YMCA Winter 2020 | Page 3

AUTHOR FIONA KRIARIS Fiona Kriaris is a health and fitness professional with YMCA Victoria. She is pioneering mindfulness and meditation at the YMCA, to bring a more holistic approach to health and fitness. A graduate of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre in Los Angeles, Fiona’s studies in this field extend internationally, and she brings global leading trends to a local environment with compassion and integrity. STAYING CONNECTED With social isolation being one of the top three self-reported concerns for young people during COVID-19, Fiona provides three ways to improve social connection when we are physically distant. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been labelled a global pandemic and described as an ‘unprecedented’ time in history. Young people of Victoria aged 12-29 years old have shared their voice through the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition’s recent survey, highlighting what is important to them and in the forefront of their lives during COVID-19. The top three self-reported concerns from our young people are: loss of social interaction, employment and income support, and access to education. With the loss of social interaction reporting significantly higher in relation to the other responses, let’s explore how we can approach COVID-19 with physical distancing while staying socially connected. Social connection is when you generally feel close to other people, and is that sense of belonging to a group and/or a community. It’s often overlooked as a “nice to have” rather than an essential part of wellbeing, simply because it doesn’t directly present itself as negatively impacting our physical health. However, numerous research studies expose the profound impact that social connectedness has on wellbeing. When combining 148 research studies, collectively bringing together over 300,000 participants, data reveals that a lack of social connection was found to be a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure. Social distancing doesn’t result in total isolation; instead it can be utilised to learn how to connect in a different way. Here are three ways to improve social connection when we are physically distant. 1 Commit to Connect It requires effort to connect with yourself or other people. This means putting time aside, even just 10 minutes a day, to have a virtual catch-up or phone conversation with a friend or family. This can assist in increasing your mood and while also helping someone else feel better too. Not only will this enhance your relationships during COVID-19 but it also strengthens them for when restrictions are removed. 2 Quality over Quantity Distractions are an easy trap to fall into, it has become so habitual that sometimes we don’t even know we are being distracted. It’s important that when we are making a commitment to connect with yourself or other people, that you do so by being fully present. Remove any multitasking and actively listen when connecting with others, while also sharing genuine conversation about your own life. A conversation that is equal while being open, caring and honest becomes a more meaningful connection. 3 Sitting in Solitude There is misconception that social connection is only about being social with other people. However, one way to enhance social wellbeing is to commit to connect to yourself in solitude. This time alone in silence can be a meditation, where you start off with just a few minutes a day, then slowly increase the duration over time. By making it part of your daily life you begin to notice how this stillness can help you feel more grounded, relaxed and composed. Meditation is an evidence-based tool, and when practiced regularly, cannot only improve your relationship with yourself, but also enhances your relationships with other people, and your connection to the world. It is without a doubt that COVID-19 has presented many challenges that can be difficult to navigate. However, by making a commitment to connect with ourselves and other people in meaningful ways, it can also be an opportune time to enhance human flourishing and resilience. FEATURE ARTICLE WINTER 2020 YMCA HEALTHY LIVING MAGAZINE 3