Don’t suffocate inside your COVID bubble

My husband and I recently gathered with friends for a socially distant dinner on their back porch. These occasions, routine in our pre-COVID lives, have become rare since March. And as we sat down for drinks before dinner, I found myself briefly at a loss for what to say and even how to act. Being in the physical presence of these friends we once saw frequently felt awkward.

The moment passed and we had a wonderful evening, even when rain drove us into the garage for cover, eating dessert by the open door on chairs spaced six feet apart. We ended the night with a walk and I returned home recharged to resume life in our pandemic bubble. 

As it turns out, I had exercised an emotional muscle that had been atrophying. According to a recent New York Times column this pandemic is making us all socially awkward. Moving our lives into our homes and online may keep us safe from COVID-19, but it also is endangering our ability to connect with one another.

My husband and I are fortunate. We have been able to construct a COVID-19 bubble that has kept us and our families safe. Groceries arrive on our porch in weekly boxes, which we supplement with carefully timed visits to markets with a preference for small locally owned stores that get less traffic and need the business.

When our downtown office started to feel superfluous and even dangerous, with its single elevator and cold-water-only bathrooms, home became our work place. Like many people, we we conduct all our work over email, Zoom, phone calls, Google Hangout and Microsoft Teams. 

As consultants to a major health system, we often talk to experts on the pandemic’s front lines. They remind us how important our caution is for ourselves, for them and for our our community. But safety comes at a cost.

The casual encounters we once had every day — not only at dinner parties, client meetings, church services, board meetings and conferences, but at at the gym, yoga class, hair salon and local bar — kept us socially adept. 

Citing studies from the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at Northwestern University, the NY Times column suggests that the lack of regular contact can cause us to forget how to work and play well with others.

For those of us who communicate for a living, that can’t be good. How can your writing or other communications connect with people if you’ve lost the art of connecting with them in person? How can we bring people to our cause or touch their hearts? How can we settle disputes amicably if we become so unpracticed in reading body language that we take offense at imagined slights and overreact to real ones?

Flexing your social muscle is important. Work to stay in good touch with friends and colleagues. Call them, meet them for walks, write them letters. Don’t focus only on those few friends you are closest to or colleagues you have to speak with for work. Reach out to those you saw irregularly or rarely before the pandemic. They provided the novelty and variety in your life that can spark creativity. Perhaps they challenged you to see things differently. In any case, they helped keep you sharp.

Keeping yourself socially nimble even if you’re living in a pandemic bubble is important. Your career and general well being can depend on it. 

— Barbara LeBlanc

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Bob Unger  508-542-1252
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Barbara LeBlanc  603-486-8760
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