This Valentine’s day is soon to be upon us, and for many, an unpropitious time. Whilst the coronavirus pandemic may have united our world in global horror, continued lockdown isolation remains a paradoxical disturbance to our sense of connection.
So whether it is our choice to be alone or not over Valentine’s day, we are likely to be bombarded by references to it over the next few weeks. If you are dreading the day, have a look at Doctorpedia’s toolkit below which explains more about connection and our wellbeing as exemplified by Valentines’ day- to turn that frown upside down!
What do we mean by connection?
Simply put, connection refers to an exchange of energy in any number of forms, which may be broadly conceptualised in the table below.
From the essential connection we need as a newborn for survival to the relationships we seek throughout our adult lives, it remains a timeless and fundamental human need. Our sense of connection delineates in an infinitesimal fashion as we progress through our lives and evolve new interactions from family, friends, work and hobbies.
Okay, that makes sense. So why is it important?
The pandemic has required rapid initiation of ‘artificial’ forms of communication which bar us from interacting with others in a way we may normally choose. The table below shows some of the benefits of social connection, for example, on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
From solitude seeker to social butterfly, the pandemic has affected our relationships by diverse means- with restrictions ranging from going to school or university, to how we date, and even to how we interact with colleagues. Generational, horizontal and peer relationships may have a different quality with the advent of social distancing, for example.
Why are you talking about Valentine’s day when we are in lockdown?
In the lead up to Valentine’s day, our attention is likely to be diverted to pervasive advertising across social media- and however we choose to define our relationship status, festivals celebrating love and togetherness can inadvertently arouse unsettling emotions, from being apart or even forced together! We may experience feelings of loneliness, magnified by social distancing measures limiting freedoms to connect with people. We may also feel low self-esteem by comparing ourselves to others on social media and not feeling good about ourselves. We may be in a relationship but going through difficulties which may have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
A sense of connection is timeless- why wait until Valentine’s day to focus on yours?
It sounds like we need action- what do we do now?
There has never been a better time to re-envisage a day celebrating connection and turn it to our advantage, in a time where we may have never before been so far apart. Let us use the differences in how Valentine’s day is interpreted across the world to help us improve our sense of connection and wellbeing. Perhaps try a few- or use as an inspiration for new ones.
Versions of Valentine’s day across the globe:
Argentina – A time of sweetness
Why not treat yourself to a food tasting of a new takeaway, or perhaps have a go at a new recipe? If not, treat yourself to your favourite indulgence.
France – Heart of romance
For those in a partnership, use this time to connect with others in new ways- from making a playlist of songs for each other to re-affirming what each loves or appreciates about the other.
South Korea – A set of experiences on the same date each month
Look at online opportunities to meet new friends with similar interests, such as film- prepare a list of your favourites and exchange your selection with the others. A good way to make a connection based on your hobbies as well as to learn more about them!
Philippines – A gala event
Book an online experience such as a theatre, opera or comedy show and dress up for the occasion- this adds a glamour element and a change to wear your finery and put you in a feel good mood. You may even take a few selfies…
China – Sisters meal festival
Confirm a time your loved ones may get together to share dinner- you may be separated from family members or friends but a chance to ‘live-dine’ together can be a good opportunity to check in and catch up.
Romania – An unusual celebration
Why not try a group video chat with a group of friends- with the proviso each should invite an ‘outsider’ to the group? This can be a great way to meet people you may not have met otherwise.
Brazil – Day of love and friendship
Look at booking a film, cooking or activity class online and get your friends to do the same- a chance to feel connected through a fun activity or skill.
Estonia – A festival for everyone
Arrange to volunteer in some capacity if you can- meeting for a common purpose can help generate a sense of community and make you feel less isolated.
Japan – Exchange of unique gifts
Put the computer/phone away and treat someone to a handwritten letter. A personal, unexpected touch…and some much needed time away from looking at screens and electronic devices can help boost your mood.
Slovenia – Show your affection
… to yourself! Some of us may be prefer solitude, and time spent on self-reflection, practising self-care and self-compassion can boost your sense of wellbeing.
Ghana – A day dedicated to chocolate
A universal symbol of happiness, our Ghanaian counterparts dedicate February 14th to raising awareness of their cocoa-based exports. Why not try a little indulgence of chocolate today-and if chocolate isn’t your thing, try a surprise gift to a friend, colleague or loved one. Bound to make their day…
South Africa – Lupercalia: pin a loved one’s name to your sleeve
Talking of sleeves, why not try getting dressed up for Valentine’s day? How we are dressed can help to improve our mood- wearing something special can help give a sense of occasion and help break up the day.
Quality versus quantity
Whilst it is understandable that we may be reminded about past relationships on Valentine’s day, it is important to consider who we choose to get back in touch with and why. In an attempt to relieve boredom or alleviate anxiety at being alone, we may change our threshold for sparking up new relationships online, for example. Some simple advice would be to focus on quality and not quantity of interactions and connections with others.
What are the take home messages?
The effect of the pandemic on our sense of connection and wellbeing may feel overwhelming and unstructured. A transition to seeking new forms of connection can have tangible, lasting impacts on our wellbeing.
So there you go. The world may never be the same again- and hopefully after reading this article, Valentine’s day won’t be either!
Dr. Roopak Khara
Dr. Roopak Khara is a general adult psychiatrist with a special interest in intensive care, medical lead of the UK's first psychiatric coronavirus ward, pharmacist, writer and make up artist.