Oxford University Press defines connection as: a relationship in which a person, thing or idea is linked or associated with something else.
I have heard this word used so many times in so many contexts in recent weeks. “We must limit/avoid physical connection with others with whom you do not live.” “My internet connection was intermittent, so my live stream was disrupted for a few seconds.” “The water was pooling over here, and I dug a trench to find where the tile lines are connected to one another to ensure that the water can still flow through them.” “We are going to stay connected by video conferencing as a staff once a week.” “I miss being able to connect with others during the holiday season, on my birthday or at school.” “The price of corn has gone down because the demand for ethanol is connected to the global drop in fuel consumption from people not traveling as much, or at all.”
As social creatures with higher order thinking, people seek out connections throughout their daily lives in order to engage in their relationships with others and to complete their daily activities. Through their research, John Bowlby (1969) and Mary Ainsworth and Silvia Bell (1970) found that we are taught to rely on connections to others from the time that we are infants, and Jean Piaget (1936) found that by the age of about 12 years old we have a firm handle on abstract thought, which allows us to connect different ideas that may not seem to entirely go together.
So, what does connection have to do with COVID-19, the currently active pandemic virus?
Physical connection is what spreads the virus. Lack of physical connection leaves people wishing they had the comfort of a loved one’s reassuring touch. Social connection with others is what helps us to cope with the physical distance and manage the uncertainty. Too much social connection with our family being home with one another all the time is getting on our nerves. Emotional connection to ourselves keeps us “in check” when everything feels like it is going haywire. Too much time to ourselves just makes our feelings of anxiety and fear worse. Technological connections allow us to stay up to date with what is happening, and what is helping, both near and far. Listening to the news 24/7 is making us all have panic attacks and not know who to listen to for accurate information. Intellectual connection helps us to be creative and innovative to come up with solutions to combat the virus and pick up all of the pieces of daily life that have been left in its wake. Right now, connection can be both our greatest enemy and our greatest asset!
If all of you who are reading this are like me, my loved ones, my coworkers and the clients that I serve, you have gone through a roller coaster of emotions in the past several weeks. Some of us have turned inward to reflect. Others have turned outward for support. Some have turned inward one day because it was just too much to watch one more news story about COVID-19, and outward the next to gain a better grasp of what they can do to help themselves, others or their businesses stay safe. Some have felt like they are collapsing from the inside out, while others have felt a slight sense of relief due to having less pressure to perform in some way. All of these responses are normal to a situation of this magnitude! Let me rephrase this one more time: it is normal to feel abnormal when in the midst of abnormal circumstances!
So, if our responses are all over the place, and connection is both our enemy and an asset, what are we to do?
Practice moderation and consistency in all things and whenever possible. Now is the time to:
• go with the flow when things are out of your control and control what is squarely within your power to control.
• take the situation seriously and work to find lightness/humor in each day.
• stay informed about the recent updates on COVID-19 and the impact on your community /the markets and take time away from the news.
• notice what has changed and remember the things that have not.
• pursue opportunities/solutions that would not arise under typical circumstances and choose which opportunities/solutions that you pursue thoughtfully and methodically.
• hold onto old traditions that were beneficial for you and reconsider old practices that were not working well for you.
• give everyone (including yourselves) the benefit of the doubt and be clear in your communication about expectations and boundaries, as we are all under a lot of stress.
• help yourself, help others and ask for help from others. (Sometimes these are at odds with one another, and sometimes they are one in the same.)
This is a rare moment in time in which humans on a global scale are connected to one another in such an obvious way. While we are all being impacted to differing degrees, we are all in this together, folks, whether we like it or not. The more that we can remain connected to ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our shared principle of working toward the common good, the better off we will be on the other side of this pandemic. Stay safe and stay connected everyone (…just make sure that you stand 6 feet, or in farmer terms: two calves, or three pigs, or eight cats or one horse, apart).
Megan Lyons is a doctor of clinical psychology and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation District 6 Young Farmer and Agriculturist program co-chair.