Over the last several weeks Reed students have reorganized their whole lives within the space of their current living arrangement and already a few things have become exceedingly apparent. Students are anxious, lonely, disconnected, or overwhelmed by the unprecedented circumstances they are facing. We need connection now more than ever. We find ourselves not having as many options to connect. We don’t have the same opportunities to navigate our relationships as effortlessly and as comfortably as we used to just a short time ago. We may be overwhelmed by it all. These are uncertain times and having a sense of connection can ground us and give us the courage to get through this. The good news is that we have control over how we choose to connect with others. We can exercise positive self-care by doing more than just coexisting with one another. Connecting with others, real, genuine connection, listening, expressing ourselves, and being present with one another is not the same as physically being in the house together 24/7.
I will explain in more detail because this is so valuable. This deeper kind of connection will keep us strong, positive, patient, and munificent; it will even keep us healthy. But we can’t get this kind of connection by just coexisting with our friends, family, and partners. We also need the structure of boundaries to get the most out of this time together. Research indicates that we are hardwired as humans to need connection with others. It is our lifeline; now more than ever. We just need to set some ground rules to make it work for us.
To begin, we can set a protective, external boundary around our time, space, and energy. This is the time to learn how to speak up about your need for privacy in a house full of people. This is the time to let others know when you need some time to yourself. When we speak up about our needs, for some of us, it may be the first time we have ever done so. Do it with gentleness, appreciation, and patience because everyone in your house may not know how you are feeling and what you need right now.
We can also use our internal boundary to push ourselves a little with expressing and opening up to others, in the house or outside of the house. Reach out to someone else, share your thoughts and feelings, listen openly without judgment, be curious about their feelings. Try this with someone just a slight bit more than you normally would. It is the first part of connecting with someone. Same guidelines apply. Do it with gentleness, appreciation, and patience because the other person may have never experienced you this way.
Some additional ideas on how to establish boundaries during the pandemic are to tell loved ones if you don’t have the energy to talk about the virus or any other stress- and anxiety-triggering topics. Make a list, doodle, paint, or draw your needs, and how you are currently meeting them. Re-evaluate what habits and routines you have in place so they meet your current needs. Pick the ones that feel most comforting to you, don’t force anything on yourself right now. Set a time of day and time limit for your social media consumption. While social media can help us feel connected, it can also trigger anxiety. Focus on what brings you value and comfort, and leave the rest out.
You have an opportunity to modify the connections that we already have, make new ones, and get the most out of this time. We can embrace this as a chance to change our dynamics with others, get more of what we need and want, and build a greater sense of wholeness. Let’s work towards this, embracing a fuller life for ourselves and everyone around us.