Just a few months ago, none of us knew the terms “flatten the curve” or “social distancing.” It has become normal to complement our neighbors on their homemade face masks when we see each other in public.  The coronavirus pandemic has brought us a new normal that has impacted not just the way we do our jobs each day, but also the way we communicate and how we relate to each other. I hope that in some ways, this experience might make our relationships stronger while we come up with new ways to connect. 

Normally, all of my siblings and I would gather to join my mom on Mother’s Day. This was the first time in 60 years that we weren’t all together. I know that day was hard for a lot of people, too. But I also know that it’s important to continue to limit large gatherings and protect those among us- like our parents and grandparents- that are the most vulnerable to this deadly virus. 

Also, like many of you, my family has found new ways to maintain our relationships and make sure that we aren’t socially isolating while we’re physically distancing. My mom and I have learned how to use Facebook messenger to video chat, and my family and I have started doing some virtual trivia nights together, while apart. There are a lot of tools available to make sure that we continue to stay connected. We are going to need each other to make it through this crisis. 

I’ve spent many years working to create initiatives and push for more resources that would support the mental health of people in Northwestern Wisconsin. Particularly in rural areas and among older populations, one of the biggest mental health issues we have faced is loneliness. Right now, more of us are experiencing those feelings of loneliness than ever before.

In the past, we may have reached out to an elderly relative to put a smile on their face. Now, it’s just as important for our own happiness that we continue to reach out and strengthen our relationships with others. 

The situation that COVID-19 has caused is going to have long-term impacts on our economy and our healthcare systems. But it’s important to recognize the impacts that it will have on each and every one of us as well. Many people are experiencing stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation for the first time due to this crisis. Those feelings are expected and valid given the circumstances. We need to continue to reach out to one another and extend a hand (virtually, of course) to lift people up when they are struggling. In the end, we are going to be living in a new world, but maybe we’ll also learn a new and better way of supporting each other when this is all over.

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