We need to connect with other people. That’s our nature as social beings, as explained by psychologists in a 'The Conversation' article about the importance of human connections.

(Published 20/04/2021).

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made connecting with others difficult due to social distancing and shelter-in-place directives aimed at minimising COVID-19 transmission. We are discouraged from having face-to-face interactions. We can no longer gather in groups like we used to. We are even advised to avoid family gatherings!

Professionals Are Hardest Hit

Professionals might be worse off, as many are now in work-from-home (WFH) arrangement. This isn’t new, but as feature writer James Gonzales notes in his WFH guide for professionals, it’s almost a necessity nowadays due to the pandemic. New routines and habits are becoming more important to stay physically and mentally healthy at home, especially given how most of the day is spent in front of a screen. This arrangement is probably here to stay, with more companies embracing it and the public viewing it more favourably. WFH arrangements have benefits, like flexibility. But it has drawbacks, too, mainly the lack of human connection, with office workers being away from their colleagues. This lack

of human connection results in social isolation and loneliness, which increase the risk of early death by 26% and 29%, respectively. Even when they don’t lead to early death, psychologist Craig Sawchuk warns that an inability to connect with others can lead to depression, and lower our quality of life. Countering these adverse effects is the reason we need to continue connecting with others, and strengthen these connections. In this way, we get other benefits like a sharpened memory, improved cognitive skills, increased feelings of happiness, and more.

How to Keep Connections Strong

We don’t have to be super social, says Dr. Sawchuk, who emphasises that connecting via technology works just fine. He explains: "There's an opportunity for some protective effects or some beneficial effects of being able to use technology to bring socialization to individuals..." With that in mind, we’ve prepared some tips on how professionals and the common folk can keep connections strong even in this pandemic. Take a look: Find Ways to Socialise We need to keep socialising during this pandemic. This is especially true for WFH professionals who no longer have the benefit of immediate in-person interactions with colleagues. The key to still forging healthy relationships with people we don’t see every day is to set aside time for socialisation. Then, we need to use that free time not only to catch up with family, friends, and workmates, but also to build genuine relationships.

To do so, consider the next tip. Make Full Use of Technology It’s easier to get in touch with others with the technology we now have, like video calling. The key, as psychotherapist Kirsten Antoncich explains in a guide on staying connected, is not to withdraw and instead actively think of ways to connect using tech. Some ideas to consider include regular video calls, setting up WhatsApp or Messenger groups, holding

weekly Zoom calls or meetings, and attending virtual tours with friends and family. You can even schedule virtual game nights and play via Zoom, in Jackbox, or through the Houseparty app. Give Words of Affirmation We all need words of affirmation, like “You’re doing well”, or “You’re looking good”. These are oftentimes what family and friends need to hear to feel better or to feel loved. Words of affirmation don't even need to be given or received in person, which means we can send them via text, say it over the phone, or post them on social media. The best part is we'll probably get a few in return, too! Lean on Support Groups Lastly, don’t hesitate to get support.

Fortunately, there are support groups in Southwark such as South London Cares and Time and Talents that can help people battling social isolation. Some of these groups connect people via virtual events, or find them friends through friendship matching schemes. We can always rely on these organisations, and we should do so when necessary.

Article contributed by Community Blogger Jennifer Rixon, exclusively for Community Southwark.

Covid-19 Support

In response to COVID-19, we have collaborated with local partners to create the following support on these pages here.

Other useful support and advice

Our Healthwatch Southwark team have also pulled together a wide range of links to reliable information on the local situation, and how to get and give help here.