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 lunch time with the odd underwear Friday thrown in for good measure. (Note: Always have a pressed shirt handy for unexpected on-line meetings.) Yet, after my first first three weeks of working at home I started to feel the stress of being isolated.
The public relations business is a people business. We spend most our days meeting people, building relationships and working hard to get others noticed. But it still came as surprise to me I started yearning for the water cooler conversations, the daily chatter about hockey scores, or most of all, the Thursday after work beer night. Working from home, I realized, required quiet confidence and I wasn’t getting the positive reinforcement I normally relayed on from body language and the vibe of being in the office.
And beyond the lack of interaction with colleagues—there was no ideas osmosis, no overhearing others talking-there was also a lack of interaction with the wider world. Especially now with social distancing. The problem is that the main way I connected was through the local geographical community and when that was removed—no commuting, not bumping shoulders and not occasionally running into the person who graduated in the same class your cousin from small town Saskatchewan did -it’s a lot harder to feel connected.
Given all this, I quickly realized if my work-from-home experiment was going to be successful and I wasn’t going to become a statistic—people who feel socially isolated have increased risk of an earlier death by as much as 26%–I needed to develop some strategies to stay emotionally connected. So I’m sharing a few things that helped me not to turn into the guy who fills envelopes with white powder and mails them to the people he spends his days shouting at on television in his stained bath robe.
I needed to learn how to be emotionally connected when I was alone.
First, I had to learn 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 connected with my current friends, my old friends, who admittedly I am not into touch with enough, neighbours, acquaintances and people from work. Being able to reminisce and actively participate in feeling the strength of existing connections is a source of significant ongoing strength and stability for me. Especially when I hear back from any one of my family and friends many who I’ve known a lifetime. The excitement is like when I was a kid and a hand written letter arrived in the mail.
I also try to practice a little more kindness and show gratitude to others and to myself everyday–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 at the end of each day to be grateful for myself, what I have, and the life around me.
Finally, as an added bonus I try to get some exercise everyday. 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 find myself alone, I am not lonely.