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Emotionally Connecting During Crisis

04/01/2020

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By now, most of you have been in your home over the weekend (or longer), and you know: being together is not the same as being connected. And if you are separated from loved ones, finding ways to connect with them is essential, too.

Whether we’re on the front lines or “safer at home,” we’re all dealing with big fears and domestic challenges right now. We can’t hug our parents, or others who are most vulnerable. We’re co-working with partners in spaces not designed for that purpose, and in the middle of all this disruption and change, our children are expected to learn. Or, we’re home alone, cut off from the support we usually rely on. No matter what your situation, this is hard…for everyone.

Our research at the Nurture Science Program has shown that when we don’t connect with others, our brains can’t develop optimally, or function well. That makes us more likely to have conflict, behavioral problems, and anxiety and depression.

So, what can we do?

Enter the power of “emotional connection.” You already know what it feels like: someone hangs on your every word, maintains eye contact, listens deeply and reciprocates. They hug you when you cry. They’re open about their feelings and you are, too.

Our research about the developmental and lifelong benefits of emotional connection center around these 7 nurture activities:

Over the next few weeks, we will share stories, tips, and exercises to strengthen emotional connection so you can calm your bodies and minds. You can practice these with family members and loved ones who are in the same house, or a video call away. We’ll be sharing strategies for each.

Don’t think of this as yet another “task” to add to your unstructured time. It’s something you already do, but crisis makes you forget how.  

Today’s tip: one-on-one, undivided attention helps us move from “disconnected” to “connected.”

So for today, take a break and spend some uninterrupted time with someone you love:

  • Make time (at least half an hour)
  • It might be with your child, parent, spouse or partner in your home; or if you’re not together right now, make a face-to-face video chat date
  • Find as much of a private space as is available
  • Turn off your notifications (especially on a video call)
  • Turn off the news
  • Put down your electronics
  • Be with that person fully

It’s ok if it takes some practice. Be gentle: what’s important today is taking the first step towards one-on-one connecting. We’ll keep sharing specifics on important aspects of connection that are likely to come up, such as listening, crying, upset, and eye contact.

Martha G. Welch, MD, Promoted to Professor of Psychiatry in Pediatrics and Pathology & Cell Biology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Dr. Welch is a researcher, neuroscientist, and professor, and has been a thought leader and...

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