COVID Is Making us Lonely; Building Healthy Relationships Will Improve Your Mental Health

Feb 26, 2021 10:49 AM

Author: Jerilyn Stowe

Girl in wheelchair sitting at table waving at laptop screen

One of the biggest challenges we will face in 2021 and beyond from the COVID-19 pandemic is a growing mental health crisis. Although many factors contribute to the increased stress and anxiety we all feel, the pandemic has emphasized an important connection between maintaining healthy relationships and our mental well-being.

Distancing measures are important and have been essential for slowing the spread of the coronavirus. But the stress of missing loved ones is compounding our issues. Children, especially, are struggling with the loss of their social structure

“We may be physically isolated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stay socially connected,” says Tiffany Love, PhD, a social neuroscientist at the University of Utah. “Virtual social interactions like video chats can help us preserve our connections to others and improve our social well-being.”

Unfortunately, building and maintaining those healthy relationships has rarely been more important—at the same time that it is especially difficult. Sharing our time with others requires a few extra steps, but the effort is crucial for our mental well-being.

Fortunately, building healthy relationships is a virtuous cycle: as we connect with others in safe ways, we take important steps toward improving our mental health. By receiving the emotional support we need, we also extend that support to others. 

“We may be physically isolated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stay socially connected.”

Tiffany Love, PhD

As we continue connecting through safe channels, here are some tips for ensuring that relationships are healthy, supportive, and beneficial to everyone’s mental health:

1. Keep channels of communication open

Keeping lines of communication free is one of the most important elements of building and maintaining relationships. After a difficult day, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves, but outside communication is vital for our mental well-being. 

As we strive to keep our channels open and encourage others to communicate, nothing beats active listening. When someone is speaking to us, we often fall into the trap of simply waiting for our turn to talk. Instead, we should be engaged, taking an interactive approach and interest in others. 

2. Embrace similarities and differences

There’s a very good reason why many of our close relationships are built on commonalities, like shared interests, family bonds, and mutual connections. Focusing on these similarities lets us build mutually supportive relationships around preexisting bonds.

However, we can also strengthen our ties with loved ones by embracing and celebrating differences. As people see that they are encouraged to share the parts of themselves that don’t quite match with your own, it helps them feel more open and provides you with new perspectives. 

3. Draw boundaries

Relationships—especially romantic relationships—are most healthy when people have space to breathe and maintain connections with family and friends. Healthy relationships have boundaries that are honored by all involved parties. 

Another part of drawing boundaries is considering our need for alone time. As important as it is to share time with loved ones, it’s equally vital that we find time for our individual interests and development—too much time together can begin to feel like a trap. This isn’t always easy to accomplish if you live with a partner in an area where you are required to shelter in place, but respecting each other’s boundaries can give you the alone time you need.  

Where to go for additional help

If you or anyone you love is struggling with any aspect of mental health—including relationship challenges—it’s always a good idea to reach out for qualified help. 

A medical professional is always available to help if you have long bouts of depression or symptoms you just can’t shake. Contact Huntsman Mental Health Institute to get help or learn more, or reach out to these resources:

  • If you are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or having a personal struggle and need someone to listen, call the Utah Warm Line at 801-587-1055. 
  • If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255

mental health covid-19 loneliness healthy relationships