Social distancing may never feel natural. And while wearing a face covering in public places is the tiniest of inconveniences, it’s become a political issue for some who choose not to, further eroding our ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a nation resistant to learning from our own experiences in managing the virus — let alone other countries’ successes — it could be quite a while before we stop feeling like we’re on a runaway rollercoaster. The new normal is far from it.
But in spite (or maybe because) of the deep social and political rifts accompanying this pandemic, wellness leaders are uniquely positioned to move the needle back toward something that feels more normal for the populations we serve. It comes down to helping employees and family members understand they have control over the things that matter.
Shelter in place, work from home, limit public gatherings, wear face coverings, and maintain 6-foot distances… all work against a perception of community. Wellness leaders can lessen the impact with activities that create connection regardless of physical separation:
- Share appreciation. The simple act of expressing praise or thanks is the most powerful habit for making social connection according to Shawn Achor, former Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage. Give employees ample opportunity to offer colleagues support through wellness walls, buddy elements, and team participation. And model the behavior you want to foster, being liberal with praise for participant progress.
- Ask volunteers to review a vendor’s product, participate in a pilot, be a mentor, serve on a committee, or be a wellness champion. You can also organize monthly virtual volunteer activities helping senior facilities, community theaters, and conservation groups. Sharing a cause creates connections along with helper’s high. And check out Volunteer Match for more virtual opportunities.
Experiencing gratitude is one of the best ways to counteract the constant drip of negativity from social and other media, helping to rebalance the emotional scales in your favor. Some ideas to share:
- Bank it. Decorate a jar and label it “Gratitude.” Then throughout the day jot down things you’re thankful for and place them in the jar. When you need a lift, read the notes to remind yourself what’s good in life. Ask participants to share their favorite of the week or month on the wellness program’s message board.
- Get into nature. Choose a nearby park, woods, or body of water to experience with others, immersing yourselves in greenery, fresh air, wildlife; use all your senses. Encourage employees to snap a selfie at their favorite outdoor spot and share their thoughts on what makes it special.
- Write a letter. Share details with a friend, family member, or colleague about what they’ve meant to you. Simply writing the letter boosts happiness, but delivering and reading it to them deepens the appreciation expressed and received.
- Say thank you with enthusiasm. Think it’s inconvenient to wear a mask for the 20 minutes you’re in the store? Try standing behind the register for hours. Everyone is essential — show you’re genuinely grateful for those serving you.
Glass half full or half empty? The choice — to a great degree — is yours, say researchers. The immediate emotional benefits of a hopeful, upbeat outlook are reason enough to work your optimism muscle, but recent studies suggest longer-term health and longevity benefits as well. Some activities to pump up positive expectations:
- Limit negative news. While easier said than done, cutting back on media in all forms is a good start — consume only enough to stay informed of significant events. If it sounds alarmist, negative, or sensationalized, it is; move on to something more cheerful.
- Learn something new. Feeding your brain with a book, online class, new hobby, or challenging game is invigorating. It automatically nudges you toward a sunnier perspective.
- Do more of what makes you happy. It seems obvious, but meeting obligations and responsibilities of everyday life can crowd out the simple joys of living. Make a list of things — big and little — that delight you. Then do at least 1 today and every day.
The common thread with these ideas is to actively pursue the emotional and social aspects of our lives that provide meaning. In some instances, accommodations for the pandemic have to be made, but in no case is our ability to control our thoughts or actions limited. We have it within ourselves to help restore some normalcy during these abnormal times.
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Dean Witherspoon is CEO and founder of HES and has been the managing editor of the Well-Being Practitioner (formerly the Health Promotion Practitioner) since 1992. He leads the most creative team in wellness, serving organizations worldwide with best-in-class workplace wellness campaigns.