The challenge of connecting while social distancing

by Spanner in the Works

How many times have we heard the phrase “we are all in this together” recently? Perhaps it’s starting to wear a little thin, but before you roll your eyes, consider this: we really do need each other to survive.

Social evolution

We evolved in tribes of 50 to 250, and in days gone by exclusion from the group significantly reduced our chances of survival. Evolution has hardwired us to need social connections, and according to one of the world’s longest studies into happiness and health, this is still true today.

Robert Waldinger, the current study director and professor at Harvard University says “the surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence over our health.”

Connecting while social distancing

So, what does that mean, as we all do our bit to flatten the COVID-19 curve by ‘social distancing’?

Some of us may be home alone and feeling isolated, while others are struggling to get used to spending so much time with partners, children or flatmates. Whichever it is, social isolation does not need to mean that we are lonely or disconnected, but it probably does mean that we have to work a little harder to connect.

The quality and strength of our relationships are directly linked to the amount of time that we invest in them. Relationships are a bit like bank accounts, we need to make regular deposits, in this case through positive interactions.

A 2016 Mental Health Foundation report examining the nature of relationships in the 21st Century highlights:

“As a society and as individuals, we must urgently prioritise investing in building and maintaining good relationships and tackling barriers to forming them. Failing to do so is equivalent to turning a blind eye to the impact of smoking and obesity on our health and wellbeing.”

Successful connections: the magic number

According to Dr. John Gottman, the ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship should be five to one. Yes, that right 5:1, so it’s time to start seriously investing in our nearest and dearest!

Certainly, social isolation can make us feel lonelier, but it also has the potential to strengthen our connections as COVID-19 helps bring into focus what, and who, is really important in our lives.

Get social

The great news is, people around the world are coming up with some amazing ideas to stay connected while still physically isolating. Like these…

  • Hold a Dinner in the Driveway. Enjoy a convo’ with the neighbours while the kids play 1.5 metre hopscotch on the footpaths!
  • Feeling energetic? Try a dance party! Show your neighbours how to bust a move and start a neighbourhood movement. Dancing isn’t just a great way to stay fit, it has proven mental health and wellbeing benefits.
  • City slicker? Spark a nationwide concert from your balcony! Italians did just this, singing and playing instruments from their balconies, alley ways and roof tops in unison creating not only music across neighbourhoods, but connections.
  • Too ‘out there’ for you? How about an online book club or a good read?
  • For a little screen time magic, a Netflix party with friends allows you to catch your favourite shows or movies and spoil the plot/interrupt with annoying questions/post flick analyse wherever your mates are.

Watch this: This amazing couch choir will lift your spirits and inspire you to connect to others with their Close to You rendition.

Your challenge!

Make time to invest in your relationships – they are the cornerstone of your wellbeing.
Take your pick from these great activities over the next week to help you build stronger relationships and connections. We dare you…!

  1. Reconnect to connect: Call someone you haven’t spoken to for a long time and check in on how they are.
  2. Put up lots of pictures of friends and family in places where you are going to catch sight of them regularly.
  3. Set up a ‘virtual’ games night with friends and family.

Be safe, be well and be kind.

Need help?

  • If you are experiencing a mental health crisis call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or MensLine on 1300 99 78 99.
  • For a list of national helplines and websites visit Beyond Blue
  • If you are concerned about the health and safety of yourself, family or friends, you can find government advice on Coronavirus and a 24 hour government help line for Coronavirus at 1800 020 080.
  • And here for more information on Financial Support


This blog is adapted from a Supporting Project of WoW, Mentally Healthy City Townsville, supported by the Queensland Mental Health Commission. Word document + study attribution and further resource materials are available on request. Contact Tony Coggins, Lead Associate Population Mental Health, Implemental (formerly Maudsley International) and WoW educator on for more information.

1 comment

Robert John Collins 12 May 2020 - 4:49 pm

Longing to get back to the shed
Extract from Fingal Independent, Dublin Ireland Tuesday 12 May 2020

They might be temporarily unable to meet due to the COVID-19 crisis, but the close-knit members of Balbriggan Men’s Shed have managed to keep camaraderie and friendship alive despite recent events.
According to secretary Sean Corrigan, the main concern of the members – who range from their sixties to seventies – is not the threat of the coronavirus, but rather when they will be able to return to the Balbriggan Shed and reunite with their fellow ‘shedders.’
Sean explains how the men at Balbriggan Men’s Shed are coping since the shed closed, and how they have all rallied around to support each other during these difficult times.
He says: ‘They’re coping well, there’s a good network of guys and contact is maintained. Everybody wants to be back in the shed, it’s become such a large part of their lives.
‘Well before this we would have set up texting, so all our communication is done by text and a number of lads over time have developed personal relationships, so it kind of extends outside of the shed as well, that they’re not just waiting on texts or phone calls or whatever.
‘We also make phone calls and there’s nothing like having a voice at the end of the phone.’
Sean says: ‘The majority of us are well over sixty, and a fair number over seventy at this stage, so they’re at home so it’s important to keep contact.
‘We’ve one guy, he’s our administrator and he’s great for reaching out and he’s very good on social media, so he maintains contact.
‘The Men’s Shed association itself sends down communications that might come out from whatever relevant government department, from the Department of Health or whatever else, so we pass that out to the lads as well.’
Thankfully, he says, all the men’s shed members remain in good health, and their only complaint is the boredom with being restricted to their homes.
He says: ‘Most of them are cocooning at this stage, we’re five years on the go and a lot of the guys had just retired when we got going, so there’s very few under seventy at this stage and a large number of them would be at home.
‘Not all of them would have family to support them, but most have, either a family in the house or in the area, but the majority would have family in the home. I know in other sheds that might not be the case, they might be a lot more isolated.’
Sean adds: ‘It’s become such a major social outlet for them, and for some of them, including myself, it’s their primary social outlet. I don’t play golf and I don’t go to the pub, so it’s where I have my friends really.’

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