I truly believe that even with the stress of everything we are facing right now, we can still feel healthier than ever if we intentionally set up supportive, comforting and deeply healing health routines.
So all winter long, I’m going to be giving you a weekly blog post full of uplifting ways to improve your health, and every single idea is something you can do right in the comfort of your own home. Social distancing approved.
It’s a new mini-series I’m releasing for you to help boost your health over these next three winter months. Forward this newsletter to a friend or a family member so that they can take part in this healing mini-series with you!
The series so far has been:
- Topic 1: Movement
- Topic 2: Listening
- Topic 3: Declutter
- Topic 4: Self Care
- Topic 5: Sleep
- Topic 6: Getting Outside
Today, we are going to focus on ways to stay connected to others, even during this time of increased social isolation.
Why is connecting to others so important?
That’s because our connections to others actually helps boost our health, increasing survival rates and longevity.
There was an interesting medical review, published in 2010 in PLOS Medicine, that looked at over 300,000 participants in over 145 medical studies pertaining to social relationships and mortality. This review indicated that no matter your age, sex, health status, disease status, or cause of death, having social ties increased your survival rate by 50%.
It turns out, having friends, family, neighbors and colleagues improve our odds of survival by 50%. This protective health boost is dramatic, meaningful and significant. The study found that having low social interactions is actually a risk factor for death similar to other well known health risk factors:
- Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Equivalent to being an alcoholic
- More harmful than not exercising
- Twice as harmful as obesity
It makes sense that if having social ties protects your mortality, social isolation drops it. And that’s exactly what researchers found in a medical study published in 2015 in Perspectives on Psychological Science. They found that social isolation, loneliness and living alone each increases likelihood of mortality rates by 29%, 26% and 32%, respectively.
But the good news is this — even if you feel lonely, by reaching out to support others, you actually boost your own health, regardless of if you are getting the same support in return. It turns out that it is the giving of social support, not the receiving of social support, that really benefits your health, at least as far as your brain is concerned.
In a study published in 2019 in Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers used functional MRI imaging to examine what happens to the brain when one receives social support, and when one gives social support. It turns out, that key areas of the brain are restructured to protect you against stress — but only when you are giving social support.
Receiving support was not related to these beneficial, protective brain changes… but giving support was associated with significantly reduced activation of the brain in areas of stress response. In other words, giving support to others might actually buffer your experience of stress, reducing the impact that trauma and stress have by supporting areas of the brain that typically activate during stressful situations. Researchers postulate that one reason being connected to others is protective to our health is that giving support actually helps mitigate the body’s stress response.
So today, in that vein, today I present to you tons of ways to boost your connection to yourself, your community, and beyond.
1. Connect To Yourself
The best connection you can ever foster — first and foremost — is your connection to yourself.
Evaluating your own desires, fears, truths, boundaries, triumphs, needs daily allows you to walk through your days feeling centered and intentional, which is the basis for deep containment and alignment with your personal values and morales.
To constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating who you are in each present moment takes courage. It means you might change course. It means your relationships might need to evolve. It means you might out grow old things. It’s worth it.
I can think of nothing better to do (except maybe create a daily grounding habit like I talked about last week) during this introspective pandemic pause than to get in touch with who you have become and evolved into in this present moment.
Certainly you have changed from just a year ago.
Certainly you have changed from just a month ago.
Certainly you have changed from just a day ago.
Certainly you have changed from just an hour ago.
To find out who you are right now, and what might serve you best moving forward, you can cultivate some intentional practices that will help connect you to you, by:
- making gratitude lists
- writing in a daily journal
- writing your memoirs or autobiography
- writing letters to your younger self
- writing letters to your future self
- meditating (see this blog post for more ideas on this)
- releasing clutter (see this blog post for more ideas on this)
- creating a peace-of-mind planner for others to reference when you have passed away (I share the one I am filling out below)
- starting a creativity journal (my favs are The Artist Way and her sequel, It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again, both listed below)
I am sharing some helpful links for some of these ideas — free printable journal prompts and links to the books I mentioned above. I am not affiliated with any of these websites or authors in any way, and I don’t get a single penny for recommending them, I just truly believe in them and have found them helpful in my own journey. I hope they help inspire you!
2. Connect To Others
It’s so easy to just stay walled up inside your home, especially during the winter months + adding in a pandemic. While it can be deeply healing to go on an inward retreat (think Henry David Thoreau) you may find over time that the isolation makes you feel more bleak, hopeless, or apathetic than you normally feel.
If that’s the case, don’t worry. The basis of life is adaptability and resiliency, so your spirit can and will rebound. Let’s just take the time to incorporate ways to safely connect with other into our weekly quarantine rhythm:
While medical studies show that social media can dramatically decrease mental health, direct texting is different, allowing you to stay in touch with people who are meaningful to you in real life, even when you can’t see each other. Make a list of one, two, three, or twenty people you love and miss, and make a point to start each day off with a text to each, touching base with them. Their responses throughout your day will help you feel connected. Repeat daily.
Yep, snail mail is still a thing. And while we are on lockdown during a pandemic, the mail still delivers. Write one letter a day (or even one letter a week if that seems overwhelming) to someone you love and send it in the mail. You can even include a folded up self addressed envelop and a request that they write you back! I know of some folks who are spending their quarantine with crafting materials out, creating greeting cards out of card stock to last all year long — every birthday, anniversary, graduation, holiday is a fantastic reason to send a greeting card, and a homemade on is absolutely the best. For a special gift to my son who graduated high school, I had family and friends write him a letter, collected them all and put them into a special binder. He told me that opening it and reading the letters, page after page, was the best gift I had ever given him.
Garage Parties, Fire Escape Hangouts & Front Yard Cookouts
You can use your outdoor living spaces and still connect with others who live near you in creative, safe ways.
- I have one friend who lives on an alley so every weekend they all open their garages and bring dinners out to eat in lawn chairs in their garages, chatting and playing music.
- I have one friend who utilizes a front porch area in the same way — drinking tea in the evening and waving to neighbors who are all doing the same.
- I know of people who are all gathering each night on their fire escapes in multi home dwellings, to chat to each other before retiring for the night.
- I know of several young adults who all gather in a cul-de-sac, parking their cars side by side and rolling windows down halfway, chatting back and forth to stay connected.
- I know of a young dating couple that parks near each other, staying each in their own car, to simply see each other’s face once a week on a “date.”
If you have a front door, a front yard, a porch, a patio, a parked car or a backyard that faces another home, you have the perfect way to stay connected and deepen your connection to your neighbors while practicing social distancing.
Even if you were never one for puzzles or games before, now might be a good time to see if it’s something you can look forward to — yes, even if you live alone! From playing online games together (in real time, like on Xbox, or on an app like Words With Friends or Chess) or even just taking pictures of a chess board and texting your move back and forth to each other, or even buying multiple copies of the same puzzle and shipping to all of your siblings for a grand Puzzle Race — see who can finish it first! — there are plenty of fun ways to stay playful, even if virtually, connected with those that you love.
My favorite way to stay connected to loved ones that I don’t live with, like my parents, is through Marco Polo — an app that allows you to record videos and send then directly to your loved one, who can view it any time and send one back. It’s as convenient as texting but allows you to feel like you are right there with your favorite people, hearing their voice and seeing their face and watching their mannerisms as they speak to you. I prefer this over talking on the phone, which is an obvious alternative if you prefer to talk live. You can also FaceTime or use any other video or streaming app to stay connected to everyone you want to!
Don’t forget to stay connected to your beloved pet! As I talked about in this blog post, pets actually prolong your life! During a pandemic, I’m sure you appreciate their presence in your life more than ever. Snuggles, love, company — your home is absolutely enhanced by your fur baby. Spend extra time each day getting into a routine of connecting with them at least morning and night. From walking your dog to playing with your cat to letting your guinea pig or bird out of his or her cage for a little play time, enjoy spending time with someone who absolutely loves you unconditionally. On top of that, there are endless things you can do creatively to help fill your time… write down a list of ways you can pamper your pet and tackle one creative project a week!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- knit or crochet an outfit for your pup
- bake safe treats for your dog or cat, like these sweet potato dog chews
- stuff safe chewable toys into toilet paper rolls as an exercise toy for your bird
- bake birdseed treats for your bird
- sew a fabric tunnel for your guinea pig, or use a cardboard tube to create one
- sew a pet bed for your senior dog
- sew a bow tie for your pet’s collar
- sew a cat tent out of an old t-shirt
- create a scratching post for your kitten
- create a play gym for your cat
- if you don’t have a pet, you can create homemade bird suet for the birds outside
- you can even sew a diaper for your pet chicken so she can come into the house with you! Yes, I’ve actually done this before and it’s phenomenal fun!
3. Connect To Spirit
One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one:
“Here is the world.
Terrible and beautiful things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.”
– Frederick Buechner
While we are facing times that are different from anything we’ve encountered in our lifetimes so far, it may help you to stay anchored in your faith now more than ever.
Or, if you’ve never had time to devote to growing your spirituality, maybe now is the first time you’ve ever been able to do so — jump on it!
From church services being held freely online daily, to virtual group prayer circles, to live meditations you can join into from the comfort of your own home, to apps that allow you to track your meditation efforts (like Headspace) or bible study plans (like YouVerse’s Bible App) to the daily mantra class I linked you to in this blog post, you can use this time to not just go within but to look upwards!!!
Here are some more ideas for you to strengthen your core beliefs, or discover what they even are in the first place:
An Exercise To Help You Open To Connection:
Lay gently back in a supine position with your arms resting by the sides of your body. The palms are relaxed and open toward the sky. Allow your feet to drop open. The legs are extended down and splayed open. The heels are in and the toes flop out.
Close your eyes. Everything is relaxed. Your shoulder blades are pulled back, down and rolled under comfortably, resting evenly on the earth.
Breathe fully in through your nose, exhale deeply through your mouth. Allow yourself to truly let go in this pose for several minutes, connecting to and receiving unconditional love. Remind yourself:
- It is safe to open to support from God, from Spirit, from the Universe.
- It is safe to receive loving divine guidance and to use this guidance as a basis to make important life decisions.
- It is safe to connect to others, to connect to the spiritual world around you, to recognize the Divine within yourself and the Divine within others today.
- In short, it is safe to drop all resistance to the journey you are on and to **life** and see living it as the deeply spiritual practice that it is.
Try to run through this sequence at least once a day for this entire week. It will help your body, down to your very cells, feel centered and supported.
Bonus for doing this while lying outside under the stars in the evening or under the sunshine in the morning. Bring a big blanket or a sleeping bag or simply bundle up in winter gear and give it a try, you’ll feel totally invigorated.
Even while bundled up, or in a sleeping bag or wrapped in a blanket, if you can let a fingertip out to touch the earth, the sidewalk, a rock, a branch or any other grounded outdoor surface you can reap all the benefits of grounding while doing this healing practice. Becoming mindfully present with God while allowing your body to get into the healing state through physical grounding is a win-win alignment that will bring a noticeable difference to you on all levels.
With Open Hands: Meditation
Probably my favorite prayer/meditation of all time, I actually tore this prayer out from the book (With Open Hands, by Henri J Nouwen) and framed it, and have it in my bedroom to read every night before I sleep… it’s that powerful to me. Try reading through it and taking a deep breath in and out while you sit with each sentence, this will add up to a total of 5 powerful, meditative deep breaths. Placing palms on your lap face up makes it all the more powerful:
I do not know where you are leading me.
I do not even know what my next day,
my next week,
or my next year will look like.
As I try to keep my hands open,
I trust that you will put your hand in mine
and bring me home.
Thank you, God, for your love.
Create Prayer Flags
You can create beautiful prayer flags to hand in your home, outside your windows, along your front doorstep, from a balcony or tree… putting whatever intention you want into the atmosphere for the wind to take.
This is a fun activity that I liked to do every spring with my children as they were growing up. We would take scraps of fabric and permanent markers and draw pictures, write words, symbols, and blessings all over them. I would sew, staple, clip or string them up along a ribbon, twine or clothesline, hang them up on our porch or between trees, and allow the wind to carry our intentions, desires and wishes out to the world.
Young or old, prayer flags are a wonderful way to intentionally infuse the world with your positive energy, or to ask for blessings, and as the sun fades the fabric over the course of the year, know that your prayers have been received.
Think of it as a tea bag you are steeping in the air â€”creating atmospheric tea. See the picture at the top of this section for inspiration.
All you need are scrap squares of fabric (consider using recycled fabric from old clothing, worn out cloth napkins or scraps of fat quarters left over from sewing projects), permanent markers, a length of ribbon or twine, and a stapler, clothes pins, super glue, or a thread and needle (whichever way is easiest for you to attach the fabric squares along the ribbon or twine.)
If it’s warm enough, head outside armed with your supplies and settle into a nice area, grounded to the earth. A picnic table at your local park works well, your front door stoop, some steps you can sit on, slipping off shoes so bare feet rest on the ground.
With your energy centered and inward, call to mind blessings, words, symbols and images you would like to infuse the world with. Some ideas might include: love, peace, harmony, freedom, possibility, joy, abundance, unity. Even a simple heart or smiley face works. Draw, doodle, decorate, or simply write one word across each fabric scrap.
Once you have created a few prayer flags, simply clip onto a line using clothes pins, or fold the top edge of the fabric over a ribbon and staple, super glue, or sew. These prayer flags are wonderful hung between trees, along fence posts or porch railings, or even simply across an open window.
Enjoy the words and prayers being carried off into the atmosphere, knowing the have been acknowledged and added to the intentional design of our Universe. Allow your prayer flags to bleach and fade in the sun and wind and rain, and create new ones each year.
I share this idea for you today directly from my book: The Earth Prescription. If you loved this idea, there are hundreds more waiting for you, ideas that will ground you every season of the year no matter where you live. I’m so excited to share it with you. You can order it here:
Today try to nurture your connection to self, to others and to Spirit on many levels. Boosting your connections to others will actually protect your health, and particularly so when you are the one reaching out.
Write down any ideas that appeal to you, or bookmark this page to refer back to when you need a little inspiration or are feeling a little lonely.
And be sure you are signed up to receive my free newsletter so you don’t miss any of these uplifting holistic healing tips I send out each week, I’d love to support you too. My readers are a wonderful source of connection that I am incredibly grateful for in my own life, and I’d love you to be a part of this group.
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To your naturally resilient, astoundingly incredible human body!