NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Reframing Social Connection with Intentionality to Create Meaningful Connections Online

We are social beings, and the need and impulse to connect with others is real, especially during a crisis (see my articles: Coping Wih Loneliness and Social Isolation and Undoing Aloneness: Staying Socially Connected Even Though We Are Physically Distant).

We have a need to feel held, embraced and safe in the company of people we trust.  This need to be with others helps us to co-regulate each other's well-being.  This need to be in close physical proximity to others is also in direct conflict to the more pressing need right now to physically distance ourselves from each other to avoid getting getting the COVID-19 virus.

Reframing Social Isolation with Intentionality as You Connect With Loved Ones Online

How to Overcome the Negative Impact of Social Isolation During the COVID-19 Crisis
There's no question that physical distancing from others is necessary during this pandemic.  If you're not essential workers, you must stay home and only go out only when necessary using the precautions recommended by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Remaining at home and physically distant isn't just difficult because you're feeling bored, more importantly, it goes against human beings' basic instincts to connect with others

As people become more physically isolated, the mind and the body go into defensive mode. After a period of being physically/socially isolated, people often become more anxious, fearful and worried (see my article:  Common Reactions to the COVID-19 Crisis: Fear and Anxiety).

Given that physical distancing creates a paradox between the needs of your nervous system and your need to survive this pandemic, how do you take care of your need for social connection?

Reframing Social Connection Online with Intentionality
Although you can't be physically connected with friends and other loved ones, you can remain connected online with intentionality.

What Does It Mean to Communicate with Intentionality?
When you're with someone in person, both of you are picking up or attuning to conscious and unconscious signals that you're both sending with regard to what's going on between you.

Aside from the words and the body language, you're picking up on other implicit cues you sense in person about what's being communicated. Sometimes the words and what's being communicated on an unconscious level don't match.

For instance, someone might tell you that they're not angry with you.  But their body language, facial expressions, tension in their body, and the emotional resonance that you sense might be communicating something very different.  Whether you realize it or not, the words are less important than the other cues you're picking up from the other person.

Another example would be that when someone says, "I love you," aside from the words, you pick up on other cues to understand the meaning behind the words. Does the person's facial expression, body language, and other subtle forms of nonverbal communication, including the resonance you feel between you and them, match their words?  If not, you're not going to believe the words.

How to Communicate Online With Intentionality
Sometimes you might not perceive the nonverbal cues online. So, you need to be more intentional and explicit online than when you're with someone in person.  The good news is that there are ways to do this:
  • Human beings are an adaptable species, so we often find alternatives to the ways we normally do things.
  • Appreciate and normalize for yourself your impulse to connect meaningfully with others--even as you're inhibiting yourself from doing it in person to remain healthy.
  • Monitor your body's need for these social connections. Be conscious of your emotional needs. Reach out to others when you feel the need and be kind to your loved ones who are reaching out to you (see my article: The Powerful Impact of Kindness During Stressful Times).
  • Reaching out to loved ones online is powerful.  If online communication isn't available, the phone is the next best thing. Emailing and texting are better than nothing, but not as powerful as seeing and hearing one another.  The problem with texting and emailing is that these modes of communication don't provide facial expressions and voice intonation, which are critical for feeling socially connected.
  • The value of seeing someone's face and hearing their voice is powerful to the nervous system and fulfills a basic need for connection.
  • It's not about the words.  It's not about chatting or just getting caught up, although this has its place too.  You're not just exchanging content or news.
  • Communicating with intentionality is more about conveying with your facial expressions, your voice and your behavior that you care.
  • By communicating how much you care with intentionality, you and your loved ones are coregulating each other's nervous systems and well-being so that you feel emotionally and physically better.
  • You can each feel a sense of well-being in your body and mind as you help each other to coregulate your well-being. You're feeling connectedness.  This can't be emphasized enough.  Coregulating by seeing each other, hearing each other's voices and communicating with intentionality is a way of grounding each other. You're being attuned with each other.  You're entering into each other's consciousness to say, "You're not alone. I'm here with you and I care about you."
Requiring people to physically isolate from one another is counter to what we are hardwired to do as social beings who need social connections for physical and emotional well-being.

As social beings, we coregulate our physical and emotional well-being through meaningful connections with others.  Yet, the current pandemic requires that we remain at home physically isolated from others.

Although we cannot connect in person, we can do the next best thing, which allows us to reframe social isolation: Communicate with intentionality by using the power of our facial expressions, our words, behavior and voice intonality to communicate that we care.  

Getting Help in Therapy
Many mental health experts are concerned about the long term effects of isolation and loneliness.  

If you're feeling overwhelmed, help is available to you through online therapy, which is also known as teletherapy, telemental health or telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't Meet With Your Therapist in Person).

Therapists via Online Therapy, Also Known as Teletherapy, Telemental Health and Telehealth
Working with a licensed psychotherapist who can help you through this difficult time can help you maintain a sense of well-being.  

If you're feeling powerless during this time, you can overcome your sense of powerlessness by taking action: Contact a mental health professional who can help you overcome your fear and anxiety.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am working with clients online so we can remain connected.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist,

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.