the people I most care about and those with whom I’d like to reconnect. For me, I stay associated with my current friends, my old friends, who admittedly I am not into touch with enough, neighbours, acquaintances and people from work. Reminiscing and actively participating in feeling the strength of existing connections is a source of significant ongoing strength and stability for me. Especially when I hear back from anyone of my family and friends, many of who I’ve known a lifetime, the excitement is like when I was a kid and a handwritten letter arrived in the mail.

I also try to practice a little more kindness and show gratitude to others and to myself every day–I can’t think of a better time to put this into practice than in our current situation. All it takes sometimes is to smile, say a kind word, compliment a stranger or say thank you. I also take the time to be grateful for myself, what I have, and the life around me at the end of each day.

Finally, as a bonus, I try to get some exercise every day. I go outside. Spend time in nature, whether it’s a walk around the block, a run or walking along a path in the woods- though of course, not in any crowded way—I benefit from feeling grounded and present and grateful to be alive. Nature helps.

By practicing these four simple things every day while I may be alone, I am not lonely.

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