When my quarantine began, I knew I’d be entering a new “normal.” I knew I’d have to leave my University (Penn) and my plans for the final months of junior year behind. I knew it could be months, even a year before I could return, and that life now ran on this virus’s clock. So much has changed for so many, and so quickly.
However, as my environment rapidly changed, I couldn’t have expected how strangely this virus would uproot my social relations.
It felt so unfair to avoid hugging my parents when they picked me up from the airport. I spent most of the year three thousand miles from home but standing in the airport that night at the prescribed six feet from my parents, I felt even farther. The necessity of social distancing turned physical proximity from the hallmark of my most valued relationships into a life-threatening mode of transmission, one that even made me a risk to my own parents. I even began to see strangers at the supermarket or on my favorite trails as threats to my own health, and I unfortunately withdrew my eagerness for human connection, interaction, and communication.
Social distancing is one of the most powerful tools we have to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean we have to be completely disconnected from one another. Now more than ever, we need to engage each other. We need to exercise more empathy and understanding towards one another, and that requires connection. So how can we extend human connection and empathy at this new social distance?
For me, there are a number of easy and creative ways to maintain the social connections and relationships that keep me happy and grounded during this pandemic:
- If you are able to drive or can have someone drive you, consider meeting up and talking to friends or family from the safety of your own vehicle. I recently drove to a nearby parking lot to meet several of my friends who arrived in their own cars. We rolled down our driver’s side windows and chatted for an hour while sitting in our own cars. It was a great way to catch up!
- Set a time aside each week with your closest family and friends to check in over a video or phone call. Creating a routine of communication is sure to maintain social relationships and connections. Video calls have been especially great, because they make me feel almost like we’re sitting together in person.
- Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. I’ve made it a priority to check in with all my friends and family regularly, even those I don’t frequently talk to. A simple “I’m thinking of you” always makes such a difference in someone’s day.
The physical distance we must maintain during this pandemic doesn’t need to erode our ability to connect, empathize, and support each other. Rather, it should have the opposite effect. If there’s ever been a time to keep each other in our thoughts and strengthen our bonds and relationships, it’s now.
Armaun Rouhi is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Biology and Health & Societies. He is passionate about bedside medicine, radiation oncology, and care giving. In his spare time, he loves reading short stories, playing the piano, and exploring his hometown of San Diego, California.